Over the years, Paul Newman represented many things to many people. We now think of this mostly in terms of his latter years, when, between his foundation, his carefully chosen roles, and his clearly articulated political views, he came to represent a kind of ”Old Man of the Mountain” New England archetype: flinty, intelligent, generous, outspoken, courageous, singular.
But for my mother (who would have been 71 this fall) — and many others, obviously — Newman was one of those rare actors who elicited a deeply personal reaction over many years. Thanks to her, there was really only one movie star whose name I knew from the beginning: Paul Newman. (Actually, there were two: My father, who liked to pretend he was a tough guy, preferred Frank Sinatra. But my mother said there was no contest in the Battle of the Blue Eyes.)
My mother swooned over the young Newman. As a result, my introduction to movies featured not just the standards — Bambi, The Sound of Music — but also a basic training in Newman. I was 8 when I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (three times), and by the time I was 10 years old, I had also seen Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Hustler, Hud, Harper, and Cool Hand Luke. That may seem like just a bit of an overdose, but I realized later that the early Newman represented a lot of what my mother yearned for. He had a vitality that she missed from her life as a somewhat frustrated housewife, and a sense of possibility that she found missing in my father.
A few years later, when I left for college, around the time of Fort Apache, The Bronx and then The Verdict, my parents had settled into a routine suburban marriage — some ups, more downs. My mother still spoke fondly of Newman’s bygone hotness — she was downright playful recalling the way he looked in The Long, Hot Summer — but she loved the new Newman, too. She loved his resolve, the determination of his characters to find a way through crap to do the right thing. That was what she felt she was trying to do in her life. And when that resolve led to his foundation, well, obviously our house was the one in the neighborhood always stocked with Newman’s Own lemonade.
My mother’s crush on Newman led directly to my love of movies. We hope this issue evokes those kinds of memories for you. You too can post your memories on our tribute page, at ew.com/newman. There aren’t many left like Paul Newman — thank you for letting us know what he meant to you.
Rick Tetzeli Managing Editor