By Rick Tetzeli
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 charitable foundation, his carefully chosen roles, and his clearly articulated political views, he came to represent a kind of “Old Man in the Mountain” New England archetype: flinty, intelligent, generous, outspoken, 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 at the local theater. By the time I was 10 years old, I had seen Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Hustler, Hud, Harper, Butch Cassidy, and Cool Hand Luke. Mom just couldn’t stop talking about Newman’s great looks, how suave he was, what great shape he was in, and so on. It was all a little much for an 8-year-old to listen to, but I realized later that the early Newman represented a lot of what she yearned for in her life. He had a vitality that she missed from her life as a somewhat-frustrated housewife. And he had an energy and a sense of possibility that she sensed was missing from my father.
By the time I’d left for college — the time of Fort Apache, the Bronx and later The Verdict — my parents had settled into a routine suburban marriage. Some ups, many downs. I remember talking to my mom about Newman then. She still spoke fondly of his 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, his determination 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 went public with his foundation, well, obviously our house was the one always stocked with Newman’s Own lemonade.
What did Newman mean to you, EW readers? What roles of his did you love best? There aren’t many left like Paul Newman, so please fire away with your tributes to the man.
PLEASE NOTE: We may be interested in running reader comments in the magazine, along with our obituary tribute, which goes to press Tuesday night. So if you’re okay with EW printing your tribute, please write “OK FOR PRINT” at the end of your comment. Many thanks.
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