cool hand luke poster
PAUL NEWMAN HAS PASSED AWAY.

When I first heard the news, I literally gasped.

It wasn't an ironic, forced or facetious gasp.  Nor did I merely utter a disinterested "gasp".

A sincere gasp manifested itself as I stumbled upon the sidebar on IMDB while looking up cast info for Choke.

To say that Paul Newman is a great actor, wow, I guess I mean, to say Paul Newman was a great actor, is to say that Pope Benedict is kinda religious.

I don't believe anyone, short of possibly Robert Redford could do this man any justice in remembrance, so I won't even try.  There are many more experienced and talented writers/reviewers afoot that I'm sure would make these words, I type, seem like an insult to the legend.  Roger Ebert springs to mind.  He has a lengthy and undoubtedly in depth and informative article up on his site.  I didn't dare read it beforehand as I was afraid it would shame me out of writing this piece.  That being said, here's what I wanted to share:

egyptian theater hollywood, ca

I had the great fortune of seeing Cool Hand Luke for the first time the way it was meant to be seen, projected on the big screen.  I'm not old enough to have seen it opening night, but I was lucky enough to catch a revival of it at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, put on by the American Cinematheque.  I was left in awe.  I wanted to be Cool Hand Luke / Paul Newman.  He said he could eat 50 eggs, but I didn't believe him.  He proved me wrong though, and I would never doubt him again.

One of the many reasons I like John Cusack as much as I do is that in Serendipity he, or at least his character, claimed Cool Hand Luke as his favorite movie.  And then he went on to extol it's virtues to an uninitiated Kate Beckinsale.  And while I don't know it for a fact, I feel like this little bit of character exposition was taken directly from Cusack's personal life.

But Cool Hand Luke was only one of a myriad of roles in which Paul Newman shined. He was able to out-grandiose Jackie Gleason in The Hustler. This was no small feat my friends.  Jackie Gleason was larger than life and commanded your attention.  Any single episode of The Honeymooners will attest to that.  And yet there was Paul Newman as Fast Eddie, with that mischievous grin of his, daring you not to be captivated.

The Hustler

Here is where I feel Paul Newman's true appeal lies (for me anyway)...

The way I see it, Paul Newman was, is (it just feels wrong using the past tense) a cross between Jimmy Stewart the Everyman, and Steve McQueen the Badass.

Jimmy Stewart

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Steve McQueen

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Paul Newman

He was our very own Jimmy McQueen.  He combined the best of those two paradigm's.  This makes him a paradox.  A paradox because you can't be an everyman badass or a badass everyman.  You just can't.  But he was.  He was the guy you'd want by your side in a fist fight, and he was also the guy you'd first call if your dog had just died.

Newman's Own

But here's the thing...it's not just the myth or legend of Paul Newman that I'm a fanboy of, it's the man himself.  I caught the "Redford on Newman" episode of the befittingly-titled Iconoclasts on the Sundance channel.  The amount of time and effort he put into charity work was humbling.

But why did he put his image on all of his Newman's Own products?  Was it because of an ego the likes of which Oprah has never seen?  Nice try, but sorry, no.  It was because 100% of the profits go to charity.  It's simple math really, the more Newman's Own sells, the more money that goes to charity.  (Paul) Newman's Own image sells ranch dressing and that was all the reason he needed to slap that glorious mug on every bottle/jar/can/jug & canister.

Rest in Peace Paul Newman.  Say "hi" to my Grandparents for me.  I'm sure you can speak Russian, can't you?

Respectfully,

- Lenny