Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman: RIP

As you must know by now, Paul Newman passed away late Friday. The world mourns not just for a great actor, a movie icon, but also a truly remarkable human being. He starred in over fifty feature films and quite often was the best part of the movie, irregardless of who else co-starred, wrote or directed. Mr. Newman was that good.

But Paul Newman was much more than a silver screen superstar. He was a man of character, not just a man who played characters. Paul Newman was a person who truly wanted to leave the world a better place because he passed through it. He created a foundation that has donated over 100 million dollars to charitable organizations. Mr. Newman was married to Joanne Woodward for fifty years. That's her pictured with Mr. Newman shortly after they were married in 1958. Perhaps George Clooney said it best: "He set the bar too high for the rest of us. Not just actors, but all of us."

I actually met Paul Newman. Well, maybe met is too strong a word... more like had an encounter with him. Let me explain. Some thirty years ago, when I was just getting out of high school, I worked at the Treasure Island Inn in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida. It was one of the better places to stay when in the Daytona Beach area. For that reason, we would get quite a few celebrities as our guests. Anyway, we received word that Paul Newman was going to be staying with us when he came in town for the races. We were all informed that he was NOT to be bothered in any way -- no autograph requests, no telling him how much we enjoyed his movies, no pointing him out as he came through the lobby [like that would be needed], etc.

Once Paul Newman arrived everyone, especially the ladies, wanted to catch a glimpse. Of course he was just there to sleep and spent most of his time at the track. So not many employees had seen him. Anyway, I had just taken a couple up to their room and got on the elevator to head back to the lobby. Instead of going down, it went up to the penthouse. The doors opened and in walked three guys and one of them was Paul Newman. I'm sure my face at least briefly allowed a look of surprise or at least realization that Cool Hand Luke aka Butch Cassidy aka Fast Eddie had entered the elevator with me. The doors closed and down we went. Being the good employee that I was, I knew that I was not going to speak to Mr. Newman, or tell him how much I enjoyed his movies, and of course I wouldn't yell out when the elevator doors opened, "Hey! Paul Newman is HERE!" No. I would just be quiet and not bother him.

As all of this crossed through my mind, Mr. Newman looked directly at me and said, "Good Morning." Houston, we have a problem. All employees had been directed not to speak to Mr. Newman -- they never said anything about if he spoke to us first. I responded with "Good morning." Mr. Newman then made a comment about the weather -- something to the effect of it looked to be a nice day. I was still reeling from the fact that I was in an elevator with Paul Newman but somehow came up with the intelligent response that it was a very nice day. One of the other two guys with Mr. Newman said something and then we were at the lobby. As the doors opened Mr. Newman made a point to tell me to have a good day -- and then the three of them were out of the elevator and literally off to the races.

Of course those working the front desk saw me come out of the elevator with Paul Newman. "Did you talk to him?" "What was it like?" "Are his eyes really that blue?" Thirty plus years later it still seems surreal. I think the fact that Mr. Newman took the time to speak to me, a high school kid working at a hotel, shows the kind of person he was. Sure, it was just small talk, but he could have easily ignored me all together. Instead, he took the time to acknowledge and even wish me a good day before walking away.

On that day in the elevator, I knew that I was in the presence of a great actor. Thirty plus years later, I know, more importantly that I was in the presence of a great man.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Newman's family, friends and fans.


Slyartist said...

Very nice experience Craig. I was once in the same elevator as Candice Bergen but she didn't say anything to me.

Anonymous said...

WOW!...very nice story Graig.
Even throuth your story, we can feel what charming person he was.

One of the greatest in my eyes.

Rafael Kayanan said...

A very good story Craig. From the plethora of positive anecdotes and tributes all over the media and on blogs - Paul Newman will be remembered fondly! The best part of his legacy is that it is due more to his integrity and character.

lotofsly said...

Very nice story !

movie fan said...

it's hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman's Own line--high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes... very smart.