Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Paul Newman: A Rare Breed of Hollywood Icon


Paul Newman came from my parents' generation of movie stars. Oh sure, there was The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Verdict, and that hustler flick with Jackie Gleason -- movies that came out on my watch -- but by then Newman's matinee idol days were long gone. He had matured into icon.

And then he became "King of Salad Dressing."

Okay, he was more than just a master of mayonnaise and paprika. Paul Newman, who passed away from cancer at the age of 83, was legend. One of the great stars from Hollywood Heyday and in the league of Bogie and Brando, yet a tad too old to tilt my wheel.

"Oh but those dreamy blue eyes," my mother would argue in protest, "they make me melt inside. How can you not get all tingly thinking about him?"

Well, it's like this. Imagine me asking my teenage daughters whether they would swoon over someone like say, oh... Paul McCartney. Now there's a dreamboat to die for. Who cares if he's past 64, the cute Beatle still has a way with sexy. Of course my teenagers would glance at the turkey neck and say, "Yeah, right, Mom." Which is exactly how I felt whenever Mom sat transfixed by the television, another old Newman movie reeling her in. Meh.

Newman endeared himself to a new generation as the voice of Doc Hudson in the animated feature, Cars, but will always be remembered as heart stealer of a certain demographic, the same aging white women who form the current core of support for presidential hopeful John McCain. I'm not sure what the connection means, just felt obliged to mention it.

In his later years, Newman seemed to pass on the glitterati. His icy blue eyes still smoldered, but the aging fan base had to be getting to him. Besides, he could afford to leave the red carpet behind. Race car driving became his passion. He always seemed happy to lend his star power to NASCAR.

Now that I'm no longer repulsed by turkey neck, I can finally appreciate the idol worship of the big band generation. Paul Newman was that rare breed of Hollywood actor who didn't need clamoring masses to reaffirm his self-worth. For that, he stands head and shoulders above what generally passes today as megastar.

There aren't many people in Hollywood who can command universal respect and admiration, but Newman was one of them. Many will remember him as a talented actor, devoted husband, loving father, political activist, and philanthropist, but most of all, a man who lived life on his own terms.

And we are poorer for his loss.

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