Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Kind of Guy

Not for the first time, and not for the last, Paul Newman and his wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward, demonstrate to the world the meaning of substance, character, and style.

You'll notice that it is the diametric opposite of everything the current Administration stands for. Significant among the differences between the House of Bush and the House of Newman/Woodward is that it's not about the money. It never was, for Newman and Woodward. It's about the stance.

For the Bushes and the Walkers, it's always been about acquisition--of money and the power to intimidate. For persons of authentic substance and character (and the resulting style), it's always about personal excellence and the power to change the world for the better. If money comes as well, it comes coincidentally. It's never the point.

There's a story here within the story for what's gone wrong with America since, roughly, Reagan took office. He embodied the notion that it is not possible to be Commander in Chief without a Rolex, and we've been racing to the bottom ever since.

"Movie star Paul Newman has quietly turned over the entire value of his ownership in Newman’s Own — the company that makes salad dressing and cookies — to charity.

"Completed over a two-year period in 2005 and 2006, the amount of his donations to Newman’s Own Foundation Inc. comes to an astounding $120 million.

"This is unprecedented for any movie star or anyone from what we call Hollywood. Of course Newman and actress wife Joanne Woodward have never been Hollywood types. They’ve lived their lives quietly in Westport, Conn., for the last 50 years. (They were married in January 1958. And people said it wouldn’t last!)

"This column learned about this extraordinary gift as news started coming out recently about Newman’s battle with lung cancer. This is not news to my readers. I told you several months ago that Newman — who has five grown daughters — was seeing an oncologist, that he’d been in and out of Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital on many visits from Westport. Like everything else, the Newmans tried to keep Paul’s illness a private matter.

"But a tip-off that he was maybe not doing so well came in late May. Newman announced that he would not direct a production of 'Our Town' later this summer at the Westport Country Playhouse, where Woodward is the artistic director.

"News of his illness seems to have been exacerbated by none other than neighbor Martha Stewart. She recently published pictures of Paul on her Web site from a party she hosted. He looks gaunt but nevertheless smiling his trademark smile. Nothing will set him back. This racecar driver and adventurer should not be written off as 'dying.'

"'He’s a fighter,' one of his close friends told me Tuesday morning. 'And he’s going to keep fighting.'

"In the meantime, I also told you last August that in Botswana, the Newman name is known not for being a movie star. It’s known for his famous Hole in the Wall Gang camps. The camps go to Africa every summer to run programs for impoverished and ill children. It’s the same program they run in dozens of similar camps all over the United States.

"The Hole in the Wall camps are just a few of the places the hundreds of millions of dollars have gone that Newman has raised since he got the idea to bottle salad dressing for charity.

"According to Newman’s Own federal tax filing for 2006, the actor personally gave away $8,746,500 to a variety of groups that support children, hurricane relief in the Gulf Coast, education and the arts.

"Some of Newman’s recipients are well-known: He gave Rosie O’Donnell’s children's program $5,000 and even donated $25,000 to his pal Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. But most of them are for the kinds of programs that we never hear about, the kind that simply keep people alive.

"But don’t think that Newman — who received his Kennedy Center honor in 1992 and deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom — did this because he suddenly thought he was dying. When he set up the new foundation, he hadn’t yet been diagnosed with lung cancer. It was just in honor of his 80th birthday, and an acknowledgment that he wanted to make sure his charities would continue receiving his largesse."