I must have always had a thing for older men.
When I was 11, maybe up to the time I was 13, I used to make lists of my celebrity crushes. Not for me the likes of Leif Garrett, David and Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson - the late 70s equivalent of Zac Efron, the Jonas Brothers and Chace Crawford. Too young, too scrubbed, too bubble gum. Instead my lists featured - or so I believed - men of humor and character, men of experience, men of assured swagger. Men like Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, James Garner, Alain Delon, James Caan, even Beau Bridges...
And then there was Paul Newman and his impossibly beautiful blue eyes, in a class of his own.
His death last Sunday at 83, after a lingering fight with cancer, stirred a universal sadness and deep sense of loss. His passing seemed to mark the end of an era. He wasn't just the last of the great movie stars, he wasn't just a race-car driver, he wasn't just a tireless philanthropist, he wasn't just an entrepreneur with his own food empire. He also was a remarkable human being, one of a dying breed. They don't make his kind anymore.
Touching tributes have been written about him. Alec Bladwin had a brief but brilliant one in The Huffington Post:
You can think about greatness and generosity and images of a youthful grace and beauty. You can think about children, sick children, playing in camps. Salad dressing. And popcorn.
You can think about him hobbling on a crutch, feigning indifference, while Elizabeth Taylor urged him on in her lingerie. The two most beautiful actors in all of film, and they just argued. You knew how alcoholic and sick Brick was if he wasn't dying for Elizabeth Taylor.
You can think about racing cars and diving into rivers with Redford and, with Redford again, shaking down Robert Shaw.
Left-handed Gun. Hard-boiled eggs. Torn Curtain. Hud. Hudsucker. So many movies. Six decades of them.
Joanne. Paul and Joanne. And their family.
I think of The Verdict. That great scene with Jack Warden, where Frank Galvin is on the phone, begging the other side to reconsider his own reconsideration of their settlement offer. The hyperventilating desperation crushing his pride. One of the greatest scenes in one of the greatest movies of the last 50 years.
God...Newman was a great actor.
His old friend and co-star Robert Redford said in an interview with ABC News, that Paul Newman was a man who "lived a life that really meant something."
"The fact is we can all be really sad here," he said. "And I am sad. I've lost a really good friend...but the fact is that the person he was—the person he is, 'cause he's going to be lasting—has got to do with the way he lived his life, the commitments he made and what he put back."
What Paul Newman himself had to say about his life in interviews throughout his career was typically succint and disarmingly candid without any trace of conceit or feigned humility. When he turned 70, he gave an interview to Newsweek, claiming he hadn't changed much with age: "I'm not mellower, I'm not less angry, I'm not less self-critical, I'm not less tenacious. Maybe the best part is that your liver can't handle those beers anymore at noon."
And of course who could forget what he said about his enduring marriage to Joanne Woodward? In an industry where a five-year union is considered long, Newman and Woodward's spanned 50 years - a raity in Hollywood. "I have steak at home, why go out for hamburger?" he famously told Playboy magazine in an interview.
As he bid farewell to his daughters, he was reported to have said, "It's been a privilege."
A class act till the very end.
Thus inspired, I now find myself wondering, when faced with an unpalatable situation: WHAT WOULD PAUL NEWMAN DO?
Be cool. Be classy. Don't forget your sense of humor. And if you find yourself like Butch Cassidy staring a bull in the face, blow the bad-tempered bastard a cheeky puckered kiss and make a run for it!
I don't make lists anymore but I still totally crush Paul Newman. And I still have a thing for older men.
Photo from WWD