As you've probably already heard, Paul Newman died this past week of cancer at the age of 83, robbing the world of a great humanitarian. Newman has always been one of those people I looked at and wished I could be. Not so much for the looks, or the movie star career, or even his hallmark coolness. No, what I envied, instead, was his ability to be himself despite all those things. A lot of people out there, you probably can think of some, fall for the trap of giving into the elements that make up only external image. They start to play a part. I've done it too.
When I was in the Army, I acted like I thought a soldier should act. As a young, hot-shot exec, I dressed up in another leading role, and if I'm really being honest, there were times I was just playing the part of a husband in my first marriage. Newman, however, never seemed to be overtaken by anything attributed to an image. He chose to be himself, and he seemed to do it effortlessly.
I first saw Newman in The Sting with Robert Redford, and it instantly became a favorite. I'm a sucker for any film where the good guys, usually grifters and con artists, get over on the bad guys while using nothing but their intelligence, creativity and humor. The Sting was all of that and more, the more part being Newman. Sometimes I pull the dvd out just to watch that scene with him playing cards on the train. There have been so many times I wished I could pull something like that off. If you haven't seen it, do so.
This led to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke (I never wanted to see another egg again after that), Nobody's Fool, The Road to Perdition, The Hustler, Slapshot, The Hudsucker Proxy and the list goes on. Even though I greatly admired his acting skills, it wasn't until I read his book, Shameless Exploitation: In Pursuit of the Common Good, detailing how he got the Newman's Own brand of foods off the ground that I realized the truer nature of who he really was away from the cameras and lights.
He definitely went outside of the box when it came to running a company, which at first, came down to just him and a good friend. Somehow he managed to ignore convention in developing the products, and at the same time, not take it too seriously, eventually raking in huge profits that he gave away to charities and built camps for kids. I took a saying of his, "There are 3 rules for running a business, fortunately I don't know any of them," and hung it in my office (read more quotes here). My boss at the time thought I was just being a screwball, but it was there as a reminder to ignore the external and follow the internal. I didn't need to look at what I was doing the way everyone thought I should.
I think of that mantra every time I go to the grocery store and buy spaghetti sauce. I'll even pay a few cents more to get the jars with his likeness on it. Admittedly I'm a sucker for good marketing, but this isn't the same thing.
Right now, with no job, mounting bills, and my kids living far away, I could play into a new image, the one where I'm a depressed, dead-beat, who shuts down and withdraws in adverse circumstance. Sad as it was, Newman's death, at least reminded me there are some roles we don't have to accept.
(1925 - 2008)