Brush With Greatness in My Hometown – Ol’ Blue Eyes

ol' blue eyes
Celebrity: Portrait of screen actor Paul Newman during photo shoot at his home. Westport, CT 11/1/1982 – 11/30/1982CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)(Set Number: TC38230 TK2 )

Growing up in a coastal community suburb of New York City was pretty great. Small town feel with local beaches and nice restaurants, movie theaters, a stellar school system, and just under an hour on the train to the city for Broadway shows, museums and mother-daughter shopping trips. Always a creative and artsy community, we were fortunate to be the home to many famous people who enjoyed keeping a low profile and I assume felt like they lived with anonymity or at least with a level of privacy not as easily achieved in other places. Paul Newman was one of those people.

I have several memories of Paul Newman that are like snapshots in my mind. One when I was a young teen walking in Gristedes Market which was located on Main Street, Westport back then. I was in front of the lettuce display and I felt hands on my shoulders as someone was trying to squeeze by me to get further down the aisle. As I turned around my heart skipped a beat while I caught a side view of ol’ blue eyes – a smallish man who appeared larger than life when he flashed me a smile. OMG…Paul Newman touched me!

Paul and Stew
Stew Leonard in middle and Paul Newman on right

I read about how he used to go to Stew Leonards (a local grocery store) when his salad dressing was in development to meet with Stew in an upstairs office. They had bowls of lettuce lined up and they would taste test different concoctions. Newman’s Own started in 1982 so maybe when Paul brushed by me in the lettuce aisle around 1980 he was doing preliminary research!

The next time I saw him I was with other members of my high school choir on Christmas Eve. We were caroling in front of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s home, all of us hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous actors. I was in the first row of singers when the front door opened and the lovely couple invited us in! No joke, I think I peed in my pants! I recall the room had wood beams on the ceiling and tons of Christmas cards were tacked to them. We went back another year with fingers crossed and Joanne answered the door with Paul in the back coming down a staircase in his bathrobe to hear us sing.

Newman’s home – notice the wood beams!

When I worked at what was then called Ed Mitchells, a family owned clothing store in high school I recall Paul coming in to shop. While he was looking at the socks on a stand alone display I positioned myself on the opposite side so I could check out his moneymaker eyes. Boy, were they blue!

I moved back to my hometown as an adult and spotted him coming out of the Purple Feet liquor store one time and had a friendly chat with him while waiting in line at Gold’s Deli towards the end of his life. Wearing baggy grey sweats and sneakers, he looked older, seemed smaller, but was as handsome as ever.

Paul and Robert
Paul Newman with Robert Redford (who also lived in town)

Paul Newman passed away over 14 years ago, but later this month his memoir comes out and although I most likely won’t be mentioned in the book😜I look forward to reading about his life, some of which was happening right down the road from me.

An Extraordinary Life

The Extraordinary Life of An Ordinary Man by Paul Newman

The raw, candid, unvarnished memoir of an American icon. The greatest movie star of the past 75 years covers everything: his traumatic childhood, his career, his drinking, his thoughts on Marlon Brando, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, John Huston, his greatest roles, acting, his intimate life with Joanne Woodward, his innermost fears and passions and joys. With thoughts/comments throughout from Joanne Woodward, George Roy Hill, Tom Cruise, Elia Kazan and many others.

In 1986, Paul Newman and his closest friend, screenwriter Stewart Stern, began an extraordinary project. Stuart was to compile an oral history, to have Newman’s family and friends and those who worked closely with him, talk about the actor’s life. And then Newman would work with Stewart and give his side of the story. The only stipulation was that anyone who spoke on the record had to be completely honest. That same stipulation applied to Newman himself. The project lasted five years.

The result is an extraordinary memoir, culled from thousands of pages of transcripts. The book is insightful, revealing, surprising. Newman’s voice is powerful, sometimes funny, sometimes painful, always meeting that high standard of searing honesty. The additional voices–from childhood friends and Navy buddies, from family members and film and theater collaborators such as Tom Cruise, George Roy Hill, Martin Ritt, and John Huston–that run throughout add richness and color and context to the story Newman is telling.

Newman’s often traumatic childhood is brilliantly detailed. He talks about his teenage insecurities, his early failures with women, his rise to stardom, his early rivals (Marlon Brando and James Dean), his first marriage, his drinking, his philanthropy, the death of his son Scott, his strong desire for his daughters to know and understand the truth about their father. Perhaps the most moving material in the book centers around his relationship with Joanne Woodward–their love for each other, his dependence on her, the way she shaped him intellectually, emotionally and sexually.

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man is revelatory and introspective, personal and analytical, loving and tender in some places, always complex and profound. 

Book Nation by Jen

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