Monday, January 26, 2009

"Somebody Down Here Likes You"

Last night, when James Earl Jones accepted his SAG lifetime achievement award, he closed his speech by saluting Paul Newman. “Somebody down here likes you,” he said, playing on the title of Newman’s 1956 film Somebody Up There Likes Me. Today, on the anniversary of Newman’s birth (and coincidentally, the four month anniversary of his death), I thought it only fitting that I should share my own salute to the man, the legend…and my favorite actor:

“Boy, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals,” says the always-thinking Butch Cassidy, the character made famous by Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And one can’t help but think that this quote applied to Newman in real-life as well. Something about those supernatural piercing blue eyes made it seem like he was seeing differently than the rest of us. Clearer, maybe, when it came to things like acting and making a difference.

The man and movie screen legend is gone now, but the vision remains. Newman passed away on September 26 at his home in Westport, Connecticut after a long battle with cancer at the age of 83. (He would have been 84 today.) But he leaves behind a legacy of films to admire. As Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, desperation never looked so good. As Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler, his passionate performance made the game of pool seem like an art-form. In Hud, he made careless rebellion seem sympathetic, and in Cool Hand Luke he communicated to us the consequences of “failing to communicate.” And the list goes on: The Sting, The Verdict, Road to Perdition, The Color of Money, all the way through his last film contribution—lending his voice and passion for car racing to the 2006 Pixar flick, Cars.

Let’s not forget the man behind the actor, the one who loved giving back. His Newman’s Own products have made over $250 million for charity, and he founded the Hole in the Wall Camp for children with life-threatening illnesses. His generosity made him not only a relatable on-screen presence, but a truly admirable human being. A true rarity in Hollywood, Newman had a long-lasting marriage to actress Joanne Woodward. The two were married for 50 years (Their 51st anniversary would have been this week, too).

Newman most often played the anti-hero in his films, but to many he was a real hero. He is truly missed, and salads don’t taste quite the same.

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