Taking a Shot at Paul Newman

“Hmmm, Paul Newman”, my son casually remarks as he rushes off by our countryside living room table, casting a look towards the new book that has made an appearance among the many other film books on display. He doesn’t stop, it’s just a frugal look – like saying hi to a member of the family, his eyes clearly focused on the Animalopoly game, the afternoon indoor activity forced on us by the heatwave. At seven, he is yet to watch a Paul Newman film. He has already seen Jaws and The Birds, as well as other more age-appropriate movies like Jurassic Park, and he is eagerly waiting for his first western (we haven’t yet made up our minds which one – we may just as well settle on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), so discussions revolving film subjects have become quite common in our house. But I wasn’t aware that the other film talks we have that don’t always involve him have started to rub off on him. I’m glad. And hopeful maybe? Hopeful that future generations, with the proper guidance and a whole lot of love for movies (our film archive, as well as our book collection, has never been out of reach, doubling as a perfect browsing activity from an early age), will continue to pour over films and images of Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Cary Grant and Robert Redford the way we always have.

“Despite his obvious dramatic gift for portraying characters on screen, and in addition to the reputation he enjoyed for upstanding personal character and an earnest work ethic, I discovered a goofball Paul, too,” writes photographer Tom Zimberoff in his introduction to the book Paul Newman: Blue-Eyed Cool. Pinned to my permanent summer inspiration board, leaning against one of the walls of the afore-mentioned living room, is the Lawrence Schiller photo of Paul Newman, Robert Redford and one other guy playing ping pong in shorts, on a hot summer day in Mexico, in 1968. More than his memorable roles, more than the cool guy whose great looks never surpassed his individuality and quiet confidence, it’s the goofball Paul in that photo that is more than welcome to permeate our lives during the summer and define our summer vibe: “come as you are, do what you like”. Decades after his stardom years, another decade and a half after his passing away, Paul Newman still vividly connects to audiences of all ages, with the help of the moving pictures and of the photographers who have burnished, with skill and sensibility, his movie-star image, “that magical combination of both himself and the characters he portrayed on screen”.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Mexico, 1968. Photograph by Lawrence Schiller

Seen and remembered through the lens and words of six great photographers (there are never-before released photos, and there are candid, funny, great stories, like Terry O’Neill photographing Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood because there was no good photo of them together), Paul Newman: Blue-Eyed Cool, published this year (it should be a great companion to the up-coming autobiography of Paul Newman, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir, to be released this autumn), is a celebration of Paul Newman, the actor, the man, the family man, the car-racer, the philanthropist. It’s also a celebration of movies – that’s how he first came into our lives, through the movies, this one-of-a-kind medium that makes actors seem larger than life, who fill the screens with their hearts and presence and activate our souls and lives, and makes us even more fascinated with them when we discover that their humanity is above their stardom. Paul Newman was one of them. It’s not just about his movies. Any photo of him, on- or off-screen, any conversation about him, creates memories that can last forever, even in the mind of a seven-year-old. Just like a beautiful summer day.


This summer we’re channelling: Paul Newman in “Sweet Bird of Youth”

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