Paul Newman: Verdict on a Superstar

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Bill and the Indians.

Is it tine to explain about the salad dressing?

Let's have the salad after the main course.

A star is a distant incandescence, vast and mysterious. For a mere human being, an actor, a speaker of other people's words, a wearer of other people's pants, eyebrows, mustaches and attitudes, to be called a star is an absurdity. Yet in show business a being at the level of Paul Newman cannot simply be called a star; the term is not weighty enough. He becomes Reddi Wip topping with jimmies—a superstar! Not just your everyday vast, mysterious, distant incandescence, but a really big one.

The distinction is very important. It happens that Joanne Woodward, Newman's wife of 24 years, is a star. She is an enormously versatile and respected actress, who won an Academy Award for The Three Faces of Eve when she was 28. Paul, who has never won, has been nominated five times. The guess here is that there is a strong possibility of a sixth nomination for his role as a drunken lawyer in The Verdict, which opens on Dec. 17. She does not work very often, and she says unworriedly that she is in a period of artistic hibernation (she will play a part in Paul's next film, tentatively titled Harry and Son). When she does appear in a picture, knowledgeable moviegoers find out where it is playing and go see it. Yet she can usually walk unrecognized down a street, and her presence in a cast has never started one of those alarming tidal movements toward the box office that a superstar sometimes generates and in which, for reasons that seem closer to the migration of geese than to entertainment, every third soul on the planet decides to see a certain movie.

Matters are quite different with Newman. His face—the nose so straight, the eyes so blue, the lips so cruelly curled, the fine countenance so strong and yet so vulnerable—is not just universally recognizable. It is almost universally a catalyst of moist and turbulent emotions. Men's eyes mist over, and women's knees go wobbly.

"It was pretty bewildering when we'd go out to dinner and 300 crazed women would approach our table," recalls Susan Newman, 29, Paul's daughter by his first wife, Jacqueline Witte (the two have another daughter, Stephanie, 27; their son Scott, then 28, died of an overdose of painkillers and alcohol in 1978; and Paul and Joanne have three daughters, Nell, 23, Lissy, 21, and Clea, 17). Susan, who is now close to her father but resentful of the superstar phenomenon, goes on to say that "even in the fields of Italy, these kerchiefed people looking over the vines would be crying 'Paulo Newman.' It wears you down. It's tiring."

Author Gore Vidal, a friend since the early '50s, recalls walking with Paul on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan a few years back. Newman had been holding his head down, to avoid recognition, but he raised it to make a point in a conversation. "An extremely large woman was coming toward us," says Vidal, "and she gave a gasp as he looked up. We kept going and we heard a terrible sound, and Paul said, 'My God, she's fainted. Let's keep moving.' "

"I don't think Paul Newman really thinks he is Paul Newman in his head," says Screenwriter William Goldman, who wrote the scripts for Harper and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

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