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TABLE D'HOTE: Good-bye, Cool Hand Newman

Wade McIntyre

“Yes, his eyes were that blue and beautiful.” - Eva Marie Saint, on co-star Paul Newman

When someone dies whom I’ve never met, I don’t go around in mourning. I send the deceased off with thoughts about why they meant what they did to me. People I’ve never met can always be replaced.

But, the death of actor and fellow liberal Paul Newman has left a huge vacant chair at my imaginary round table of best friends I’ve never met.

I brought Newman to the table long ago when he played “Cool Hand Luke,” the existential jailbird who, while confounding his captors, virtually created serious 1960s anti-establishment cinema in America.

As Butch Cassidy in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Newman and Robert Redford gave new meaning to the words “honor among thieves.” The pair played robbers who took from rich banks without exploiting the masses, unlike America’s current crop of money siphoning white collar Wall Street CEOs and investment banking stooges.

I was amazed when Newman later created Newman’s Own, the best mass market salad dressing ever. The stuff was healthy before most people knew healthy eating could make you live longer.

After using a few bottles, I got around to reading the back label and learned that all profits went to the Hole in the Wall Gang, his camp for severely ill kids.

We all thought the olive oil dressing was a lark, but it became a huge capitalistic success, which Newman turned into a philanthropic empire. He made working the system look easy, just like dishing out all those cool lines on the silver screen.

But running Newman’s Own was not easy, it was a business and Newman had to work at it. You don’t see any other actors or public figures starting philanthropic businesses, even though Newman proved it could be done. It’s much easier for celebrities to have someone create a perfume, put their name on it, then keep all the profits.

Newman’s straight on liberal politics are a big reason I miss him.

He was one of the giants, along with Muhammad Ali, who at great risk to career and reputation, set sail against the prevailing winds of government and military muscle. In doing so, he helped a new generation of Americans stop the Vietnam War.

He was an active and articulate civil rights spokesman for black Americans when marchers were being murdered and Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Newman claimed monogamy in Playboy magazine when asked if he was ever tempted to fool around on his wife, actress Joanne Woodward. In one of the magazine’s most famous interviews ever, he said he had steak at home every night, why should he go out for hamburger?

Newman made President Richard Nixon’s infamous enemies list, but the actor said it was one of his proudest achievements. I imagine he was more proud of The Hole in the Wall gang for kids. At his death Friday, there were 11 camps scattered throughout the world.

Americans usually let themselves get much too comfortable to live a life as large and well as Paul Newman did. He was one of the best friends I never met. That is why I am leaving his chair empty at the imaginary table. If someone else cool enough ever comes along, I’ll let them sit down and try it out.

I doubt that will ever happen.

Wade McIntyre is a reporter for The Gonzales Weekly Citizen. He can be reached at reporter1@weeklycitizen.com.