Often times when I meet celebrities, famous actors, people I admire, I am inevitably disappointed. Very few people can live up to the idealized version I, or many of us have created of them – with one exception.
Many years ago I dated a great girl, who among other things, was very close with the Newman Family - Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward that is. For those of you who may not know, they were (and always will be) the last of the Great American Movie Stars - Cultural Icons, Film Royalty, Politically Active, Academy Awards Winners. Emily and I were invited to the Newman’s home for a “Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae Party!” (I suspect Emily was invited, but as I was her boyfriend, I was somehow allowed to attend).
The party was a bit stuffy, no one really knows how to act around genuine stars, and this was the first time I was experiencing that. I made my Ice Cream Sundae because I thought that was what I was supposed to do, and I stayed close to Emily. I didn’t know anyone there. Why would I? Until that moment in my life there really was no reason why I would be in the same room with Gore Vidal, eating ice cream. So after about ½ hour, I was bored. Yes, I was at Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s Penthouse Apartment in New York City and I was bored. I wandered into the kitchen - something I find myself doing at every party I have ever gone to in my entire life. That's always where the action is! And sure enough, there he was. Cool Hand Luke himself. Butch Cassidy. Hud. Brick. Eddie Felson but more than any of those characters, at that moment, he reminded me of my own Dad, because of the lawyer role, Frank Galvin, he played in the movie “The Verdict.” See how easily one can romanticize a Movie Star! (By the way, and perhaps for younger people, if you aren't familiar with the characters I just listed, you can enrich your lives by finding and watching the movies they were from).
Anyway. I walked into the kitchen and there was Paul Newman. I didn’t know what to say, I just looked at him. “Hey kid, you want a beer?” Me? Yes. And then I sat down and drank a beer with Paul Newman. He asked me about myself, about Emily, about my ambitions as an actor and in life...it was all a blur. We finished those beers, then he grabbed us 2 more, Budweiser, apparently he liked Budweiser, and we headed back to the party. For the rest of the night I was one of the cool guys at the party. And I held on to that bottle of Bud long after I had finished drinking the beer - just to let people know.
At the end of the night, as Emily and I left, I stood at the door for a moment and looked back towards Mr. Newman. I briefly thought about calling out to him, then flicking the side of my nose as he had done in “The Sting,” then I thought better of it. That’s one of those "ideas" you get when you are buzzed from beer, ice cream and meeting a star like Paul Newman.
About a year later, Emily and I were on the rocks, something about me, or her, or both of us, fooling around with other people, oh well, that’s what happens when you’re turning 23 years old. But she did manage to give me maybe the greatest birthday gift ever. According to legend (or at least to Emily), Mr. Newman, did not believe in giving out autographs. But he made an exception, (again, for Emily), and she had him autograph a picture to me for my birthday.
Here I am sitting next to that picture today.
Please note how Mr. Newman spells my name: Rob’t, not Robert or Rob. Now some have suggested to me that that is a Mid Western thing. But I choose to I believe it was Mr. Newman’s way of saying, “I don’t give out autographs, but you were okay company that one time we had a beer, and Emily tells me it’s your birthday, so I’ll sign this simply to Rob’t.” 25 years later that’s still fine by me.
And that’s the story about that time I drank a beer with Paul Newman. Rest in Peace Sir, and thanks for the memory...