If you’re from my generation, whenever you see or hear the name “Paul Newman,” you probably think of two things– popcorn and salad dressing.
But long before Mr. Newman’s face began gracing the labels of balsamic vinaigrette and boxes of un-popped kernels, he was much more than that. He was a heroic legend. Or a legendary hero, perhaps? No– he was both.
Paul Newman was an actor for film and on Broadway, as well as a film director. During the 1950s, he starred in films alongside such epic actors as Orson Welles, Joanne Woodward (who would become Newman’s wife!), Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”), and Frank Sinatra.
In the 196os and ’70s he worked with Robert Redford (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), and while filming “The Towering Inferno” worked with great and notorious actors alike, including William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, and O.J. Simpson (yes, that O.J. Simpson!).
But what makes Paul Newman’s life hero-worthy is not his commitment to being a low-profile, A-List actor; it was his dedication to just causes and his endless emotional capacity for giving back. In 1982, Mr. Newman founded a line of food products under the brand name “Newman’s Own.” It sold everything from popcorn to pasta sauce, and according to Wikipedia, “Newman established a policy that all proceeds, after taxes, would be donated to a charity.”
Mr. Newman upheld his promise, his company having donated more than $280 million as of October 2008.
One of the myriad organizations on the receiving end of Newman’s generosity is the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, one of which, of course, is my beloved Camp Boggy Creek, for children with chronic or life-threatening conditions. The original Hole in the Wall Gang Camp was co-founded by Newman himself and is located in Ashford, Connecticut.
Since 1988, Hole in the Wall camps have been established in Ireland, France, and Israel, and campers and their families are not charged a single penny to attend.
In 1999, Newman gave $250,000 to Catholic Relief Services to aid refugees in Kosovo. He was one of the founders of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), and he was named the Most Generous Celebrity of 2008 by the Web site Givingback.org.
He was also a fierce protector of our civil liberties, and Newman’s Own is a co-sponsor of PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award, “a $25,000 reward designed to recognize those who protect the First Amendment as it applies to the written word.”
I still recall how hollow and empty I felt when I learned of Paul Newman’s passing on September 26, 2008. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a Camp Boggy Creek event when I was about 12 or 13. He was very humble, unassuming, and seemed slightly peeved at the bevy of gaggling older women who were blocking access to him for the children. Someday, when my scanner works, I will post the photo of me with Mr. Newman.
As evidenced by the hundreds of people I’ve profiled, and many more yet to come, Paul Newman’s legacy of hope through the act of giving has not died. Rather, it lives on in each and every person that takes the time to learn more about any good cause, and give a small donation, or spread the word via Twitter, or volunteer a few hours of their time.
This is why I’m going to write to Newman’s Own Foundation to tell them about my spina bifida awareness campaign: throughout his life, Newman assumed nothing. He was just a man, with talent and incredibly good fortune. That’s what he wanted to be for his audiences. But for me, and for the 13-year-old girl who got to meet him at her favorite place on earth, Camp Boggy Creek, Paul Newman will forever remain…a hero.