Saturday, September 27, 2008

No Mere Actor

One of my earliest memories of Paul Newman outside of the movies was watching him on Phil Donahue debate nuclear proliferation with some Edward Teller type decrying Newman and anyone like him as wet noodle pinkos. Since I was already obsessed with the topic at an early age thanks to my father's books on Oppenheimer I took a particular interest in the debate and came down squarely on Newman's side.

His arguments were nothing special but they were logical to a fault. For instance, he used the old warhorse about matches in a gas filled room. If one will blow it up then what point is it to have more matches than the other guy? If a few hundred well placed nuclear warheads can destroy an entire nation and a few thousand, the world, then why continue to spend billions building up arsenals in the tens of thousands?

I'm not trying to create a political agenda with this post, and please feel free to not discuss this topic at all in the comments. I'm just saying that as someone with a substantial interest in this topic, Newman became one of my earliest movie heroes off the screen.

Most people get annoyed at celebrities getting political in the public arena but it's never bothered me. In most cases, I find their views simplistic and uninformed. Easy to ignore. But if they want to use their public profile to push a pet cause of theirs, and no one is being hurt, I say more power to them. But Newman annoyed people because he wasn't simple and he wasn't uninformed. He spoke from the heart and did his research. He pissed people off because he couldn't be written off. I admire him for that.

And, oh yeah, he was a hell of an actor. I admire that too.


Kimberly said...

Most people get annoyed at celebrities getting political in the public arena

I tend to think that only a few extremists who don't beleiev in free speech hold this view. And most of them probably think actor Ronald Regan is the best president the countries ever had.

Like yourself, I admired Newman for his acting skills as well as his philanthropy and political activism. Unlike a lot of modern stars who seem to often be supporting causes for the publicity it offers them, Newman didn't need the publicity. He was talented. He was special. He'll be missd.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Newman seemed like a very generous man and he never gave off the vibe of being a haughty movie star. And people forget nowadays how out of control the arms race got between the USSR and the US in those days, with each country amassing enormous amount of nuclear warheads (even though the damn things continue to work for hundreds of years after construction) that were unnecessary and dangerous. I liked that Newman spoke out about that even though it brought him no personal gain.

Kimberly said...

Please ignore the typos in my first post!

I swear . . . I need to stop commenting in other people's blogs. Too any typos and too many chances of getting involved in a bad conversation.

On a side note, have you by chance seen Newman in a film called WUSA (1970)? I haven't seen it myself but I read some things about it today and now I'd like to.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I've heard of it but never seen it. I know it was one of the movies that landed Newman on Nixon's Enemies List and the plot sounds intriguing. I definitely want to see it now. It sounds more pertinent now than it did then.

P.S. - Everyone has typos in comments, don't worry about it.

ARBOGAST said...

Robert Quarry once told a story about a conversation he had with Newman during the making of WUSA. When Newman asked (no doubt politely) what Quarry had just done, Quarry told the A-list star about the vampire B-movie he had just made and Newman said he would have loved to do something like that sometime.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Newman's eyes would have made him a great vampire in his day. Too bad he never did it.

Rick Olson said...

I nevre make msitakes in my comments.

And I don't think it's a few extremists; unfortunately, it's a large segment of the conservatives in this country who, as you point out Kim, love the ones who agree with them and have no problem with them expressing their political opinions.

Not that I want to help you create a political agenda with this post, Jonathan.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I agree, but I think there are plenty of liberals who also get annoyed by it because in some cases it makes their cause look worse when some not-so-sharp Hollywood Hunk or Hunkette starts rambling on at the Oscars about one thing or another. But I still maintain that in an active civil community anyone in the public kind of has a duty to speak out on political issues, to use their fame to raise awareness in any way possible. Again though, as long as no one is getting hurt. So I'm not talking about someone like Mel Gibson speaking out about whether the Holocaust may not have happened or how every major war was started by Jews. That kind of garbage should stay in his tiny little head and not be thrust on an unsuspecting public.

But if you're a celebrity, liberal or conservative, and you want to use that as a public platform to support the policies and ideas of people in Washington, I say go ahead.

Kimberly said...

Newman in a western-style vampire film would have been fun viewing. He could have played an old world-weary vampire in something like Near Dark. The idea of Newman and Lance Henriksen doing a scene together makes me grin.

It's too bad that WUSA seems impossible to find. I'm even more curious about it now that you mentioned it helped get If it';s Newman on Nixon's Enemies List.

Rick - Sadly, you're probably right.

Jonathan said...

To say the least, Jonathan... this news broke my heart. I think Sally Field, his Absence of Malice co-star, said it best.

"I was blessed to have known him. The world is better because of him. Sometimes God makes perfect people, and Paul Newman was one of them."

Jonathan Lapper said...

Kimberly, the exact listing on the political enemies memo that was revealed in May of 74 during John Dean's testimony was this: "Paul Newman, California: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ’68. Used effectively in nationwide T.V. commercials. ’72 involvement certain."

Movies like WUSA just added fuel to the flame for Nixon. By the way, Newman was number 19 on the top twenty list of priority names. That's right. An actor and activist was considered to be one of Nixon's top twenty enemies to be dealt with.

Boy, we have really had some winners in that White House haven't we?

Jonathan Lapper said...

Jonathan, long, long, long time no hear. Glad to hear from you again. Newman was one of the greats and I think that's why we're seeing such an outpouring of sincere and heartfelt remembrances. He wasn't just great onscreen but a great person off, and you just don't too many of those anymore it seems.