Saturday, September 27, 2008

Remembering Paul Newman

Back somewhere in 1975, just before Paul Newman started filming The Drowning Pool in and around my hometown of New Orleans, he joined a few of his co-stars (including his wife, Joanne Woodward), for a small press reception in a secure meeting room at the city’s main airport. (Looking back, I have to wonder if this little get-together occurred just a few minutes after Newman and company first arrived in The Big Easy.) Newman seemed amiable – perhaps because, judging from his long pauses and languid movements, he’d prepared for the reception by having a beer or two, or five or six – and more than a little mischievous. He sat on a chair near where Woodward was seated, facing me while she chatted with another journalist. And every so often while we talked, he’d turn around, make sure she wasn’t looking at him, and… and… well, reach out to grab her ass.

Newman never quite made full contact, however. Each time his fingers were in seriously close proximity to her derrière, Woodward somehow sensed it. And each time, she would briefly turn around and shoot him a look that read “Don’t you dare!” He would smile sheepishly, place his hand back in his lap, and wait for her to turn back to her interviewer. And then he would again begin the process of reaching slowly, slowly, ever so slowly…

I know I should have found this behavior boorish, or unprofessional, or whatever. But, truth to tell, I found myself richly amused, and hard-pressed to suppress a hearty laugh. (I thought: What the hell, if I had to choose between talking to me and grabbing Joanne Woodward’s ass, I know what I’d pick.) The interview, such as it was, didn’t last very long: After about 15 minutes, someone came by, beer in hand, to lure Newman over to another corner of the room – not incidentally, far away from Woodward – for a brief Q&A with another journalist. I got to ask a few more questions during our next encounter, 14 years later. But I kinda-sorta think he had a lot more fun during this first meeting. Hey, I know I did.

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