Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Leonard Newman, January 26, 1925 – September 26, 2008

A great icon of film ( and racing, and philanthropy and just... life) died today. I was lucky enough to have had a few conversations with him in my own little career and I must say that the world has lost a truly wonderful human.

I met Mr. Newman working on an American Express / Super Bowl commercial many, many years ago. It happened to be one of the cushiest jobs of my professional life.

It was my job to get the film into the lab before cutoff. Cutoff is when they shut the lab down for the night in order to have dailies (exposed / printed film shot the day before) back to the production houses in the morning. If you miss cutoff and still want to see dailies that day, the company has to pony up some major bucks for the lab to do a daylight run.

As the commercial was shooting night shots a few hours north of L.A. in Bakersfield, this complicated the cutoff. If my memory serves, cutoff was around 4 a.m. And night in November meant the crew was shooting from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. This meant the production company and agency could not see dailies from the entire night's shoot. They would have to break the film around 2 a.m. for me to run it back to L.A.

Add to the fact that we had a celebrity (Mr. Newman) and it was SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL - you have no idea how much money and pressure is involved with these little mini - films - it was a tense set at times.

Super Bowl commercials can attract all kinds of talent you would never see in the advertising arena on a regular basis. Celebrities like the quick and pricey paycheck but they also like that the ad won't be run ad infinitum on television.

And, these commercials also attract directors from features who may be trying to break into the lucrative short form or just trying to ad a prestige shoot to their repertoire.

With the Am/Ex job, it was a director I had worked with since he started in commercials, only he had just shot his first feature film - a B movie comedy with B level talent at best! But because he had broken into features, suddenly his ego wouldn't fit in the door! He was such an ass - par for the course with this guy but much worse.

He came in with all these demands...unheard of for a commercial director - but he was now spoiled from shooting features. His biggest demand was his own motorhome.

So here they are, shooting freezing cold nights on a race track in Bakersfield and every time he yells, "Cut," the director heads for the warmth of his trailer.

I was pretty much a bystander in all of this. I would appear on set around 1 a.m., help out if needed or just stand around and watch, have breakfast and hit the road.

But I was so amused my Mr. Bigshot director's behavior. Everyone was ready to start and then realize, "Where's [director]?" "In his trailer."

You would have expected Mr. Newman to be in his trailer all the time too. But he wasn't. He stayed on that freezing track with the crew, chatting them up, racing mini - motorbikes and just being one of the guys.

I've always thought Mr. Newman was a fantastic actor, but I cannot say he rocked my world. That is...until I found myself staring down into those mesmerizing baby blues! [Swoon!!!]

The crew had broken for breakfast - pancakes. [Director] skulking in his trailer, the agency also had a trailer for warmth, the crew had a big tent and most of us production folks ducked into the production trailer. Suddenly, there was a banging on the door. (We were all sort of surprised as NO one knocks on the production office door.) I was closest to it, so I opened it.

All I could see were those blue eyes. Mr. Newman, stood there holding a plate of steaming pancakes.

"It's too quiet in my trailer. Can I eat here?"

"Of course!"

He sat his plate down on the corner of the desk where I was eating and just joined in. He asked us about our lives and told us about his. He talked about his wife, his daughters and even the pain of losing his only son to drugs. He talked about racing and charity. You had no doubt what or who he loved.

Mr. Newman would join us for breakfast every night like that. I'm certain all of us understood why he was such a great man.

And I'm equally certain, the world is a bit dimmer without those blue eyes shining.

5 comments:

ordinaryjanet said...

Nice story! His passing was one of the only times I've ever felt real sadness at an actor's death.

I hope TCM has a Paul Newman marathon, I want to see some of his early films again.

It's depressing that when I look at the current crop of "young talent", I don't see anyone who would deserve the title of "icon" in the future.

Duly Inspired said...

Seems he was a man among men. How nice that you have a personal and inspirational memory of him.

Pat Dempsey said...

I too enjoyed your story on Mr. Newman. What an Icon of a man

Actually I'm a big fan of all that you write.
I love your blog. Keep up the great work.

Velvet Sacks said...

Nice memories and a nice tribute to Paul Newman.

Can you believe that the 21-year-old in my office saw his picture on the cover of People Magazine, commented on how good looking he was, then said she'd never heard of him?

It's been a long time since you posted this. Are you taking an unofficial break like the rest of us, or are you sick again?

CreekHiker said...

Velvet, To be honest, I didn't think anyone was stopping by anymore...
that and job hunting is harshing my mellow.