If you’re like me, you’re often befuddled by the Hollywood lifestyle and the sometimes bizarre behavior of movie stars and rock musicians.
Whether it’s Charlie Sheen’s drunken rages, Lindsay Lohan’s inability to take control of her life or the tumultuous marriages that sometimes last only a few days, Hollywood seems nuts in many ways.
That’s why it was neat to discover a few days ago that an organization created by the late Paul Newman recently passed the $300 million mark in charitable contributions.
Three hundred million bucks to worthy causes, all arising out of one talented guy’s idea to make his own salad dressing.
Paul Newman, who died two years ago at age 83, wasn’t your typical egocentric movie star. For starters, he shunned Hollywood, choosing instead to live in Westport, Conn. After a nine-year first marriage and subsequent divorce, he was wed to actress Joanne Woodward, and their union lasted half a century, until his death.
Newman’s list of movie roles is too long to detail. For many, his best appearance was in “Hud” in 1963, though many preferred his co-starring role along with Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The pair made many feminine hearts flutter.
He was, to put it succinctly, an immensely talented and gifted actor. And those blue eyes brought lots of women to the box office.
In the 1970s, Newman and writer friend A. W. Hotchner began mixing up their special-recipe salad dressing in Newman’s basement, parceling it out in old wine bottles to their friends as Christmas presents.
On a whim in 1982, they started a specialty food company called Newman’s Own, ignoring all the advice they got from business specialists and winging it on their instincts, vowing to give any profits they made to charitable causes.
Their first product was an oil-and-vinegar salad dressing, and Newman’s star power no doubt contributed to their ability to get shelf space in major supermarkets.
That first year, instead of losing a million dollars as the experts had predicted, their fledgling company made $500,000. They were off and running.
Since then, Newman’s Own has become a specialty foods blockbuster, marketing everything from popcorn to pizza to pasta sauce. You’ve no doubt seen the items, with a caricature of Newman on the label.
Newman’s Own recently passed the $300 million mark in donations, having donated huge sums of money to a wide variety of charities and causes both in the United States and around the world.
And as anyone who’s tasted the products can tell you, there’s a reason the company makes money: its food items are tasty.
My own favorite Newman story, and it’s true:
Many years ago, one of his daughters attended the College of the Atlantic on the Maine island where Wife Nancy and I spend time.
When he visited her, he always stayed at a small hotel owned by a woman named Eleanor, who’s elderly now and relies on her grandson to run the inn.
When Newman visited, he was still highly sought after as a star, at the height of his fame. He and Eleanor developed a close, give-and-take relationship. They loved to kid each other.
One evening over drinks, as they poked and prodded at each other, Newman said with his inimitable smile, “Oh, come on, Eleanor, you have to admit it: I’m a pretty good-looking guy.”
She barely paused before responding with a wink and a grin, “Yes, I suppose you are, but what would really be nice would be for Robert Redford to stay here.”
Decades have passed since then. Eleanor’s got some age on her now, and Newman’s no longer with us. But $300 million in good deeds leaves lots of people with warm feelings for a guy who wasn’t impressed with himself, or with Hollywood.