Columbia residents recall Paul Newman as 'philanthropic,' 'talented'

Saturday, September 27, 2008 | 7:47 p.m. CDT; updated 12:30 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 2, 2008
Paul Newman got his start in theater and on TV during the 1950s and remained in demand throughout his life.

This article has been corrected to reflect the proper title for Ramsay Wise.

COLUMBIA — Eyes sparkle at the mention of his name. As one of Hollywood's greatest "sweethearts," Paul Newman is a legend to several generations. For some people, he was more than a handsome man or a good actor. To them, he was a charitable gentleman who frequently gave back to his community.

To Leigh Lockhart, owner of Main Squeeze restaurant, he was  known as a good-hearted, blue-eyed star.


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"He was a good family man," she said. "He was a nice guy and had a great reputation. He wasn't like a person from Hollywood that you wouldn't like; he was a person from Hollywood that you would like."

Newman died Friday at age 83 in his home in Westport, Conn., from cancer. Newman was an Academy Award-winning actor who also owned an organic food company, Newman's Own Organics. 

His believable on- and off-stage character re-enforced his humanistic persona, local artist Carla McFarland said. He played varying roles in his films that projected his talent and good looks, two qualities that were the cornerstones to his success, she said.

"Those beautiful eyes!" McFarland said breathlessly. "The characters that he did seemed very real and varied. He went to all extremes, but he's very talented and very down-to-earth, and he seemed like he had a social conscience."

McFarland, who didn't know of Newman's death prior to the interview, smiled at the thought of him. As a stained-glass artist and vendor at this weekend's Festival of the Arts, McFarland explained what she thought was his true significance.  

"He didn't seem conceited and didn't seem so full of himself like all the other stars," she said. "He did what he wanted to do and donated lots and lots of money to good causes."

A few years ago, McFarland made a stained-glass portrait of Newman that she sold through a Columbia business. "I was interested in doing some portraits on stained glass," she said. "He just has such a face that's easily recognizable."

Similarly, Lockhart said she feels a personal connection to the actor and explained how her ties with Newman bring his stardom down to a human level.  

"Well, gosh, I love Paul Newman," she said. "We have the same birthday. He named his daughter Nell, my mother's name; she later started an organic business. And we both have blue eyes! I thought all these things karmically meant I was destined to meet him someday."

When compared to other prominent actors of his time, Newman stands out with distinguishing quality, said Ramsay Wise, an MU graduate teaching assistant of theatre. His iconic roles showed his strength as a very talented actor, but what he accomplished off-screen really made Newton's character honorable, he said.

"For me, other than being a great actor, no one is as cool as Paul Newman," he said. "I think of him as a real community philanthropist. I'm not really sure you can describe what his charm and coolness is or where it comes from. I think that's something he had that separates him from the ‘Marlon Brandos' and ‘James Deans.'"

People are naturally drawn to Newman; Wise said he was unimposing."On-screen and off-screen, he didn't force himself on people. He doesn't overpower you with his performance."

Newman mastered a subtle, charming quality that no other person has matched thus far, said Jon Westhoff, projectionist at Ragtag Cinema.

"It's really strange to think of a world without Paul Newman," he said. "There's only one Paul Newman. What he's done will always be unique to him and has kind of a legacy carved out for himself, both in the social and professional realms."

While it's hard to imagine life without the star, Wise wishes Newman will be remembered as someone who used his talent to its full potential. He said Newman took the basic method of acting that was prominent during the '40s and projected it in a different light.

"In terms of Hollywood film history, he should definitely be remembered as a great movie star and one of the greatest actors as well," he said. "In terms of the late '40s (and) early '50s generation of people that came out studying the method, he is probably the most iconic movie star to come out of that."

But one doesn't have to be a film enthusiast to know Newman was historically significant, McFarland said. She said she wants him to be remembered "as a good man who happened to be a very good actor who was extremely handsome."

Similarly, Westhoff said that because of Newman's boundless accomplishments, he was his own man.

"He's everything," he said. "That kind of idea of doing it on his own terms and his way and doing what you think is right as opposed to what's popular or what's easy — I really do think Paul Newman lived by that in a lot of ways."

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