I must have been 9 or 10 when I saw the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as Sundance. I was at home with strep throat, lying on the couch and feeling pretty miserable when my dad switched the TV channel to HBO which was airing the classic buddy western. I loved it immediately and even remember crying a little at the end when Butch and Sundance meet an unexpected fate in the dramatic final scene.
Butch Cassidy and Sundance also made me an instant fan of Newman and Redford, and over the years I’ve devoured almost every movie they made–my favorites being The Sting (which stars both actors in the best heist film ever made) and Cool Hand Luke (starring Newman as one of the most compelling characters ever captured on film). Cool Hand Luke has some very deep Biblical themes and serves as a wonderful commentary about fighting an injust system, of resisting the powers and principalities of the world. Remarkable film. And scenes that will stay etched in your mind and heart forever.
Newman, who died last week at the age of 83, had a knack for creating characters who were witty, wise, tough, resiliant, kind, generous, defiant, courageous and broken all at the same time. It’s difficult to watch Newman’s characters suffer. To see the rebel Luke get beaten down mentally and physically by the warden and prison guards in Cool Hand Luke or the pool playing Fast Eddie Felson get easily conned and embarrassed by another player in The Color of Money is gut wrenching. But what made the pain worth while was the joy of seeing those same characters stand up after a beating, dust their clothes off and get right back into living. Newman’s characters, no matter how broken, refused to give up or give in to the powers trying to control them. Through figures like Luke, Eddie, Michael Gallagher in Absence of Malice, Frank Galvin in The Verdict, Henry Gondorff in The Sting and Sully Sullivan in Nobody’s Fool, Newman gave the common man and woman hope that tomorrow was another day to fight again.
Newman understood average folks, because for all of his movie stardom, he never saw himself above anyone else. He was a humble man and actor who gave even more hope to others off screen as he did on film. He created “Newman’s Own” food products (primarily salad dressing) to raise money for thousands of charitable organizations worldwide ($250 million to date) and to establish “Hole In the Wall Camps” the leading global family of camps for children with life-threatening illnesses.
After watching the video tribute to him on the “Newman’s Own” website, http://www.newmansown.com/, it’s clear that Paul Newman, a Unitarian Universalist whose dad was Jewish and mom was Hungarian Catholic, believed that God–a higher power that was bigger than himself–was calling him to love and care for those in need: