Saturday, September 27, 2008

R.I.P., Paul Newman


A year or so ago, I posted here about writing fan letters, and I made a list of people whose work or lives have inspired me enough that I feel an obligation to express my admiration and gratitude to them. I don't remember how close to the top of my list he was, but I actually wrote Paul Newman a fan letter last month, and finally put it in the mail a couple of weeks ago. Somebody had shown me a recent picture of him looking frail and I thought, better get this done before it's too late.

Paul Newman died yesterday. I have no idea whether or not he got my letter. In my narcissistic writer mind, I imagine he did, and the letter killed him. With kindness. If he did read it, I hope he felt, wow, I really have touched people's lives in some way he'd never quite felt it before. The letter mostly emphasized how his life has enriched mine, from movie moments I'll never forget, to witnessing his political activism, to the inspiration of the Hole In The Wall Gang camps for kids, to the good food, good works, and good packaging copy generated by Newman's Own. And I told him that he made me feel better about getting older, which is no mean feat.

I sent the letter to the Newman's Own address, and included a piece I'd written for an "encouragement project" at Hallmark. As fan letters go, it was pretty damn good, I must say. I really hope somebody got it to him.

And I hope anyone who reads this will take the time to tell someone who has inspired you what that inspiration means. These people aren't always going to be around.

I never told David Foster Wallace how his work blew my mind, and then it was suddenly too late. You can't anticipate an early exit like that, and I'm not saying a fan letter can prevent it. But it's worth doing. It feels satisfying to have gotten this one out before Paul Newman died, even if he never saw it. At least I didn't leave it on the table.

I hereby hoist a Fig Newman in honor of a great actor, humanitarian, and all-around cool cat. Man, them's good eatin'.

So this week, I'm picking a writer. What do I really want to say to...Philip Roth? Robert Bly? Billy Collins? Or Annie Proulx? It had better be good.

7 comments:

Stace said...

Oh my gosh. How wild that you just sent him a fan letter. Bet he got it. Bet he loved it.

scotland said...

Hey Jim, At bedtime last night,Abraham and I were talking over the subject of this weekends movies. Yeah, he said "Island in the Sky was the best John Wayne movie I ever saw." I told him he needed to see the Shootist, but had made a good pick. He rambled over to James Dean, not on this weekends bill, but as deserving a mention. I had to explain the reference and source of East of Eden, which is, the one movie of Deans I'll never forget. Abraham has seen Grapes of Wrath,so Steinbeck wasn't over his head. Then he say's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is one of the best movies ever and goes on...the characters, ya know when they get mad, it feels just like that, ya know when you get mad and then its over.
I'm sure you can guess, I've been making him a student of americana. and will appreciate his view that Birth of a Nation is the worst load of crap and support the view with a number of reasons.
He's seen The Sting,but I can't find Cool Hand Luke anywhere, but I'm sure someday we'll find him out there grinnin that grin and lifting his face out of the mud.

coloredsock said...

we actually had an oreo toast (that is, a Newman's 'oreo' toast) the night he died. what an inspiring soul indeed!! that is just awesome you sent him your letter. bet it meant a ton to him. hmmm, now i have to think about who i want to write a letter to...thanks for inspiring it! hope all is well in your world JP. xojenk

Anonymous said...

Nicely done, Jas.P. And if anyone cares to donate to The Hole in the Wall, here's the address:
The Hole in the Wall Gang Fund, 555 Long Wharf Drive, New Haven, CT 065111. Can't remember why I didn't do it online . . . . --Renée D.
P.S. Tell Penny H.B.!

scotland said...

Hey Dude, here's some Newman trivia I recently uncovered. Apparently after being tagged to play the lead in Farenheight 451,Neuman dropped out of the chance to play the fireman Montag, commenting that the screenplay as it was given him, had lost its punch of social criticism. In the end Bradbury certainly proved one thing he was a good writer,and we can make up our minds about anything else.

movie fan said...

it's hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman's Own line--high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes... very smart.

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