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Cannonball Read #48: Paul and Me

05/19/2010

I reviewed a biography of Paul Newman earlier in the Cannonball Read, and Newman seemed like a really great guy. When I saw Paul and Me: Fifty-three Years of Adventures and Misadventures with My Pal Paul Newman, by A. E. Hotchner at the library, I had to see what his friend of 53 years had to say. What a nice addition to the story of Paul Newman!

Hotchner and Newman met up in 1955 in a funeral home where they were rehearsing a television drama written by Hotchner. By the time the show aired, they had become fast friends. And that’s what Paul and Me focuses on: the story of the two friends, and ultimately how they came to found the philanthropic company, Newman’s Own.

The book is also peppered with snapshots and photos, like the one early on of Newman making a hamburger patty outdoors. In fact a lot of Paul’s conversations involve food – he was quite the gourmand. Hotchner also covers his fondness for racing, practical jokes, and his drinking.

One story of Newman, Hotchner,  Robert Redford and Jack Valenti, the Motion Picture Association president, playing a tennis game:

“..Rules are a slug of beer every time we change sides and foot faults are okay up to two feet.”

From the outset it was apparent that Paul and Bob [Redford] were treating this as a serious duel. We changed games every odd game and paused to chug some beer.

What also earned points for Paul was his superiority at drinking beer. Paul regularly consumed a dozen or so beers a day, and this intense training gave him a significant advantage over his opponents who began to wobble under the sweltering sun. As a matter of fact, with every side-changing swallow Paul’s game got sharper, and by the time the match ended in our favor, he was hitting respectable overheads and the rest of us were seeing two tennis balls in place of one

These insights and funny stories are really enjoyable, but the best part of the book is the story of Newman’s Own and how these two men really bucked the industry to get their all natural, organic food on the grocery shelves.  After being told that they would need $1,400,000 to get their products assessed by the public and then starting the business, Paul said:

“We’ll gather a dozen of our friends and have a blind taste-testing. We’ll put all the big name brands in numbered saucers, ours in the mix, and have them rated from one to ten. Then let’s you and me put up twenty thousand dollars each and when that’s gone we go out of business.”

Paul put the Volkswagon in gear and took off at his usual ninety miles an hour. “I feel pretty good,” he said, “don’t you? We just saved one million three hundred and sixty thousand dollars.”

Of course the dressing was a big hit, and so was the spaghetti sauce, lemonade, popcorn and much much more. As the business was just getting started, Newman told Hotchner that he didn’t want to use his name to sell the dressing just to line their pockets, he wanted “shameless exploitation for charity, for the common good –now there’s an idea worth the hustle”

How the company takes off, and what they spend the money on is quite engrossing reading. The creation of the Hole in the Wall camps for children with cancer is quite moving, and the behind the scenes bits are really interesting. Hotchner’s organization of the story of their early friendship was a bit all over the place, chronologically, but he certainly writes compellingly about Newman’s Own.

Hotchner’s sadness at Newman’s illness is of course, the most poignant part of Paul and Me. Hotchner tells us of his last visit to see Newman, and after reading all they had gone through together, and how lovingly Hotchner tells us of his friend, we can really feel for him.

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