One of the turning points in my life occurred while I was running the assignment desk in Milwaukee in the 70s. On the front page of USA Today was a feature on Mickey Mantle, the sub-headline of which was a quote from the Mick: “The people taking over the world grew up on me.” It was then that I realized that my generation was taking charge, a kind of revelation of the opportunity, responsibility and burden that the concept carried with it.
My age group has long since transferred leadership to a younger group, but I still reflect on that — and all my other youthful influences — especially when one passes on. Such is the case with Paul Newman.
He was the first of a new breed of actor-turned-director who excelled at both. I loved Paul Newman, as did most of my contemporaries. He glamorized everything he touched, every role he played. He was uniquely Paul Newman, and I grew up on him. I loved him in starring roles, and I loved him in supporting roles.
“Absence of Malice” was wonderful, but so was “Message in a Bottle.” Everybody wanted to be “Cool Hand Luke.” He was magnificent in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid;” wrote, produced, directed and starred in “Harry and Son;” and sizzled in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
But the masterpiece of Paul Newman’s career, in my opinion, was the role of Eddie Felson, which he played twice in “The Hustler” and “The Color of Money.” The poolroom scenes with Jackie Gleason in 1961’s “The Hustler” were breathtaking and will always be among the greatest in motion picture history. Gleason WAS Minnesota Fats, and Newman WAS the challenger Felson. “The Hustler” was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and four for castmembers in starring and supporting roles. It only won two, for Art Direction and Cinematography (it was up against “West Side Story” and “Judgment at Nuremberg”). If you’ve not seen the film, do yourself a favor and rent it or download it this weekend.
Paul Newman was a hero of mine, and, like Mickey Mantle, I miss him.