Playwright and biographer Hotchner (The Good Life According to Hemingway, 2008, etc.) affectionately reflects on his decades-long friendship with iconic actor Paul Newman.
The author and Newman bonded during the production of a 1955 TV play that proved to be a turning point in both their careers—Newman was nervously replacing the recently deceased James Dean in a Hemingway story adapted by Hotchner—and the resulting teasing and competitive friendship endured until the actor’s death in 2008. The bulk of Hotchner’s narrative concerns the establishment of the Newman’s Own line of gourmet foods, begun as a lark by the duo in Newman’s barn, where they mixed up a vat of the actor’s signature salad dressing with a dirty oar. From such humble beginnings grew a philanthropic powerhouse, distributing hundreds of millions of dollars to various charities, despite an army of naysayers and seemingly insurmountable odds. The author stresses the playfulness of Newman’s quixotic desire to enter the food industry, and the competitiveness and breezy optimism that characterized Newman’s attitude toward the project. The pair also established a special summer camp for seriously ill children, again bringing a dauntingly complicated and expensive project to fruition with little more than nerve and contrariness. The Newman that emerges from Hotchner’s remembrances is an immensely likable figure, compulsively unpretentious and self-deprecating, hungry for fun and adventure. There are a few scenes highlighting Newman’s movie-star milieu, including a beer-fueled tennis match with Robert Redford and MPAA head Jack Valenti, and a taste test administered by Newman neighbor Martha Stewart. But the author focuses on the actor away from Hollywood, engaged in his passions for racing, boating and just hanging out and shooting the breeze. Sections on the suicide of Newman’s troubled son and a heartbreaking account of the actor’s failing health add melancholic notes to the story, but Hotchner’s memoir is ultimately an inspirational portrait of an extraordinary man.
An intimate, uplifting account of a profound friendship and a boyish lark that grew into a spectacularly successful enterprise.