Paul Newman died today.

I mention the passing of the American film giant Paul Newman today because so much of his professional and personal life was committed to improving the lives of those less fortunate then he was through his dedication to his craft and his causes. From his Newman's own salad dressing, popcorn and other foods he created and sold to benefit charities, to his personal involvement in a camp to assist under privileged children, Paul Newman personified a generation that recognized that celebrity and privilege created an obligation to use their platform to help society and those less fortunate. 

He was also one of the finest actors of the last 50 years, but amazingly was in the same situation as Humphrey Bogart, in that he only won a single best actor Oscar, despite numerous nomination and years in which his was was clearly superior to the other nominees. To me one of the greatest legal drama's ever put on the screen was The Verdict, based on the novel by Barry Reed and adapted into an academy award nominated screen play by David Mamet and directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet. Newman faced amazing competition that  that year losing the best actor award to Ben Kingsley for Gandhi, but also going up against Dustin Hoffman, Peter O'Toole and Jack Lemmon. Hows that for a murders row of great actors?  It was the story of a broken, alcoholic lawyer who is given one last case to bail out his career, and instead of taking the easy money to ignore his client, he instead realizes that the brain dead woman in a coma needs her lawyer to protect her and find justice. 

It was shot in Boston at the very time I was starting my career in 1980 and the mood, setting and background was so true to what it was like to practice law and work in the legal community at that time. The Irish, Italian and Jewish lawyers who went to Suffolk Law School, Boston College and Holy Cross were still looked down upon by the old school Yankee and Brahman lawyers that dominated the down town firms and the courts and insurance companies could be exceptionally corrupt. In that mix this story was told and at the end you view this broken man, who was once again out maneuvered by a technicality to strike the evidence that would win the case for him, simply asks the jury to determine what is justice.

From all accounts Paul Newman was a stand up guy, a loyal husband, devoted father, tough dude and navy vet. I know I sound like an old guy wishing for a better time, but what actor today could pull off a roll like Frank Galvin in The Verdict like Paul Newman did, not cheapening it with over acting, but making you live it through every aspect of his performance. I"m going to miss Paul Newman.
Posted on September 27, 2008 and filed under Movies and Culture.