Awestruck by Newman

By John Owen | Dec 29, 2011

Spend a career in the newspaper business and you meet the rich and the poor,  semi-saints and incorrigible  crooks, the famous and the infamous.

I was allowed to converse briefly with Eleanor Roosevelt.  I was lectured endlessly by Muhammad Ali.  I had a quick chat with Henry Kissinger and lengthy conversations with Ted Williams, Jesse Owens,  Bear Bryant,  Joe DiMaggio and Jake "Raging Bull" LaMotta.

But I recalled feeling awestruck in only one instance... when I was confronted by Paul Newman.  

Think about it.  Here was the man called "Hud" and "Fast Eddie Felson."  He was "The Hustler" and "Butch Cassidy"  and "Cool Hand Luke."

In real life he was married to Joanne Woodward, one of my favorite actresses.  When he was assuming the identity of someone like Billy the Kid he was in his free time an avid auto racer who helped pilot a Lotus to a second-place finish at LaMans.

That's how I met him.  

He was entered in a race at Portland International Raceways. I drove down to the event only to learn that Newman's car had been scratched due to a mechanical mishap.  

I showed up at his pit area, anyway, and 15 minutes later Newman walked up, explained why he wouldn't be racing and was about to walk away when I asked an impertinent question.

"How is the spaghetti sauce selling?"

He smiled broadly and then began to recount  enthusiastically how he entered the supermarket food business, equally represented  in our area at Petosa's, QFC and PCC Natural Markets. 

Newman was an amateur chef and frequently cooked with author and friend A.E. Hotchner.  

They were renowned for their unique salad dressing and gave bottles as gifts to friends, who urged them to market it commercially.

That's the way it started, Newman told me.

He provided $40,000 of seed money, branched out into pasta sauces, fruit drinks, pizza, cookies and other edibles under the "Newman's Own" label.

The academy award actor's daughter was an enthusiastic participant, he explained to me,  and created an offshoot called Newman's Own Organics.  

Since her father's death she was been the promotional genius but his influence lingers on because of the countless charities he founded, including "Hole In the Wall" camps for youngsters with life-threatening illnesses.

Newman's Own Foundation has since generated over $300 million which has been directed into thousands of different charities.

And it started with a recipe for salad dressing whipped up by friends and relatives of the guy known as Hud, Cool Hand Luke and The Hustler.

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