With his cowboy boots propped up on the railing, his eyes shaded by aviator glasses and a toothpick pressed between his lips, Paul Newman was putting on one hell of a show. The 64-year-old actor was present in the Superior Court of Bridgeport, Conn., as a defendant in a breach-of-contract suit, and he wasn’t hesitant about making his feelings known. Newman laughed skeptically at hostile testimony and stamped his boots on the railing for effect.
At issue is Newman’s Own, the food company that has donated $15 million (the bulk of its profits, minus expenses) from popcorn, salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and lemonade sales to charities since 1982. Julius Gold, owner of a deli in Westport, Conn, (where Newman lives), is seeking 8 percent of the company’s stock. “In 1979 [when Newman’s Own was forming] I contributed my business and marketing knowledge,” says Gold, 64, “and was promised the stock as compensation.” Company President Newman denies any verbal agreement existed.
The proceedings stayed relatively calm until the third day of testimony. Attempting to prove that other principals have made money, Gold’s lawyer accused Newman’s partners, author A.E. (Papa Hemingway) Hotchner, 67, and his wife, Ursula, 44, of drawing “hundreds of thousands of dollars…out of this corporation.” The claim isn’t entirely incorrect—A.E. makes more than $100,000 a year as treasurer; Ursula, $50,000 as vice president—but the Hotchners say the income is justifed. “I feel hurt because I developed this business,” says Ursula. “When we started we had no money. I vacuumed the office. I cleaned the garbage cans, which I would never do at home.”
The insinuation of wrongdoing really irked Newman, who jumped up and moved toward Gold’s attorney until he was stopped by his own lawyer. While Newman muttered “son of a bitch” under his breath, the rival attorneys embarked on a shouting match before the standing-room-only crowd of 50. Court was then adjourned.
Though the trial is scheduled to end this week, its repercussions seem likely to last. Ursula says she is planning to sue Gold for defamation of character. “The pastrami business,” she says of Gold’s motives, “must be very bad.”