May 09, 1994 12:00 PM

On David Letterman’s first Late Show on CBS last August, a familiar voice rang out. “Where the hell are the singing cats?” demanded a silver-haired gent, referring to the nearby Broadway theater housing Cats. His appearance had many people asking, “Where the hell have you been, Paul Newman?” No one had seen him in a movie since 1990, when he costarred in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge with his wife of 36 years, Joanne Woodward. Newman, it seems, had shifted gears, running his $56 million all-for-charity food business and blazing around racetracks. Yet all it took was that Late Show cameo (he made another last month) to make his star shine again at age 69. Raved Letterman: “He looks like a million bucks!”

The rest of the country noticed too. After 51 films in 40 years, the father of five daughters (a son died in 1978) received a humanitarian award at the Oscars this year for his do-good efforts and appeared onscreen as the snarling Sidney J. Mussburger in The Hud-sucker Proxy. Up next: the fall flick Nobody’s Fool, with Bruce Willis.

The good news is that those amazing sea-blue peepers are as potent as ever. They even leave the imperturbable Martha Stewart (a longtime pal and Connecticut neighbor of the Newmans’) weak in the knees. “You see his eyes no matter what he does,” says Stewart. “I’m not talking like I have a mad crush, but he’s so attractive, SO attractive, that you just can’t help liking him.” Is he surprised to hear that he is such an enduring sex symbol? “At my age,” he cracked backstage at the Oscars, “I’m lucky to have a pulse.”

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