While Paul Newman's movies gave him swooning fans and numerous awards, including an Oscar for 1986's The Color of Money, it was his ability to make — and give away — a fortune that made him happiest.

By Liz McNeil
September 26, 2018 12:58 PM
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“I was very lucky just because I happened to look the right way for motion pictures.”

So says Paul Newman in an exclusive video released today, Sept. 26, by the Newman’s Own Foundation, to mark the ten year anniversary of the actor’s death. (He died at age 83 on Sept 26, 2008.)

Famous for his piecing blue eyes, a rugged handsomeness and memorable performances in such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Cool Hand Luke, and The Verdict, it was an understatement.

While his movies gave him swooning fans and numerous awards, including an Oscar for 1986’s The Color of Money, it was his ability to make — and give away — a fortune that made him happiest.

Newman’s foundation has donated over 500 million dollars to thousands of non profits worldwide, including the SeriousFun Children’s Network, a group of camps and programs for children with life threatening illnesses (where kids go free of charge); Wholesome Wave, which helps provide affordable access to healthy produce; and Shofco, which helps transform urban slums in Kenya.

Paul Newman hugs a Hole In The Wall camper
| Credit: KMazur/WireImage

“Acting, for Paul, was his craft. And his love was for his family and friends,” says close friend Bob Forrester, CEO and President of Newman’s Own in the video. “But his real heart was about philanthropy and what he could do to make the world a better place.”

The video, Remembering Paul, includes never before seen footage as the actor gives a tour of the Newman’s Own office, pointing to the outdoor furniture he brought over from his home. “When we first got started, we had no furniture so we took the pool furniture,” says Newman. “It was September and we were ready to shut down. So we brought it in here.”

The business of doing good all began with a salad dressing, back in 1982, when Newman and his friend, A. E. Hotchner, made a small batch of vinaigrette as Christmas presents for their friends. When they kept returning for more, he got the idea — his dressing could make money for a good cause. Told the products would sell better in supermarkets if he put his face on the label, Newman says, “Once we decided that’s what we wanted to do, we decided we’d give the money away.”

Paul Newman
| Credit: Newman's Own Foundation

“We had no idea whether the business would be successful,” admits Newman, who from the beginning, insisted that 100 percent of the after tax profits go straight to charities and causes he believed in.

After salad dressing, came pasta sauce, lemonade, pop corn, salsa and pizza. Today, there are over 300 different Newman’s Own products.

Friends say some of his happiest moments came when hanging out with kids at the SeriousFun camps.

Once, when having lunch with some of the children, one was asked if he recognized the actor. “The kid shook his head, ‘No,’” says Forrester. “And then Paul’s friend pointed out the lemonade carton with Paul’s face on it. And one of the kids asked him if he was lost.”

Paul Newman with a camper
| Credit: courtesy Dan Kail/Newman's Own Foundation

“Paul was uncomfortable in any kind of social setting where people saw him a a celebrity,” says Forrester. “But if he was with regular people, particularly children with all their innocence and who saw him as another person, that’s when he was most at ease.”

“We didn’t think of him as a movie star,” says Forrester. “We thought of him as our friend.”

But there were a few times, when Newman, who often wore sunglasses in public, would use his famous trademark to his advantage.

According to Forrester, once, when the actor was pulled over for driving too fast, and a state trooper approached, “Paul dropped his sunglasses down and the trooper said ‘My wife would kill me.’ And he just turned around and walked away.”

Paul Newman
| Credit: MGM/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Newman is survived by his wife, Joanne Woodward, 88, to whom he was married for 50 years, and their three daughters, Nell, Melissa, and Clea, and two daughters, Susan and Stephanie, from his first marriage to Jackie Witte. (Their son, Scott Newman died from a drug overdose in 1988 at age 28.)

“They had the love of newlyweds,” says Forrester of Newman and Woodward. “When I would fly with him all over the world, the moment the plane landed, Paul would call Joanne and he always said, ‘I love you,’ even after 50 years of marriage. She was his everything. They were soul mates.”

Looking back on his legacy, Forrester says, “Paul was special because he was so human and that’s what was the most special thing about him.”