During my years in Westport – the 60s and again in the late 70s – Paul, Joanne and the Newman children were familiar sights out and about with the rest of us locals. And it was enough of a rush to cross their path without invading their privacy for autographs and Kodak moments. We cooled it and left them alone.
Sometimes, I’d see Paul being approached by a bunch of kids who were overwrought by the sight of one of the most famous movie stars in the world – in person.
As they closed in on the object of their affection, he would flash that killer smile, beam at them with those dazzling blue eyes and cross his forearms in front of that face as he continue toward his destination. The kids got the idea and almost always backed off, probably because they got his personal attention for the most important fifteen seconds in their young lives. These encounters with adoring young fans reveal a private side of Paul Newman that not many people got to know – a genuinely friendly and thoughtful man who handled his popularity, talent and private life with dignity and charm– even when rushed by adoring fans.
My own personal encounter with Paul Newman happened in the best way – by chance. There were two outstanding working farms in town where we could get freshly picked fruits and vegetables every day in season. As I walked into Rippe’s farm stand on the Post Road (now a gated community), a huge new sign above the long corn bin against the back wall warned: “Don’t Shuck The Corn.” And to enforce the edict, was Mr. Rippe, the hard-working farmer himself on the left with one eye on the cash register and the other with an unobstructed view of all the corn.
I stood for a time gaping up at the harsh sign, then looked left at the unsmiling farmer and then to the family on my right who were husking away, and then back at Mr. Rippe. What to do? A voice on my right asked, “How many?” I glanced over and realized it was Paul Newman speaking to me! A surprised and delighted me said “four, please.” As he finished selecting perfect specimens, he said modestly, “Here.” I gratefully took the expertly chosen corn (Newman’s Own!) and said, “Thank you.” Mr. Rippe silently and stoically took my money and went back to his watch over the corn bins.
I – a writer even then – had a story that has been verbally retold many times in the past forty or so years and now for the first time in print – and for good reason.
It underscores, from my person experience, that Paul Newman’s private life was worthy of the admiration and respect that also defines the character of his remarkable public life. I’ll always fondly remember the fifteen seconds in which he quickly and instinctively did me a great personal favor. But, at the heart of it all, he was just doing what came naturally – being a kind and thoughtful country neighbor.