August 21, 2008

My Shouting Match With Paul Newman

Apparently, Paul Newman is in pretty bad shape. According to some reports, he has cancer and may not have long to live. Hopefully, that is not the case, and Newman will be with us for years to come. Whenever he does go, though, undoubtedly there will be an outpouring of praise for Newman's acting, his devotion to his wife and family, and his extremely generous contributions to numerous charitable causes. So instead, I would like to describe the shouting match I had with Paul Newman.

It all started with me being drunk. If I recall correctly, it was a Friday night. I was a college student. My internship at CNN's Atlanta headquarters did not include Saturdays. So it was okay for me to be drunk.

I got to sleep at 4 a.m. Four hours later, the phone rang. I reached down and somehow located the receiver.


Matt? It's 'Sally' from CNN. We need you to come in right away. Paul Newman is here. 'Sharon' [CNN evening talk show host] has flown in from New York. We're taping a show with Paul, and we need your help.


Eventually, I made my way in to CNN's studios. For a Saturday morning, CNN was buzzing with activity. I met with Sally, Sharon, and Paul Newman. Paul was in his late fifties, slight of stature, and very casually dressed, with big sunglasses. I asked him what he was doing in town, and he said that he was competing in an auto race at Road Atlanta. But he had come to CNN to speak specifically about nuclear disarmament. This was the Reagan Era, and the fear of a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was still quite palpable. Newman wanted to urge the U.S. to engage in nuclear disarmament talks with the Soviets.

My task was to be Paul Newman's bodyguard. It turned out that the people from whom I had to keep Paul safe were CNN's female employees. Attached to Paul's side, walking through CNN's hallways, I could see what it was like for a heartthrob like Paul Newman, even in his late fifties, to walk the earth. It was pretty damn good.

Every woman at CNN, whether old, young, married, or single, made sure to get in Newman's field of vision and to walk by him. Most of them said "hey Paul, how are you doing today?" in a mildly suggestive way. When we walked by the ladies' room, a line had formed into the hallway, and the door was open, revealing a gaggle of CNN women furiously primping for Paul in front of the vanity mirror. I asked Paul, "is it always like this?" "Yeah, pretty much," he replied, "but I'm used to it by now."

Then I deposited Paul Newman at his makeshifit makeup and wardrobe room, which, as I recall, had an open door or no door at all. I stood a few feet away with my hands folded in front of me, like a good Secret Service agent or Russian bodyguard. Paul was wearing white socks with loafers. He said he had no dark socks, and asked if the camera shot would be wide enough to include his feet. I said "no, don't worry."

Then, while Newman was grooming himself for the show taping, I asked him how we could trust the Soviets to negotiate nukes with them. I mentioned recent news reports that the Soviets had used chemical weapons in Afghanistan. The term "yellow rain" was being used to describe the atmospheric effects of these weapons. Granted, many such reports were being pushed by right wing, anti-Soviet interests, but I had been flirting with Republicanism at the time (I know, I know, but it was the Reagan Era, after all), and had gobbled up such reports as gospel.

Not so for Paul Newman. He aimed the most intense pair of blue eyes that I had ever seen right at me.

Don't try to impress me with that! All they found was some fungus on a tree branch!

His booming, gravelly voice could easily be heard down the hallways of the CNN newsroom.

Surprised, I shot back as best as I could:

But they invaded Afghanistan! How can you trust them?

Just then, Sharon walked in, to tell Paul that it was time to tape the program. She had obviously heard us down the hallway. She shot me a look that said, "I can't believe you just pissed off Paul Newman moments before I'm about to interview him on television!"

But the interview went fine. Paul Newman was reasonable and measured in tone as he urged the United States and the Soviet Union not to go down the path of nuclear confrontation. I got Paul a nice cup of coffee. The camera pulled back, and showed Paul Newman's white socks to the world.

Good luck, Paul, I hope you remain with us for a good long time.



At 3:18 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

Awww... I didn't know I was dealing with a celeb here! I have a soft spot in my heart for Paul Newman, just like all those other women. Every time I eat a piece of his chocolate or some other food product for which he donates a portion of the sale to charity, I remember there are some really good guys in Hollywood. He will be sorely missed by the world.


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