Yesterday, my mother called to see “how I was doing” in light of news of Paul Newman’s death, from 3,000 miles away in Europe, no less.
This might seem a little strange but I wasn’t surprised. Ever since my bout of tears at the news of Gene Kelly’s death when I was fifteen, she’s been very sensitive to my feelings about these things. Such is the dilemma when your baby daughter falls in love with old movies at a young age. While other little girls are swooning over Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise, she’s crying in her bed because an eighty-something hoofer just died of a stroke.
I’m not fifteen anymore and mature enough to realize that nature has to take its course. Still, when I heard about Paul Newman’s passing, I felt a little pain in my heart. It was easy to fall for Kelly and Astaire when I was young- their movies so brightly colored, their movements so fairy-tale light and joyful. Watching old musicals is a lot like twirling in a candy store, dizzying and toothache inducing.
Watching Newman was different. My father, thrilled beyond belief that I found such happiness in movies he loved, rented Cool Hand Luke at the video store, an interesting choice for movie night with a thirteen year old. When he popped up in those first few frames, snipping off the tops of meters like they were daisies, I took one look at his cold blue eyes and felt something different than what I’d felt for Kelly, Grant, Cooper and Gable. It’s funny how easy it can be to pass from childhood into girlhood, just as seamless and simple as walking from one room into another.
I went into my early teens gobbling up as much about him as I could, scouring the movie stores and TVGuide, filling up tape after tape with movies like The Young Philadelphians and Hud and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. My romantic heart cracked and swelled a bit upon learning of his decades of devotion to his costar and wife Joanne Woodward. If I was only smitten then, the news that a strong, beautiful man could quietly adore one woman all his life caused me to tumble cleanly into young love. Over the years, my feelings dipped and swayed and strayed but always returned. He was a good actor true but he was a better man, rarely seen these days and today, more appreciated than ever. And missed.
Get the picture?