Paul Newman and Rawn Harding - Page 2

Rawn and Joanne had been friends for more than thirty years.  One day Joanne called Rawn.  She was in a play, Shaw’s Candida at Circle in The Square.  “Why don’t you come see the show, bring someone nice and we’ll have dinner afterward.”  Rawn paused in telling me, “So, would you like to go with me?”

“I’d be delighted,” was my reply.Joanne Woodward

Now Joanne Woodward is very famous, but she never quite became a movie star icon.  But moreover what she is, is one extraordinary actor.  Watch Three Faces of Eve, or Long Hot Summer, The Fugitive Kind, Rachel, Rachel, or Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, in which both she and Paul turned in exceptional performances, and you’ll see acting that’s absolutely as good as it gets.  Needless to say I was excited to meet Ms. Woodward.

Her performance in Candida was enchanting.  Rawn and I went back stage following the show and tapped on her dressing room door.  Joanne peeked out, “Let me get out of this wig.  I’ll just be a few minutes.  Go on up and I’ll meet you in the lobby.” She smiled and added, “Paul should be up there somewhere.” 

“Pa, Pa, Paul?”  My mind and heart were instantly set to racing.  Meeting Joanne was pretty thrilling, but both Joanne and Paul, well that was something I hadn’t even considered and was just plain off the scale.

Sure enough when we reached the lobby, there was Paul.  Rawn hugged him and introduced me.  He was very warm and gracious, made eye contact as I took his hand and held it.  “Nice to meet you,” he said.  To be honest I think he was happy to have someone friendly to talk with.  The exiting theatre crowd was quietly muttering and nodding to one another and gesturing in his direction. One patron, a bearded man in his thirties, approached and asked for an autograph.  Paul was very personal, “I’m sorry but I don’t sign autographs,” he told the man.  “But if you’ll write me a letter, I’ll write you a letter back.  You see that way we will have actually communicated.  I find there is something empty in just signing my name on a piece of paper, so I just don’t do it.  I hope you’ll understand.” The man said he understood, nodded and wandered off.  When Joanne appeared in the lobby we headed off to dinner. 

The Paparazzi followed us on down the street.  The playoffs or the World Series was going on at the time, I don’t recall which.  As we passed a parking garage Paul said, “Let’s go his way,” and we ducked inside.    The parking attendant was seated behind a counter watching the ball game on a small black and white TV.  Paul leaned on the counter, “What’s the score?” He asked.  The attendant, eyes on the screen, told him and they engaged in a brief conversation.  When the attendant looked up and noticed who he was talking with he didn’t react much, just a little startle was visible in his eyes, but he never acknowledged Newman. 

“Listen, there’s some folks out there kinda following us, mind if we cut through and go out the back way onto 49th Street?” Paul asked.  The attendant grinned, Paul Newman was asking him for a favor, “No problem, and if they try to come through here, I’ll chase ‘em back out.”  Paul shook hands with him, “Thanks, appreciate it.”

We wandered through the garage and exited on the 49th Street side.  Across the street was Wally’s Steak House. Apparently we were expected; the Maître’d nodded a discreet welcome to the Newman’s and showed us to our table.  Paul and I sat on one side, Joanne and Rawn on the other side.  I was just getting over a cold and ordered soup. Redford and NewmanEveryone else ordered light fare.  Paul and I had beer. I believe the women ordered wine.  When I mentioned my cold, Rawn announced with a nod and wink to Joanne that I was in rehearsal for a Sam Shepard play. Joanne laughed and whispered something to Rawn.  Rawn said she’d explain later.  It seems when Paul and Joanne first knew each other, every time Paul went into rehearsal for a play he would, as regular as clockwork, get a cold.  It became a running joke between Joanne and Rawn.  I thought it was pretty funny too.

Paul Newman was a superb storyteller, in reality all good actors are good storytellers. When he told a story I was amazed at his focus, his concentration.  Everything else in the room blurred while the story consumed his focus.  It was insightful and compelling to watch.  And then there was Joanne.

Joanne Woodward is a beautiful woman.  I have to be honest.  I fell in love with her that night.  She was even more beautiful in person than on screen. Her skin was what my grandmother used to refer to as “peaches and cream.”  But it went much further than that.  She had a deep, quiet intelligence, bright sparkling eyes and an honest interest in others that was not only very charming; it was real and comforting. 

At one point Paul was telling a story.  He was talking about a project that was in the very early stages of development. He referred to the men with whom he was planning to collaborate by their first names, as Bob and Bill and others. With exquisite timing, so as not to cut him off or interrupt him, Joanne gently paused him, “Just a moment Paul.”  She reached out her hand and touched my arm, her eyes were clear, vulnerable. “Dan, I just wanted to be sure you knew who Paul was referring to.” 

“I believe he is talking about Robert Redford and William Goldman. Am I correct?”  She smiled and touched my arm again, “Oh, you’re very good.  I just wanted to be sure you weren’t left out.” Her consideration, her awareness touched me.  She reminded me of my grandmother, gentle strength, attentive kindness; Joanne Woodward is one very special woman.  When I learned of Paul’s death my first thought was of her. I remembered her eyes, her touch and said a small prayer that she might soon heal. Loss is always difficult, but after fifty years the weight is enormous.  Paul and Joanne

“Hollywood Marriages” seldom last fifty years.  Theirs was special, it was a great love.  Newman was once asked about temptation considering the vast numbers of women who adored him and he replied, “Why should I go out for hamburger, when I have steak at home.” It’s a great line, but the reality of it ran much deeper.  I was fortunate to witness a moment that evening that burned itself into that place in my heart where only the most tender and sacred things reside.

Let me preface this by noting that this evening took place only about eight or nine months after “autograph seeker” Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon outside the Dakota on 72nd Street. 

The food had arrived, we had eaten and were chatting. Paul was engrossed in telling a story. Suddenly, a patron leaving the restaurant, walking by behind us and apparently high on something judging by the rapidity of her speech, muscled her way between the two of us and spouted, “You, hey, you and my twin brother have the same name!  Isn’t that amazing?” 

Paul froze, “Ah…well…”

“Oh, I see I’m interrupting.” She turned to Joanne, “Tell Jane I said hi. Bye.”

With the same furious flurry in which she appeared, she was gone.  It was Lorraine Newman.  The “Jane” she was referring to was actor Jane Curtain who was appearing in the production of Candida with Joanne.

Paul sat motionless for several beats staring at the table.  Finally he took a breath, raised his head and turned to Joanne.  He was suddenly transformed into a young boy full of honest innocence, “Did I say something wrong?”  His voice was barely above a whisper.

“No Paul,” Joanne said. There was a long pause as they looked at each other. Joanne broke the silence explaining, “She’s on that TV show that Jane from the play is on.”  Their bond was visible; literally an arc of faint light appeared connecting their eyes. It was one of the most magical, endearing and tender moments I have ever had the privilege to witness. The depth of great love consumes the soul and yields up life’s light in its purest form.

Joanne turned to Rawn and me, “Paul’s never seen Saturday Night Live, so he has no idea who she was.”

“I knew who she was and it scared the hell out of me,” I said. Everyone laughed. Paul resumed his story.

Paul and JoanneI asked him at one point if there was any film he made that he’d like to re-make.  He mentioned WUSA, a 1970 film in which he plays a radio announcer in the south.  I told him that the film had its failings but that I had liked it because of one particular fact.  He was surprised I knew the film, “I didn’t think anybody saw that one. What did you like about it?” 

I told him I had worked in radio as a disc jockey.  “Whenever they show radio stations in movies they clean them up and glamorize them. They never resemble any radio station I ever worked for.  What I liked most was that you shot it in a radio station studio.  It was dirty and gritty and worked the way a real studio works, it made your character and the story believable.” 

He said I was the first person who ever mentioned that.  “I pushed to have it shot in that place, a New Orleans radio station. Thanks for noticing.”  He turned to Joanne, who was also in the film, “Maybe we should shoot that one again.”

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