Monday, July 27, 2009


I'm 21 years old. I shouldn't be in love with Paul Newman.

Heck, I should just barely know who he is. He should be one of those legends to me who, until recently, was living in well-deserved quietness. He should have been one of those actors that my parents raved about, saying, "They don't make movie stars like him anymore," and I would shake my head and go rent the latest Will Farrell movie. He should have been so far off my radar that when he died in September 2008, I should have furrowed my brow and said, "He looks familiar," before turning the page of the Life section to read about what Amy Adams wore to the latest premiere.

Instead, I lived that day in a sort of a haze. On the 25th of September, I watched The Sting with a group of friends. On the 26th, I woke to find Paul was gone.

I blame one person for my pain. Mr. Charbonneau Gourde, high school English teacher. One of the hardest and most fair teachers I've ever had, prone to go on rants and to dismiss whiners. After our class took the AP Language test in my Junior year, he allowed us to watch classic movies for the rest of the year - movies that he said we needed to see. Unfortunately, we often had to write papers in response, not any high schooler's idea of fun.

In that classroom, I saw Paul for the first time: eating eggs, holding up trains, robbing those who deserved it with those sparkling blue eyes and trademark smirk. I was smitten. At a time when Justin Timberlake or Chad Michael Murray decorated the binders of my classmates, I scoured the Internet for black and white pictures of Paul: Paul with Robert, Paul with George C. Scott, Paul with Goerge Roy Hill, Paul with Joanne. Paul in a race car, Paul with children from Hole-in-the-Wall Camp, Paul picketing. Paul.

It wasn't just his clear blue eyes and sharp jaw that caught my eye. It was his dry wit, the intelligence in his eyes, the trademark voice that got scratchier as the years passed. It was his organic salad dressing that wanted to make food and this earth healthier in all ways. It was his roles as the tortured soul with a smile on his face, the cynic, the cocky broken son. His ability to make waves, to make jokes, to make enemies. His desire for the joy of sick children. His lack of care for his image as the years went on. His love for Joanne, 50 years strong, as strong at the end as the beginning.

I'm not naive; I know the man had faults. I don't agree with all that he argued for and against. I don't agree with some of what he said or did, or how he said or did things. But I loved him for what he was: himself, as far as I could tell. He died at 83, an old man, a full life.

So I'm watching his movies. All of them, if I can. Starting with the common ones, going to the uncommon ones. His best movies, his worst. Ones where he's charming, ones where he's despicable. I don't know what I'll learn, who I'll find, if I'll see myself in them. I know most likely, he chose them for a reason, especially at the end of his life when he had the luxury to do so. Maybe I'll find out why.

I like to name things. And so I'm calling this the Paul Newman Project. It sounds so official, like the Wade Robson Project or the Human Genome Project. It gives this simple whim an air of purpose, of reason, of import.

The Paul Newman Project: Walking Through 52 Years of Movies

Let's go, shall we?


Okay, I have an idea. Maybe not brilliant, definitely not novel, and probably not original. But here it is.

I've been looking for a purpose for this summer. It's my last true summer with the connotations of freedom, laziness, lack of schooling. As of this time next year, I'll be paying off the mountain of student loans I've accumulated and working some sort of yet-unidentified position.

So why am I not revelling in it? I feel like my summer is slipping from my grasp, that it is completely not memorable in the least. If I were to title it, as I so often attempt, it would be: "The Summer of Harry Potter (well, three weeks in which I read all of the books)." "The Summer when I Watched my Roommate Plan her Wedding." "The Summer of Avoiding Writing." "The Summer of Watching the Food Network." Not distinguished.

But I've always loved Paul Newman, ever since Junior year English class (story for another time). And lately, I've been renting some of his flicks that I haven't seen. I've become more and more entrenched in the PL Newman world, as evidenced by my Facebook statuses. At the same time, I've been reading creative nonfiction about people doing silly projects like living the commands of the Bible for one year, or reading the Encyclopaedia Brittanica straight through.

Then it hit me:

Why don't I spend the rest of my summer watching every movie of Paul Newman's?

According to the source of all movie wisdom, the Internet Movie Database (, Paul has about 65 movies to his filmography. Though my life is dull and quiet, I'm not sure that I could fit 65 movies into the next 5 weeks. So I'm not sticking it just onto this summer. It'll be more of a yearly goal, maybe before 2009 is done. Or maybe a lifetime goal. Luckily for me (and I can't believe I'm saying this, what a jerk), he's dead so he won't be adding to his filmography.

I'm sure I'm not the first to have done it. I just thought it'd be fun to have a purpose, regardless of the meaninglessness of it. Hey, this woman named Julie decided to cook through Julia Child's cookbook, blog about it, and it got made into a movie. Not that I think anyone would want to make a movie about watching movies, unless of course, my life starts following the movies I'm watching, in which case, I think Paul Newman is stalking me from beyond the grave; that would make a good movie. But of course, I would only want PL to play himself, difficult to be sure at this junction.

I thought I needed some parameters. Here they are, as they stand: I'll start with just the films and skip the TV appearances. It doesn't matter how big the part. Some movies are more obscure, so I'll have to search for them; luckily, I have two different libraries at my disposal.

So that's the plan. I'll watch, blog, and just have a general good time with my buddy, Paul.
Let's see what'll come of it.