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Paul Newman's Luck

He says he owes his good fortune to great genes, but Paul Newman has overcome a distant dad, too much booze, and the death of his son to remain a superstar at, yes, 80

With obvious relish, he can't resist telling a bedroom tale."Joanne fell out of bed the other night and broke her collarbone. As shelay on the ground, I said to her, 'I'm not going to listen to any morecomplaining about my racing!' " He'll quit driving competitively,he adds, "when I embarrass myself."

Despite their occasional differences of opinion, the Newman-Woodwardmarriage has lasted, Paul says, because of "great impatience tempered bypatience. When you have been together this long, sometimes you drive each othernuts, but underneath that is some core of affection and respect."

Of all his endeavors, Newman takes the greatest pride in the huge success ofNewman's Own, the salad dressing-popcorn-spaghetti sauce empire heestablished with his friend, writer A. E. Hotchner, in 1982. The company nowboasts 80 products, and Newman has donated $175 million in profits to charity.It embarrasses him to see his face on the bottles, but it has been worth it tofinance the Hole In The Wall Gang summer camps for children withlife-threatening diseases. Every year celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg performat an annual fundraiser at the Connecticut camp. Somewhere in the archives aretapes of Newman vamping it up in drag with big artificial breasts and pigtails,more outrageous than his film fans could ever imagine the way-cool star."The kids get a chance to reawaken their childhoods and raise a littlehell," he says. "I hope that the camps last longer than the legacy ofmy films."

That's why he's agreed to appear today on The Jane PauleyShow—to discuss the Hole In The Wall Gang camps with some of the kidswho are eager to share their experiences. On camera, Newman is reserved andpolite, with a dry wit and an unhurried sense of timing. He describes howNewman's Own was born of his own finicky tastes. At restaurants he used totake his salad into the bathroom, wash off the dressing, and ask for olive oil,red-wine vinegar, and mustard to make his own. He personally makes sure thatall the products are made with fresh ingredients, that they tastegood—"I have a sensitive palate"—and that they'remarketed with a sense of humor. "Once you've seen your face on abottle of salad dressing, it's hard to take yourself seriously," hesays.

Pauley tells Newman that he's a great man—a remark that causes himto look down at the floor uncomfortably. As is his habit, he dismisses praisefor his accomplishments and good works by chalking them up to"Newman's luck"; his oft-stated conviction is that his manyblessings emanate from his genetic good fortune. "Genes allow us to havegood inductive reasoning, to look a certain way and grow a certain way, to havestrong bones. I think that 98 percent of that is luck, and to take any creditfor that is difficult and hard to support."

Offstage later, the interns and NBC staffers in the green room tell Newmanthe show was a big hit. "I always feel like such a monosyllabicslug," he says. As he boards the elevator, he's joined by a youngdisabled girl in a motorized chair and her mother. The mom looks startled whenshe looks up and realizes who is standing next to her. She appears to musterher courage, then says, her voice quavering with emotion, "I have to takethis opportunity to thank you. You have no idea how great the camps are, notonly for the kids but the families."

Newman smiles kindly. "You bet," he says softly.

As small as the moment is, it's weighted with feeling. Newman is a manof few words, and he chooses them carefully. "Coming from the Midwest, heembodies an American quality of the last half of the 20th century," saysRobert Benton. "Paul is a very morally strong, decisive man. He does notequivocate."

He has worked to strengthen the ties that bind, and these days holds hisdaughters close. "He's a better listener now, even though he'spartially deaf," laughs Nell, who runs the organic division ofNewman's Own, when asked how her father has changed with age."He's now forced to listen."

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