Tag Archives: Long Beach

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

“I’m two people.   I’m me, Paul Newman.   And I’m Paul Newman the actor.   The first one is not for sale.”   Paul Newman is quoted as having said this to “the press” in Shawn Levy’s biography Paul Newman: A Life.   This is the point at which your typical review would use a phrase with a descriptive adjective phrase such as “Levy’s adoring biography” or “Levy’s cranky biography.”   I have a hard time coming up with anything other than “apparently well researched and factual biography.”

It’s hard to say because there seem to be more than just two Newmans here, there seem to be dozens.   Perhaps it is because the author never had the chance to interview the man.   What we get are dozens and dozens of Newman quotations in this 474 page project compiled without the blessings of Mr. Newman or his wife (Joanne Woodward).   The different quotes seem to have different tones, differing voices, as if Newman was sometimes factual and sometimes being the practical joker he was known to be.   One also has to wonder if some of the Newman “quotes” were the creations of publicity agents.

There’s a seriousness to Levy’s work which is very, very admirable.   You can almost picture him frowning while typing up the facts of Newman’s life, gleaned from official records and interviews with “friends and associates.”   What seems to be missing is the sense of joy about life and living that Paul Newman seemed to possess; in his own eyes, he was nothing if not a very, very lucky man.

Two key questions went unanswered for me in reading this biography:  Why exactly did Newman become an actor (we get some guesses here and some circumstances but not motivation) and what did Newman get out of acting (in a non-commercial sense) that was so satisfying?   Something else has been missed here, which often needs to be answered in telling a person’s story:  How smart, exactly, was the actor?   The answer would have helped to gauge who he was.   (Newman attended three colleges including Yale.)Paul Newman

As with most life stories these days, there’s a “fair and balanced” approach to detailing Newman’s strengths and positives (especially his philanthropic activities) and his weaknesses and faults.   Fine, but it seemed a bit too much by-the-numbers for me.

There is one small fact that comes through well in the telling which is that Newman felt that he never got to know or achieve the admiration of his quite successful merchant father.   Newman began to attain his professional success after his father’s death, something that appeared to haunt him.

Let me close by noting that I once came within two feet of Paul Newman.   He had just won a celebrity auto race at the Long Beach Grand Prix and – with the help of a couple of young assistants – was walking through the crowd of thousands of race fans…   He and his crew had massive magnums of wine and he was offering a plastic cup full of the libation to anyone and everyone he saw.   His smile was huge, his blue eyes were bright and I thought, “This man really loves people and loves life!”   Sadly, that is the Paul Newman I did not come across in this telling of his life’s story.

Note:   Steve McQueen – Portrait of an American Rebel by Marshall Terill (Plexus trade paperback, $19.95) is recommended as an example of a biography where you will get to know and understand both the actor and the man.

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A Cat Named Darwin

I was born a Homo Sapiens./ Then I became a biologist./ Then I became a cat.

You have no idea./ Read on, friends.

Many years ago I finished reading a book about a cat that I was quite sure would never be surpassed.   That book was The Best Cat Ever by the late Cleveland Amory.   Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across a paperback by someone named William Jordan…   The book was A Cat Named Darwin: Embracing the Bond Between Man and Pet.   This is the best cat story ever!

Jordan’s tale is perhaps best expressed by this book’s original sub-title:  How a Stray Cat Changed a Man into a Human Being.   As he so nicely explains, “…it was during my forty-fifth year on this glowing blue Earth that a cat entered my house and stole my heart.”   Yes, the then-unnamed cat was a “home invader” who instead of being chased away, entered writer Jordan’s home and office flat in Long Beach, California.   It seems that the more Jordan attempts to get rid of the cat he  named after Charles Darwin, the more the cat embeds itself into his home/heart.

Eventually Jordan realizes that the more time he spends around the wily Darwin the more he enjoys himself; Darwin helps the author to re-create himself as a better person.   “…because I had come to love this small creature, whatever happened to him happened to me.”   Sadly, Darwin is a very sick cat but this makes the time he spends with the author all the more precious.

Yes, every cat – if not pet – owner will identify with Darwin’s antics and activities.   Like our own retired cat, he was first and foremost a fighter in his prime:   “…he loved the slings and arrows of the feline military existence.   Combat gave meaning to his life.   Danger was what he lived for.”

Jordan, trained as a biologist, does an excellent job of explaining why cats – whose ancestors have occupied the planet for 60 million years or so – are so intelligent and why they are able to co-exist with their human owners in a way that is distinct from dogs.   The one caution about this book is that it would certainly be a difficult read for anyone who has recently lost a pet; contra, some would find it the best time to read this true story of love and loss.

Yes, this is a love story, now available in trade paperback form for $14.95 (Mariner Books).   In the author’s words, “I thanked Darwin for giving me life.”   At the end of this furry tail (tale), you will thank the author and Darwin and Hoover the cat for giving us this story.   Highly, highly recommended!

In the end,/ Because I became a cat,/ I became a human being.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.   “A gripping and powerful book…  shot through with a kind of elation.”   San Diego Union-TribuneDarwin (lg.)

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