The Writing Mamas Daily Blog

Each day on the Writing Mamas Daily Blog, a different member will write about mothering.

If you're a mom then you've said these words, you've made these observations and you've lived these situations - 24/7.

And for that, you are a goddess.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


The Bluest Eyes, the Biggest Star

Paul Newman died today.

I feel as if a part of my childhood is gone, too.

Paul Newman was the celebrity in Fairfield County where I grew up.

I can remember so many times my mother asking me to babysit my sisters and her friends' kids, as the women piled into two cars in search of him or his house.

They would always come home disappointed to find neither, but sated themselves with a stop at Thirty-One Flavors, otherwise known as Baskin-Robbins.

I was in a store one day trying on a pair of jeans when the girl who was helping me disappeared. There was a commotion. I straddled over to the middle of it to to find a man with close-cropped hair, jean shirt, jeans, and dark glasses scanning the store. Women AND girls were standing all around him. Finally, Debbie West: beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, English accented Debbie from my school summoned the nerve to ask, "Mister Newman, may I please have your autograph?"


EVERYONE knew you were NEVER supposed to ask Paul Newman for his autograph. It was part of an unspoken agreement. He would live quietly in Westport as everyone's favorite movie star -- but you were not to approach the goods.  

"Don't give 'em," he said in reply to Debbie, who looked like she was going to cry. Fast forward a couple of years. She would go on to win Most Beautiful in High School. Some friends and I wondered -- what if she didn't have that accent?

I ran home and told my mother.

She was a voracious reader, somehow finding the time and a way to read a book a day. But upon hearing the news of my meeting with Newman, she upturned her novel and took off her glasses.

"How many years have my friends and I been searching for him? Have we ever found him? You go to buy pants, a pair of pants!,  and you find Paul Newman. I ask you -- where's the justice?"

She had to call her friends -- the whole while eating from a leftover pint of Thirty-One Flavors from her last ill-fated Paul Newman foray.

Another time a guy I met in a bar told me he lived in Newman's neighborhood. He gave me a ride to his house. What struck me was how unassuming it was. Simple, like the man.

The other thing I remember that was different about Paul Newman is that growing up you were considered Jewish ONLY if your mother was that religion. But in his case: an exception was made. Though his mother was Catholic and his father Jewish, ALL Jews considered him Jewish, as did he. I doubt he would have received this pass if he wasn't a famous movie star. I read a quote from him once and he said he preferred being Jewish because it was harder. There weren't all that many Jews where we lived, so that was probably true. Though, I'm sure in Hollywood, his religion helped him.

He was a philanthropist, having started the Newman's Own Salad Dressing empire from his own personal recipe. It's now given away more than $200 million in profits. His partner was the author, A.E. Hotchner, who looked to me to have a nicer house than Newman. 

I interviewed Hotchner for an article on their salad dressing, which had just come out. What I loved, besides giving away most of the money to charity, was their business acumen. Him and Newman said they had absolutely no idea what they were doing.

They went to a large advertising and branding company. The guy wanted more than a million dollars to come up with a name, a logo and a branding strategy.

Hotchner told me that as they were walking away from the meeting, Newman leaned into him and whispered, "That's bullshit." He said he was at a friend's house whose wife liked to paint. "She's pretty good," he said, "why don't we have her create the logo?" As for the product name, the recipe was Newman's and since he knew his moniker would get people's attention, they decided on Newman's Own. Rather than hire a copywriter, they thought Newman could tell a funny story about the dressing and Hotchner, the writer, could fix it up.

They found a place in New York to create the dressing on a large scale. But there was a caveat. Newman wanted to maintain his fresh ingredients. This was when chemicals were in. Even those at the company didn't know if the shelf life would be stable, given the ingredients the duo were insistent on using. They tried. It was. Many companies have copied their technique since.

It's sad that Paul Newman has passed.  Who do we have like that here in Marin County? Sean Penn? Good actor but not exactly the same. 

His passing marks the end of a certain movie star era, though he was much more than that.

He could act, he was hot, he left a legacy that will continue to help millions through his company. 

Well, now that Paul is in heaven, I have no doubt my mother is standing, staring and salivating, with a spoonful of Thirty-One Flavors butter pecan in her mouth. She might even ask him for an autograph.

By Dawn Yun

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Thanks for writing about that. I love the idea of your mom meeting him!
I too am a great fan of both the original 31 flavors Butter Pecan and Paul Newman. Thanks for the memorial and dedication - words well spent!
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