Paul Newman will make his stage directing debut in October with a production of John Steinbeck's ``Of Mice and Men,'' at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut.
Recent news items about this stirred a few memories for me.
``Of Mice and Men'' is set in California's Monterey County and it was twenty years ago that I met Newman at Monterey County's Laguna Seca Raceway, a world class Grand Prix track.
Newman was taking time from film work to race competitively. He stood by his car in a racing jump suit and we talked. I was a sportswriter at the time. Newman was a great interview, and gracious. We talked racing, of course, not film. Racing was a great escape for him and he was good, competitive and frequently a winner in his class. When we finished, I said thank you, then took a step away and stopped. A thought struck and I turned:.
``I read you're directing a film version of Tennessee Williams' ``A Glass Menagerie.''
``Yes?'' he said, anticipating me.
``It's a great play, one of my favorites, but don't you think it's been done too much _ on stage and on screen?''
He fixed me with those famous blue eyes (yes, they do have a look): ``I'm gonna' tell you something _ it'll knock your socks off!'' (Pause, for empahsis.)
``Oh, OK . . . '' (Pause, for uncertainity.) ``Really?''
Intensifying the look: ``Really. And I'll bet ya' a nickel!''
``Sure. . . '' (Pause.) ``Right. Well . . . ''
Not sure how seriously to take this bet, I started talking about plays and playwrights, a subject Newman was enthusiastic about. We had veered from track racing to American theater. Newman had several favorites, including Eugene O'Neill, but was most enthusiastic about the playwright he called ``Tenn'.'' Of course, he was filming a Williams' play, and had starred in superb movie versions of Williams' ``A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' and ``Sweet Bird of Youth,'' so that figured.
Then other reporters spotted Newman and stampeded toward us and trampled over me as if I were a Porsche floor mat _ it was Paul Newman, after all. I righted myself and said thanks and staggered off. I'd only gone a little way when I heard a call: ``Where ya' gonna send the nickel, Hauk?'' Pause, then, tougher, louder, blue eyes blazing, rising on his toes to look over the reporters: ``I said, `If it knocks your socks off, Hauk, where ya' gonna send the nickel?'''
I felt like an extra in ``Cool Hand Luke.'' I obediently trotted over to him and he jotted down an address to send the nickel to if the film knocked my socks off, and handed it to me as the reporters looked back and forth between us. ``They're gambling on bigtime racing? Betting a nickel?'' I left them to puzzle over that, poor schnooks, and headed back to the newspaper to write my exclusive, if I could figure out what it was _ racing or film or theater or the evils of betting pocket change?
Three months later ``The Glass Menagerie'' was released. It knocked my socks off. Well, unraveled them a bit. I liked the film a lot. I composed a letter to Newman to accompany the nickel. I looked for the address. I thought I'd put it under the bowl on the mantle, if not there, in my sock drawer. But wherever I looked, I couldn't find it. This went on for weeks. No address
To this day I haven't been able to find it and he's probably moved anyway. I felt really terrible back then. I assumed he thought I saw the film and didn't like it, and that really bothered me because I admired it and still do. Besides, I owed him the nickel. As Sky Masterson might say in ``Guys and Dolls,'' ``I would not welch on a nickel wager even if it meant I'd have to go thee weeks without a slice of Mindy's cheesecake or give up a date with a doll or . . . '' Well, you get the idea.
Still, to this day I worry about it, feel guilty about it. With interest compounded I probably owe him a dollar, maybe more. The only saving grace is, I have been reading about him and know Mr. Newman's been busy over the last few decades and is probably not obsessing over that nickel . . . I'm pretty sure he's moved on.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...