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Newman's Nickel . . .

Paul Newman and David Mamet had at least one strong connection I know of. Newman was brillant in Mamet's superb film script and tale of corruption, ``The Verdict.''

I had similar experiences with both men which I have written about here, but with Newman's death, the stories seem worth another mention.

The first came some years ago when I was a sports and arts writer (I know the combination sounds odd) for the Monterey County Herald. Newman was competing at Laguna Seca Raceway and I interviewed him one afternoon.

The talk was all of racing until, near the end, I said, ``I see you are making a film of `The Glass Menagerie.' It is a great play, but don't you think it has been done too often?''

Wrong thing to say. He fixed me with a blue-eyed glare. He said, ``It'll knock your socks off, and I'll bet you a nickel.'' I said, being on rather unsure ground, ``Well, OK.'' Soon other writers moved in and I said goodby. I hadn't gone far when I heard, in that distinctive voice, ``Where ya gonna send the nickel?'' I returned, surprised, and Newman gave me a mailing address. ``Remember, if it knocks your socks off, you owe me a nickel. No welching.'' I laughed; I was struck by how easy and affable and unpretentious he was.

A few months later I saw the film, starring Joanne Woodward. It turned my socks inside-out. I was going to send him the nickel, but I had lost the address. I felt guilty for years, because Newman would have known when the film was coming to the Monterey Peninsula and he would have been expecting a reply _ a nickel, or the request of one _ just as anyone else would have. Even the latter, as any writer knows, would have been better than silence.

Several years ago I was in San Francisco for a theater and art event. I met Mamet and, knowing he'd been a wrestler, told him I had wrestled 138 (pounds) in high school. He said, lighting up, ``I wrestled 138!'' ``I wrestled 145 in college,'' I said. ``I wrestled 145 in college!'' he said. We were getting into the conversation, discussing holds and matches, when other people, as in Newman's case, moved in on Mamet. I said goodby and was halfway across the room when I heard, again echoes of the Newman interview,``Do you still wrestle?'' I gestured ``Not much,'' but Mamet was submerged by admirers and further conversation unlikely.

The two incidents, in a way carbon copies of each other, made me realize how difficult it is for celebrities not to have just normal relationships, but normal encounters. If Newman had not been famous I probably could have found his address and mailed him the nickel; if Mamet hadn't been Mamet, we might have been able to continue the discussion about wresttling.

When I wrote about Newman earlier this year it was also in connection with the announcement that he would direct John Steinbeck's ``Of Mice and Men'' at Connecticut's Westport Country Playhouse. I was immediately intrigued in how he might interpret Steinbeck's powerful tale of men living on the fringe, since Newman had so often played them; too, racing here so often, he seemed to have a feeling for Monterey County, where ``Of Mice and Men'' is set, down by the Salinas River near Soledad.

Then, a few months ago, it was announced that Mark Lamos, not Newman, would direct the Westport production, which opens October 7, so it was apparent then that the stories of Newman's illness were probably with foundation. A few weeks ago I sent the latest edition of the Steinbeck Review to Westport's co-artistic director Anne Keefe, hoping it would be of interest to a company preparing to perform Steinbeck, but also hoping it might eventually get to Newman.

I was hoping, of course, to make up for that nickel.

5 Comment count
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I love this story

and was thinking of you when I heard the news.

What a gorgeous soul, especially for a marriage which lasted 50 years.

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The fifty years is amazing,

especially considering the show business world. But they _ Newman and Woodward - have always been individualistic, as evidenced by living away from it all and becoming important in a regional theater. One of Newman's daughters, by the way, lived in Pacific Grove for a time.

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Newman, Steinbeck country

Thanks for this story, Steve. I was in the Santa Barbara/Ventura area this weekend for the wedding of an old friend, and heard the news of Paul Newman's death on NPR Saturday morning. I've become wrapped up in Red Room enough at this point that one of my first thoughts was "I wonder which of our authors or members will note this on their blogs." I didn't remember that you'd written about Newman and Of Mice and Men, so I'm glad you decided to remind us.

Since my friend and I drove to and from the South Coast, we passed through the subtle, surreal beauty of the Salinas Valley. I thought of you as the towns went by, one after another: King City, Soledad, Greenfield, Gonzales, and on and on. (We didn't need the horrendous traffic in Prunedale thanks to an airshow at the Salinas airport, though.)

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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Don't forget San Miguel, with it's beautiful but

damaged mission, Huntington, or Jolon, Lockwood or Mission San Antonio, all west of King City, or tucked just off 101, the tiny town of Bradley with its minute library open some nine or ten hours a week, or, just north of the oil wells that pump away madly, each looking like a feeding Tyrannosaures Rex, the town of San Ardo, east of the higway, across the Salinas River _ you drop down into it, the town cupped by the harsh Gabilans, where the Hamiltons of ``East of Eden'' settled and because of the arid hills became philosophers instead of wealthy. Stop at Marcel Miranda's, to your left, a little general store, and have a beer and conversation with Marcel, and listen to screen doors slam in the distance, blown shut by the hot afternoon wind, and feel time slow down and your blood pressure and heartbeat drop.

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I remarked to my friend as we whizzed past the Bradley exit at 75 mph, as we've done so many times before, that it would be nice just once not to be pressed for time so we could get off the freeway and explore some of these places. We always try to squeeze as much time down south with our friends as possible, and we end up feeling like we have to rush home. For twenty years, these towns for me have just been names in white letters on Kelly green background. I want to know more than Broadway Circle in King City and the 7-Eleven at the Fairview exit in Salinas—your tips will give me a good launching point.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room