Entertainment Books

Friday 13 December 2019

Review: Paul and Me by AE Hotchner

Simon & Schuster, €23.17

Margaret Carragher

The editor, author and playwright A E Hotchner first met Paul Newman in 1956, when the then relatively unknown actor starred in Hotchner's first television play.

This project brought success to both men and marked the beginning of a friendship that would last until Newman's death in 2008.

More memoir than biography, the subtitle of Hotchner's book fairly captures its essence: Fifty-three Years of Adventures and Misadventures with My Pal Paul Newman are affectionately recounted by a man who obviously greatly loved and admired his subject matter.

However, readers seeking an in-depth account of the actor's stellar career and achievements should perhaps look elsewhere. Because for all that the author might have rejoiced in Newman's professional success, this account of him is strictly personal -- if, mindful of the boundaries inherent in true friendship, never for a moment intrusive.

The Newman that Hotchner knew was far removed from his Hollywood hunk image. Unadorned, direct and honest, mischievous, complicated and unpredictable -- these were the characteristics that defined him for Hotchner and which inform his memoir.

He might have acted the film star at red-carpet events and on the chat-show circuit, but Newman was at his happiest far from the glare of cameras and studio lights.

Hotchner describes a laconic, laid-back guy with a fine line in self-deprecating wit who liked nothing more than to relax with family and friends over barbecued burgers and beer.

Indeed, it was his passion for such homespun fare that prompted Newman to develop his own food company, a project hatched with Hotchner in the unlikely surroundings of Newman's old barn.

Founded on little more than a whim, Newman's Own line of gourmet foods quickly grew into a market force to be reckoned with, and one that, for the most part, drives the narrative of this memoir.

Having decided from the outset to donate all profits from his food company to good causes, in 1985 Newman went one further by establishing his own charity.

Named the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (after the legendary gang of bandits in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), this charity aimed to improve the lives of children with life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, by establishing tailor-made kiddie camps to lift their spirits and provide temporary respite from hospital.

Explaining his motivation in an interview, Newman said: "I wanted, I think, to acknowledge luck; the benevolence of it in my life and the brutality of it in the lives of others, made especially savage for children because they may not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it."

Following the acquisition of development land for his first camp in Ashford Connecticut, Newman was on a mission. All his other passions -- his motor racing, his many forays into politics and other liberal causes, his resolve to write his autobiography -- were consigned to the back-burner.

Prevented by IRS law from donating more than half the estimated $10m development costs, he embarked on a fundraising extravaganza, securing $5m (and probably at least its equivalent in positive media coverage) in a single donation.

For the remaining 20 years of his life, Newman worked tirelessly to further the charity's cause. Today, his Hole in the Wall camps and programmes have immeasurably enhanced the lives of more than 200,000 children and families in 39 countries and across all 50 US states.

In capturing the essential goodness of his subject matter, Hotchner also displays the very essence of friendship. Newman might have greatly enriched the lives of thousands with his charity work, but he was equally enriched by his talent, his passions and his friends.

Sunday Independent

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