Thursday, January 16, 2014

Like Paul Newman Needs Friends

By Paul Greeley


     I had a private moment with the late Paul Newman. At least I think I did.

     In 1989, I was working at WDSU, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans. At the time, Newman was in town filming, Blaze, about the bombastic Louisiana governor, Earl Long, and his love affair with the Bourbon Street stripper, Blaze Starr.

     I walk into the edit suite one morning to find the general manager’s secretary struggling to make a VHS dub of a segment from that morning’s Today Show. When I ask her what she’s trying to do, she says Newman had seen a feature on the show about his filming the movie and it showed some archival footage of Earl Long that he wanted to study.

     “Newman himself called?”

     “I think so,” she said, “said he wanted us to take the dub to him at his hotel.”

     As a huge fan of Paul Newman, I see an opportunity.

     “You care if I take it to him?”

     “No, here’s the address.”

     I sit down at the control’s and make a nice clean dub with plenty of black at the front and even font in a title with the date. As I’m about to finish, I get an inspiration. Knowing that Newman is going to be watching this, this is my chance to ‘talk’ to him privately. So as soon as the segment is over, I pull down the microphone and punch up some black and started talking.

     “How you doing, Mr. Newman, this is Paul Greeley, the guy making this dub for you from the Today Show. I just want to say that I’m a huge fan of yours, especially your early movies like Sweet Bird of Youth, Long Hot Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hud, and Cool Hand Luke. Look, if you ever want to get a beer and shoot some pool,

I know this place, the F&M bar on Tchoupitoulas that’s open 24 hours.”

      I finish by giving him my phone number, tell him to call me anytime and to keep up the good work. I put a good label on the tape and jump in my car.

     Newman’s staying at the Soniat House on Chartres, from the outside, a small non-descript hotel near Esplanade. You don’t even know it’s there from the street. There are two big green doors at the address and when I knock, the manager opens one to reveal a big courtyard filled with beautiful flowers. I tell him I have a tape for Newman. He says he’ll give it to him. I tell him I have instructions to place it in Newman’s hands directly. He kind of smiles, says Newman isn’t here, he’s up the street shooting some scenes for the movie.

     I leave and walk to where I see some production trucks and camera equipment. I’m met by a young female production assistant wearing a headset, and tell her why I‘m there. She says Newman’s inside shooting some scenes and when I ask how long he’ll be, she says, “you know how production is, could be 10 minutes or 2 hours.”

     I tell her I’ll wait a while and grab a seat on the bed of a truck sitting there. After about a half hour, a beautiful woman comes around the corner from the direction of the hotel. She’s wearing a pretty summer dress, with a stylish matching hat and carrying a small purse. It’s Joanne Woodward. No entourage, no bodyguards, just her. She walks up to the production assistant and they start talking. After a few minutes, the production assistant points to me, and Joanne walks over to me.

     “I understand you’re the gentleman with the tape for my husband?”

     “Yes, I am,” I manage to say.

     “Look, all I have is this small purse, would you mind taking it back to our hotel around the corner?”

     I mention to Woodward that I had seen a picture of her by the early Louisiana photographer Fonville Winans, taken when she was a student at LSU.

     “Yes, I just love being back in New Orleans with all the great food here.”

     We talk for a few minutes and then I leave. I take the tape and give it to the hotel manager. He looks bemused.

     Strange as this may sound, I actually thought Newman would call. I guess I can stop waiting now.


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