Paul Newman has left us. Larry Gelbart, one of our great writer-wits said recently that we were getting out just in time, which might be the truth about Newman, great gentleman, true American, and caring, alive activist that he was, doubtless wracked not just by his illness, but what was happening to this country. I spoke to Hotch, A.E. Hotchner to put it formally, his great friend and partner in Newman’s Own, the organic foods that benefit children with cancer, and my first semi-weighty literary friend when I was embarking on my writing career. Hotch said that it had been coming for a long time which was known, and also that he had left his mark, which he certainly did. “While you’re here, do something,” Hotch quoted his saying. Mimi needed a treat yesterday and I bought her a packet of Newman’s Own for dogs, and even as I did felt some kind of shadow, so am glad I got to make a small contribution to one of his beneficences, while he was still on the planet, though about to leave it.
I’d met Hotch the first time I spoke as an author, at an event in Richmond, when he had just published Papa Hemingway, attached as he’d been to old Ernest, and we became friends enough so when there was a party for Newman on Coldwater Canyon during the time of Nixon’s decline, Don and I were invited. I was in the throes of my Watergate spying—that is to say I had friends who were Republicans that I cherished in spite of all that was going on, so I was in their houses during the fall of that president, spending most of my time in Washington. I stayed first with a loved friend from Bryn Mawr, then through her became a friend and guest of the wife of the Chairman of the City Council, then eventually ended up staying regularly with the Gerald Warrens. He, at the time, was the assistant press secretary to Ron Ziegler, so every morning when the phone would ring at 4 AM with yet another revelation from the Washingon Post, I was right there to observe.
When I went to that party in LA, I remember clearly Newman’s standing behind the bar as I told him about the friends I had who were good guys, and his saying grimly “There are no good guys in that bunch.” My friend Hal Dresner had written on ‘Cool Hand Luke’ and he had told me how every time Newman drove by a billboard for one of his movies, he would say belittlingly, “There he is: old blue eyes.” But the blue eyes served him well, as besides giving women something to sigh over, they also perceived.
The main wit in that screenplay of Luke I would have to guess came from Hal, the most memorable line “What we have here is a failure of communication.” I’m afraid that that has become what could be the anthem for the world the way it is today, for all the blogging and Internet and Youtube and Iphones and now today I learned there are something called Kendalls, where you can download books onto a hand-held instrument from Amazon, God Help us. Nobody is really communicating clearly or we wouldn’t be in the trouble we are. Where I learned about Kendalls was at a brunch at the Waldorf-Astoria—I went because I believe in Serendipity and last weekend I walked to the Book Fair in Central Park with Mimi, and was saddened to see that of all the booths, and for all the writers living and dead, the only two old ones that seemed to have made their mark, as opposed to Paul Newman, were L. Ron Hubbard, who gave us Dianetics and thus Scientology, and Ayn Rand, egoist, both of whom have spawned cults, and businesses. Or maybe you don’t need the ‘and.’ Cults are businesses.
The real writers from previous eras have more or less vanished, a sadly neglected pile, unexamined, being an unfinished novel by Lionel Trilling whom I remember from my long ago college education as one of the great critics, so it gave me a sense of sorrow that no one cared or was moved to examine this work he had doubtless suffered through writing, as it’s easier to shoot other people down than plumb your own soul,now discovered at Columbia and nobody gives a shit. Who discovered it was Geraldine Murphy and I half-hoped she might be the spawn of Gerald and Sara Murphy, the colorful duo who played the Riviera with Scott and Zelda, and wrote ‘Living Well is the Best Revenge’ but their children would probably be dead. Anyway, I dropped my card into a cup that said there would be a raffle to go to this brunch today, and I won, but apparently so did everyone who dropped their card in, because it was the book version of a theater’s being ‘papered,’ with non-paying customers rather than having an empty house. Several hundred people, good eats, and a couple of genuinely witty writers on the dais, Larry Block and Harlan Coben, in addition to the celeb writers, Dionne Warwick(who now lives in Brazil, which my old editor Jim says will be one of the power countries along with Russia and China) and Marlo Thomas who still looks good and is still married to Phil Donahue. A number of librarians were there who had obviously dropped their cards in the cup, and of course the news is the libraries are hanging on by a very slender thread which I guess will be there till Sarah Palin cuts it.
I am in a state of genuine dread over this election, as my worst case scenario, which is of course the one I always have, is that McCain drops dead election night from the shock of winning, and leaves us with her as our ‘president.’ This would be good news only because it would give Tina Fey something to do every Saturday night as she did again last night at the beginning of Saturday Night Live, where she was brilliant, but Oh God, if You’re there, please help us. I remember when Bush won, Jamie Lee Curtis, trying to find the bright side, comforted me or tried to with the fact that “Saturday Night Live will be funny again.” I don’t think it’s a fair exchange. I am going with a bunch of concerned women to Bristol, Pa. next Sunday to electioneer, and this Thursday there’s a Bryn Mawr group getting together at my classmate Evie’s, the first black student to have been accepted to the college and when she showed up they sent her to the maid’s quarters. Supposedly we’ve come a long way since then, but Evie still thinks the country, or at least white working men are not ready to vote for a black man, so she’s working on Seniors.
There was a white haired woman sitting in the corner where the concerned women were meeting the other night, and she will be in charge of the ‘Boobys’, the old Florida ladies the group is trying to pull over the line in this terrible tug-of-war, their reward being a big party that the white-haired Booby will throw. There is some sweetness in this campaign for all the bitterness and rancor, and I am hoping that the Jewish New Year, which I never really celebrate, will bring blessings to the Boobys, -- certainly the one who sat in the corner.