Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Paul Newman( 1925-2008), A Tribute.

Paul Newman, who passed away last Friday, will long be remembered not just for being a good actor but for the grace with which he lived his life. Blessed with strikingly handsome features he was more, much much more than just a pretty face. Women might have initially been attracted by his impossibly blue eyes and men may have admired him for his exploits on the racing circuit but they all  continued to idolize him   for his other attributes: his fundamental decency, his innate modesty, his refusal to take himself too seriously, his philanthrophy and his penchant for living life to the fullest. Pauline Kael, the NYT film reviewer, wrote of his performance in  Cool hand Luke  that ” There are some men who project such a traditional , heroic frankness and sweetness that the audience dotes on them , seeks to protect them from harm or pain.” She was writing about his performance in a movie but that comment could very well be applied to his real life persona.

I was surprised to read that , early in his career, Paul Newman was often mistaken for Marlon Brando but I then realized that I was comparing them as they were in later life. Brando, a man of large appetites, became gross-looking , but Newman continued to look handsome even as he aged. He wore his good looks lightly , allowing his hair to turn first grey then white, but always had that twinkle in his baby blue eyes. There is an apocryphal story about a woman who glimpsed him in an ice cream shoppe in Westport and was completely entranced by him. Still befuddled, she walked out of the store and found herself standing on the sidewalk clutching her cell phone but without her ice cream cone. As she was wondering where she had put it, Newman emerged from the store , walked up to her and smiled ” It’s in your handbag.” Even if this is an urban legend, it’s a story we can very well imagine ,one which we we would like to be true.

Ironically, Newman’s good looks worked against him earlier in his acting career as movie critics discounted his acting skills , perhaps believing that his appeal was due more to his charm and looks rather than his skill as an actor. He, however, always considered himself  a character actor and eagerly sought out meaty , often edgy, roles finally garnering an Oscar for the role of fast Eddie Felson in ” The Color of Money” (1987). His wife of more than 50 years, Joanne Woodward, was herself a consummate actress, winning an Oscar for her role of a woman with split personality in ” The Three Faces of Eve ” (1958). It is a testament to the quality of their marriage that Newman never felt threatened by his wife’s early success. Indeed, he was later to produce several films showcasing his wife’s talents, good roles for older women being few and far between.

Perhaps what gave Paul Newman and his wife the most pleasure was the success of their charitable efforts. In partnership with the writer A.E.Hotchner ,Newman, in 1981, began a food venture ,all the profits of which were donated to charity. The company was a success from the start making Newman’s Own Salad dressing, and alsopasta sauce, salsa, popcorn, lemonade and wine.To date it has raised more than $ 220 million for charitable causes such as summer camps for seriously ill children, cancer , drug awareness etc. Even when his son Scott tragically OD’d on Valium and alcohol, Newman dealt with his grief and started a foundation to educate people on the dangers of drugs. Through it all he had a realistic view of himself and retained his sense of humor. When the profits from Newman’s Own topped the $ 100 million mark, he said that he was overjoyed but also confessed to feeling a little embarassed beccause Newman’s Own  Salad Dressing had outgrossed  Newman’s Own films!

Newman nad Woodward were long time residents of  Westport, CT and people there are full of stories of him, his unfailing good nature, his joie de vivre and how he always conducted himself as a regular guy rather than a famous Hollywood icon. No one had anything but good to say about him . “Likable”, ” good humored”, and “unassuming” were the words most often used to describe him.

He is gone now and we will not soon see another like him .

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The Independent, a British newspaper, recently conducted a very unusual poll when it invited its readers to select  the Angriest person in the world.

Before you read any further, just think whom you might have voted for.

Surprisingly, many of the top vote getters are well known to Americans. The top vote choice , with 28% of the vote, was Heather Graham, the ex-wife of Beatle Paul McCartney.Among the also rans were supermodel Naomi Campbell (12%) and bad-boy actor Russell Crowe (5%). Singer Amy Winehouse was high on the list but I forget how mant votes she polled.

 That Heather Graham ‘won’  wasn’t surprising. She’s been in the news lately as a result of her trying to gain a larger share of Sir Paul’s fortune in  a divorce settlement. The court proceedings have been acrimonious and even though she won a $ 50 million settlement , she’s not satisfied and has announced her plans to hire a forensic accountant in an attempt to win even more. Naomi Campbell too has had her share of flare ups and meltdowns and doesn’t seem to have learnt her lesson. A news item this morning said that she had been arrested for causing a disturbance in a British Airways plane and escorted off the plane in handcuffs. Russell Crowe has been well behaved lately as far as I know.

News of this poll led me to speculate whom I would have voted for. I’m not much for entertainment news and gossip so I had to think hard. My vote would go to Mike Tyson who was never able to exorcise the demons of his horrific childhood and completely messed up his life. My runner-up would be Dick Cheney, our reclusive Vice-President, who seems to be perpetually mad at everyone.

Who would your choice be ?

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I am an unashamed foodie. Before there was a Food Channel  I used to watch Iron Chef , without subtitles , on a Japanese tV station. Once the Food Channel made it’s debut I spent many happy hours watching Iron Chef, Ming Tsai , Bobby Flay and other chefs display their culinary skills. Over the past couple of years, my addiction to the Food Channel has lessened primarily because of two people : Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray.

It seemed like whenever I switched the TV on , Emeril was hosting a cooking show. I never liked his shows , not even when he was a novelty. People who have eaten at his restaurants  say that his food is great. Maybe so, but I never cared for his cooking show. I got fed up with his shouting “BAM” and throwing yet another handful of pepper or spice into his dishes while talking about ” kicking it up another notch”. The musicians were a hoot but it was difficult to take Emeril seriously.

Rachel Ray initially was a breath of fresh air. Perky and irreverent, contantly smiling her wide mouthed smile she exuded a sense of fun as she went about her tasks. She looked so wholesome  and cute as she chopped and sliced and sauteed. But too much of a good thing is bad and I soon realized she was on the air as much as Emeril.In addition to “30 Minute meals” she was also the host of two other food-cum-travel shows. My appreciation for her culinary skills  took a dive after I saw her in an episode of Iron chef. That particular episode had her partnering Iron Chef Bobby Flay in a contest against Giada De Laurentis and Iron Chef Mario Batali. I had thought that the ladies skills were almost on a par with those of the Iron Chefs but I was sadly mistaken. As the contest wore on it was evident that they were not even in the same league. I stopped watching the Food Channel and was away on vacation for all of December which gave me a respite from Rachel’s  relentless cheerfulness.

When we returned in January, we found ourselves changing our exercise habits. The cold made it difficult to get up at 6:00 in the morning so we found ourselves getting up later and going to the Y at 10 AM. And that’s where I ran into Rachel again…

In the gym, there is a row of TV sets along one wall so that you can keep yourself occupied as you exercise on the treadmill. And guess what’s on at that time in the morning ? Yup. Rachel Ray’s talk show. For me, this is even harder to take than her cooking show. She’s perky and cute and wholesome and I’m sure she’s a very nice person but… can anyone be that upbeat all the time ? She’s not a very good interviewer and I wish she would not fawn quite so much on her celebrity guests. I know that her core audience consists of women and they adore her how so I will say no more… except that I wish she would use some variety in her language. She’s always talking about ‘these guys’ as in ” Let’s put these guys aside for a minute ” ” or ” Let’s sprinkle these guys with some salt and pepper”. Rachel , can’t you please call these guys by their proper names ? Call them what they are….. pork chops, broccoli, whatever. Last week was a new low. She was preparing some sort of stuffed loaf and had wrapped it in foil. ” Let’s put this baby in the oven ” she said as she did just that. Put this baby in the oven. C’mon. Rachel. Surely you can do better than that.

Already the weather is getting better and it’s easier to get out of bed in the mornings. In a couple of weeks, we’ll be going to the Y at our regular hour. When that happens  it’ll be time to say ” So long, Rachel.”

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To the question ” How should a man handle getting old ?” Jack Nicholson responds thusly

” When I turned 70, it was the first time since 50 that I felt young for my age, literally. Sidney Poitier told me years ago  – because I was moaning – ‘Jack, don’t worry about it. The wildest thing happens when you hit 70. You get this tremendous burst of energy for some reason’. So for , like 15 years,it’d had been the only positive thing I’d heard about that milestone, and maybe it worked.” ( From an interview in Men’s Journal, January 2008)

That’s something to look forward to , isn’t it ?

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( The Ugly American was the title of a 1958 bestseller by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Set in the mythical South East Asian country of Sarkhan , it was a searing indictment of Americans who don’t understand or respect local cultures when living abroad. In their arrogance, they consider the locals inferior to themselves and make no attempt to find out their real needs. For many years , the title of the book became a catch phrase for selfish, crass, unfeeling Americans and all that was wrong with America. This post is about their polar opposite….The Beautiful American).

George is a retired insurance agent, his wife Corinne a Registered Nurse. She was his college sweetheart and they have been married for more than forty years. They have five children, two girls and three boys, all of whom are married except for the youngest. All the children live close by. George & Corrinne dote on their grandchildren and George, when he has the time,  likes to play golf. Like their parents before them, George and Corinne are devout churchgoers and believing in doing good.

From my description so far, these two would seem to be decent, solidly middle class Americans with good family values but nothing more. What sets them apart is the manner in which they have thrown themselves, heart and soul, into a cause they believe in. That is what makes them the Beautiful Americans.

One clue as to what makes George tick is his service in Vietnam. As a person of conscience, he did not want to kill people so , when he was drafted, he served as an Air Force pilot ferrying people and supplies. In keeping with his beliefs , he was always active in charitable causes throughout his career. Now that he has retired he devotes all his time and effort to a movement called Heal the Children.

Heal the Children brings foreign children to the U.S for badly needed surgery. Some of these children have heart problems; others are badly burned and need plastic surgery.American surgeons donate their services and hospitals provide the facilities but the long post- operative recovery period means that the children need a place to stay for weeks and even months. That is where George and Corinne step in, opening their home to these children and providing them a safe, comfortable haven with plenty of TLC. So far they have hosted about a dozen such children from Korea and South America. In one case, where a child received a bone marrow transplant at a hospital in Cincinatti, George and Corinne took turns staying with him for weeks at the Ronald McDonald House there while he recovered.

One of the latest cases involved a girl from the Dominican Republic who needed re-constructive surgery to replace half her jawbone.This required extensive surgery and necessitated several operations spaced months apart.When she was in George’s house she would be schooled so that her education did not lapse. Each time , after the girl recovered , she would go back to the Dominican Republic and stop learning. Finally, George and Corinne decided to adopt her and she is now one of their family.How many people can you think of who would take on such a responsibility , espescialy at their age ?

Twice a year, George organizes trips to the Dominican Republic so that the poor there can receive free medical care. Churches and other social groups in Santo Domingo line up needy people with medical problems. George flies over there with donated medical supplies and teams of doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. On one such trip, these volunteers performed 500 cataract operations over a long weekend. Another time , it was a group of orthopedists who provided succor.

All of this is done quietly and without fanfare. I’ve never met George and I only came to know of him through a mutual friend. I’m sure there is a lot of other charitable work that George and Corinne do that I’m not aware of. Many of us give to charities but how many give of themselves as unstintingly as George and Corinne do. That is I think of them as  the Beautiful Americans.

There are many others like George and Corinne. Scores of them, hundreds of them, thousands of them. They do what they do without expectation of reward or fame. They do it because they feel it is the right thing to do. In fact, I think they do their good deeds without conscious thought. Whenever there is a natural disaster anywhere in the world , it seems like Americans are at the forefront of relief efforts, donating not just money but time and effort. These are the Beautiful Americans.

George, Corinne and all those faceless others like you…. You are an inspiration to the rest of us. Live long and prosper and may your tribe increase.

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I have always been an admirer of modesty in athletes. I root for  players whose artistry is marked by quiet efficiency rather than braggadacio, those who  wear their celebrity lightly. As a fan, I preferred Arthur Ashe to Ilie Nastase, Bjorn Borg to Jimmy Connors, Tim Duncan to Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Jeter to A-Rod, Hank Aaron to Barry Bonds. I appreciated Dennis Rodman’s rebounding ability even as I deplored his  antics on and off the court. 

 Though I never got to see him play, Joe DiMaggio was a hero to me as much for his quiet dignity as for the effortless grace he displayed in patrolling centerfield for the Yankees. I did see him once, long after his playing days were over.  Back in the early eighties,I was walking in mid-town Manhattan when  a man rushed across the street brandishing an autograph book. He  approached a tall white-haired figure , immaculately dressed in a blue pin striped suit, emerging from a limo. It was Joe DiMaggio! Smilingly, he obliged the autograph seeker, no doubt making the man’s day.

Twentyfive years later, I still remember the force of Joe’s personality, his class.

There weren’t too many like him, which is perhaps just as well because the American public seems to prefer it’s sporting icons to be loud and flamboyant and ‘colorful’. To some extent, I can understand the fascination with flash and razzle-dazzle ; it is certainly exciting to watch . But why dismiss a player like Pete Sampras as ‘ dull’  or ‘boring’ instead of admiring his strokes,his court coverage and the fighting spirit  that propelled him to 14 Grand Slam titles. 

But perhaps I am being unfair in expecting athletes to be modest. After all, when they go up against others in a game situation, they have to tell themselves that they are better than the opposition, that they are the best. Without a huge ego , they would not be able to dominate opponents. Much of the trash talking and posturing is to pump themselves up for the upcoming confrontation or to intimidate their rivals. Sometimes, it’s also to get themselves in the news and build up their persona, all the better to attract lucrative endorsements.It’s unfortunate that youngsters see their heroes behave thusly and then use them as role models.

And then, just when I had told myself that it was unreasonable to expect modesty in an athlete, I read this piece in Bob Larson’s Tennis News …

“Last week, Roger Federer was in Horgen, Switzerland and dropped in at exclusive restaurant, L’O, located at the shore of Lake Zurich. He came with 5 people, and they had no reservation. As the tables were either full or empty but reserved, restaurant management sent him away. They didn’t try to fit his party in, and Federer made no scene such as, “Don’t you know who I am?”

A couple of  people asked for autographs, and Federer complied with a smile and left. ”

Can you imagine another superstar, any other superstar doing something like that ?

Thank you, Mr. Federer, for showing that it is possible to be a superstar and a gentleman.

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