Friday, October 3, 2008

The Girl In The Paul Newman T-Shirt


Yep, that would be me.

Circa 1975, in my favorite T-shirt….the one with the big color photo of Paul Newman on the front.

This photo, as a matter of fact:


Ya see, Paul Newman was my very first movie star crush.

(Hey, what can I say......I have great taste.)

I was only 5 years old when Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid was released in 1969. Obviously, I didn't see that classic film in the theater at the time, it was a few years later -- on television.


When I finally did, I was hooked. Like many other fans, it remains one of my all-time favorite flicks.

Paul Newman as Butch....bantering while on the run with
Robert Redford's Sundance, and riding on that bicycle with Katherine Ross on the handlebars.

Classic.


That Newman smirk....that wry, mischievous nature....those beautiful blue eyes. I was not even a "tween" yet, but I was hooked. Hopelessly in love with a (much) older man.

That's why I had the cool T-shirt with the big color photo of Paul Newman on the front.

There's a good story about that T-shirt, and some of the people that I met while I was wearing it -- one summer weekend when I was 10 years old.

I was reminded of the events surrounding this story, when I learned the sad news last Saturday morning about Paul Newman's passing.

The story goes like this:

When I was in elementary school, my dad worked in marketing and promotions for our local Columbus, Ohio CBS television affiliate -- WBNS-TV.

Back then, every summer CBS Network would set-up a weekend for all of the local affiliates to send a publicity team to convene in one hotel in a major city, and they would spend the weekend shooting local promo spots. The local stations would each send a group with a cameraman and crew, marketing/promo staff, on-air talent, etc.

The network then sent the stars from some of their new shows, and some from returning favorites….even soap operas.

Each affiliate would have their own assigned hotel room where they would set-up to film the various 30 to 60 sec. promo spots and short interviews, and then show them at home on their local station.

You know, you've seen these promos before, something like:

"Hi, this is Valerie Harper. Make sure to check out my new CBS show this fall, "Rhoda" -- and then after that, don't forget to stay tuned for Eyewitness News with Lou Forrest at 11:00 pm. WBNS 10TV, your place for the best in entertainment, and your source for the latest breaking news."


OK, you get the picture.

Well, my dad had worked a few of these network weekends before....and in the summer of 1975, he invited me to tag-along.

(Don't ya just dig my dad's suspenders? Snap!)


Seriously?


Hmmmm......let's see: at the time I was a 10-year-old movie & TV geek who knew the stats about the Oscars and current TV schedules better than her math homework.

(Full disclosure: I knew a lot of things better than my math homework.)

Needless to say, I was extremely excited to attend.

The year I went, it was held at a downtown hotel in Atlanta. As you might have guessed, there weren't many kids attending this event.....in fact, I think I may have been the only one.

Hate that.

Because of my love and knowledge of movies and TV (old and new), I knew a lot already about most of the actors that were scheduled to attend.

My "job" was to hang out & watch, pretty much stay in the background, and help move or hold things if needed. During downtime I sat on a couch and read, in fact -- I first read "Jaws" while I was there that weekend.

CBS supplied the affiliates with all sorts of publicity materials on the shows and the stars -- photos, bios, show descriptions, etc. I sat and read ALL of it.

Here is where I got lucky.

After each star did their "promo bit" -- I was able to ask them for their autograph on one of the publicity photos that we had been provided.

As I mentioned, I was one of a very few (if not the only) kids there.....so many of the celebs were surprised by my presence and TV knowledge, and got a kick out of it.

Most of them made a point of talking to me, chatting about movies & TV or what I was reading ("Jaws", remember?), and just being very charming and so nice.

Some names (and faces) you might recognize: Lee Meriwether ("Barnaby Jones"), Loretta Swit ("M*A*S*H"), Alex Rocco ("Three For The Road"), Cloris Leachman ("Phyllis"), a totally tan Chad Everett ("Medical Center").......

(Man, check out Chad's groovy hair!)


and a very affectionate Gavin MacCleod ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show")

(Gee, I guess we know why Gavin ended up Captain of "The Love Boat"!)


Seriously, there were so many 70's stars, I was in TV geek heaven!

They even sent a young actress from the popular CBS soap at the time, "Search For Tomorrow" -- a very sweet and lovely Morgan Fairchild.


Mind you, this is before anyone really knew her, she was a mere "soap actress" at the time.

Morgan was great and by far one of everyone's favorites. She told us all funny stories about how she was constantly being accosted on the streets of New York, because people did not like the actions of her crazy soap character (a major diva "bee-yotch", so to speak).

When I asked for her autograph on the publicity photo that had been provided, she was very sweet and obliged, but said it was "not one of her favorite shots."


Morgan then asked me to write down my address, so she could send me something she thought was better.

Sounds silly, but guess what?

A few weeks later, I received a big package in the mail from CBS with a personal hand-written note from Morgan and new photos and show publicity materials. She may have been "just a soap actress", but I was thrilled.

I'll never forget that, and I've always had a soft-spot for Morgan ever since.

Many wonderful and very sweet actors took the time to chat with me that weekend and seemed to genuinely get a kick out of my interest in them, and the work they had done.

There is one person however, that I remember most fondly........

This is where the Paul Newman T-shirt comes in.

Ya see, I had just bought the shirt in a outside marketplace that we visited, the first night in Atlanta. Naturally, I wanted to wear it the very next day -- so I did.

This shirt was a definite conversation-starter with most everyone I met. I think it struck most adults as funny that a 10-year-old girl was wearing a Paul Newman T-shirt, when most of my peers might not even know who he was, or even care.

(Hey -- I also had a thing for Humphrey Bogart, after seeing Casablanca....but that's a whole other story.)


Anyways......one actor in particular got a real charge out of my T-shirt that day. He was a handsome movie-star who was there to promote his new CBS comedy/detective series that would be premiering that Fall called "Switch".



Robert Wagner.


Handsome, charming and funny.....Robert Wagner.

From the moment he saw me in my Paul Newman T-shirt that day, he made a point to come over and talk with me.

Did I mention that he was handsome, charming and funny?

OK, just checking.

Wagner (RJ to his friends....) was 45 and had daughters, one just about my age.

Guess what? He was also very good friends with....Paul Newman.


At the time, they had made three films together: Harper, Winning, and one of my favorites at the time: The Towering Inferno


(I had seen it twice in the theater....hey, that's a lot of fire, drama, death & destruction for a kid!)

Anyways, after he was done shooting his promos, RJ sat with me and signed his photo. He was curious about my love of movies and actors, especially Paul Newman. I talked about some of my favorites (and why), and he was very funny and seemed genuinely amused.



Obviously, the network stars were on a tight schedule....so when it was time for him to leave our room, Wagner mentioned to me that he would be seeing Paul the following week, at a race event.

"Kelly, I will be sure to tell Paul about how I met his biggest fan from Columbus, Ohio. I'll tell him about your T-shirt, I know he'll love that."

I was thrilled, and sure that RJ would tell him just that. Wow....Paul Newman would know about me, AND my favorite T-shirt.

Boy, did that make my day. Heck, it made my 6th grade year!

Since that day, every time I read about Robert Wagner or see his work, I always smile and think about that weekend -- and how warm, funny and gracious he was to me.


I also think about his good friend, the very special Paul Newman -- whose wonderful life and career have been much-celebrated this week.


About Mr. Newman, I've read many of the warm and touching stories and tributes, and I really don't know what else to say other than:

Thank You.

For making the world a better place by sharing your art, your philanthropy, the examples you set and the way that you chose to live your life.


Thank You.

For the many wonderful moments spent with you and your characters in a darkened theater or curled up on the living room couch.


Thank You.

From the 10-year-old girl with your handsome face on her T-shirt.....and the 44-year-old woman who grew-up to greatly admire the real man -- behind the blue eyes.


Dear Mr. Newman, thank you for sharing it all.

Thank you very, very much.


2 comments:

Maureen said...

K--
I have tears in my eyes! I also loved Paul Newman-- met him at Mid Ohio Race Track-- btw he was there with a very short Tom Cruise, and Mrs. Cruise #2. The blue eyes def. had it--- that was the first thing I spotted as he approached. I also ran into him again when I attended Swim Camp at Kenyon College. He was sitting on the lawn having a picnic with his wife. Such a gracious and cool guy.

Tom Shafer said...

What a cool story, and what great memories! BTW, you looked like a charming ten year-old. I can see how you developed your interest in film and television.

And I see you met my wife, Morgan Fairchild, who I've had sex with! (sorry, couldn't resist the Jon Lovitz/Tommy Flanagan riff)