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Two Men; Two Lives (posted 8/27/2008)

Two famous, aging white men of liberal persuasion are suffering with terminal cancer and facing their final days on earth.

Paul Newman is an American actor and a film director. He has won an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Cannes Film Festival Award, an Emmy and more. Many of his film performances are striking and memorable: Brick Pollitt in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' (1958), 'Cool Hand Luke' (1967) 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' (1969) and 'The Sting' (1973).

He appeared with his wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward, in the several films, including 'The Long, Hot Summer' (1958) where he played charming arsonist Ben Quick. One of Newman's finest performances was as Frank Galvin in 'The Verdict' (1982). Another of my favorites was his role as Michael Colin Gallagher in 'Absence of Malice' (1981). Youngsters will recognize his voice as Doc Hudson in the 2006 animated movie, 'Cars'.

Paul is the founder of Newman's Own, a food company from which all profits and royalties are given to charity. To date, these donations have exceeded $225 million. One beneficiary is the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a residential summer camp for seriously ill children, cofounded by Newman in 1986. It serves 13,000 children every year, free of charge.

Newman's politics are unabashedly liberal and he was once #19 on Richard Nixon's enemies list. Newman has said that his inclusion on that list was one of his greatest accomplishments.

He is an avid auto racing enthusiast, and first became interested in motorsports while training for and filming 'Winning' in 1969. Newman's first professional event was in 1972, in Thompson, Connecticut. He ran the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979 and won GTS class victory at the 1995 Daytona 24 Hour race at age 70.

Paul is also a consummate car guy. In the 1960s, he could be seen roaring around Hollywood in a Porsche-engined, red VW Beetle convertible. In recent years, Paul has favored sleepers like Volvos with beefed-up suspensions and American V-8 engines. Those who know him describe Newman as a classy, private guy free of Hollywood pretense and scandals.

Newman now has end-stage lung cancer and has retreated from public life to spend his final days with his family. Two weeks ago, Lime Rock Park race track near his Connecticut home shut down for a couple hours so that Paul could take a few final laps in his GT1 Corvette. (Update: Paul Newman died on September 26, 2008 at age 83.)

Edward M. Kennedy is an American politician. In office since November 1962, Kennedy is the second most senior member of the U.S. Senate. After the deaths of his brothers, it was expected that Ted would run for President. After a couple of false starts, he finally ran in 1980 against incumbent Jimmy Carter, a fellow Democrat. His bid was ultimately unsuccessful, despite Carter's unpopularity. Chappaquiddick and the drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne still dogged Teddy but his downfall came when Roger Mudd of CBS News asked in a one-on-one interview, "Why do you want to be President?" Kennedy's response was rambling, unfocused and cliché-ridden.

This media event lent credence to an opinion voiced by journalist Joe McCarthy early in Teddy's career: "He isn't very very heavy mentally ... nothing like his brothers. In many ways he's a fathead, a little bit conceited, a little bit cocky, the kind of guy who'd never finish a sentence when you asked him a question. He simply didn't think things through as Jack and Bobby did."

While not a car aficionado, Kennedy had the nickname 'Cadillac Eddie' in Law School. He was cited four times for reckless driving in 1958 and '59. These violations included running red lights and driving with his lights off at ninety miles per hour in a suburban area. Said one cop, "That boy had a heavy foot and a mental block against the color red. He was a careless, reckless driver who didn't seem to have any regard for speed limits or traffic ordinances." When Cadillac Eddie drove his Olds Delta 88 off the bridge in Chappaquiddick, his driver's license had been expired for five months.

Teddy's personal life has been messy. He was expelled from Harvard for cheating. He and first wife Joan had a very public separation and divorce, allegedly because of his womanizing. In the early 1990s, he and nephew William Kennedy Smith were cruising bars in Palm Beach (home of the Florida Kennedy compound), looking for chicks. Ted was almost 60 at the time.

An ailing Ted Kennedy appeared at the 2008 Democratic Convention, following a televised video tribute to him. In the film, there were many scenes of Teddy sailing with his family, although the Ted-water connection seemed ... ummm ... inappropriate. While he promised to return to the Senate in January, Kennedy's failing health - a malignant brain tumor - may not permit it. He is spending the remaining summer on his yacht off Hyannis Port. (Update: Edward M. Kennedy died on August 25, 2009 at age 77.)

Those - like Edward Kennedy - who have been exposed to Catholic nuns early in life are familiar with the phrase "not living up to your potential." It means that a person is squandering their gifts - either God-given ones or ones obtained by accident of birth. Or both. In 'The Blues Brothers', Sister Mary Stigmata scolded Jake and Elwood for squandering theirs: "You are such a disappointing pair. I prayed so hard for you."

Paul Newman was born to middle-class parents in Shaker Heights, Ohio. He nourished his gift for acting and, when it paid off, used a large part of his monetary rewards for philanthropy and good deeds. Teddy Kennedy was born to privilege and, while winning and holding a Senate seat is nothing to sneeze at, we all know that he could have been so much more. So many people prayed so hard for him.

I believe that, fifty years hence, Newman's accomplishments will be celebrated far more than Kennedy's. And people will long remember Paul Newman's trademark grin: "You know, that, that Luke smile of his. He had it on his face right to the very end. ... Cool Hand Luke. Hell, he was a natural-born world-shaker."


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The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

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