Monday, July 20, 2009

l Newman Biographer Regrets NY Post Columnists' Inability to Make Up Their Own Smears

This past weekend, we began to notice stories popping up in various places about Paul Newman, lout. The stories, which were linked to the forthcoming publication (on May 5) of Shawn Levy's Paul Newman: A Life, the first comprehensive, posthumous biography of the star, tended to leave the impression that the book is a bombshell that portrays Newman as a "functioning alcoholic" whose much-admired, fifty-year marriage to Joanne Woodward was a cover for a string of affairs, which in turn by undermined by the fact that he was too drunk to play the great lover off-screen. To be honest, we weren't quite sure what to make of these reports, not just because there had been so little in coverage of Newman's life when he was alive to defend himself, but because Levy's earlier books--on Jerry Lewis, the Rat Pack, and Porfirio Rubirosa--were not slag jobs. Now Levy, who reviews movies for the Oregonian, has posted an entry at his blog lamenting those reports, which he sees as a misrepresentation of his book, and which he has traced back to Rupert Murdoch's New York Post and its "Page Six hatchet man Richard Johnson."

According to Levy, Newman had a feud with the Post that went back to the production of the 1981 movie Fort Apache, the Bronx, a cop opera that was attracted protests at its location shoot by dimwits who, having put it together that the movie's genre and its setting would result in the on-screen presentation of persons of color who were engaged in criminal activity, which they figured meant it was racist. (The central plot turn involved a white cop, played by Danny Aiello, who throws a Puerto Rican kid off a roof.) The movie was also attacked by progressive local press outlets such as The Village Voice, but given Newman's position as a high-profile celebrity liberal, the conservative Post must have gotten a special kick out of being presented with the chance to tar him as being party to a bigoted depiction of life in the South Bronx. ""I wish I could sue the Post," Newman announced at one point, "but it's awfully hard to sue a garbage can." "A few years later," writes Levy, "Newman and the Post were fighting about -- of all things -- how tall the actor was (the Post said he was no more than 5'7", whereas Newman held he was 5' 11")." Things got so bad between the two warring forces that it "even extended to the TV listings, where Newman's name was left out of descriptions of his films (The Hustler with Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Robert Redford and Katherine Ross, etc.)."

Whatever one thinks of the Post and its staff--summed up by Levy as "an amazingly angry and illiterate bunch""--one might have guessed that they had the minute amount of class and humanity necessary for them to let this shit die when the actor did. Thanks for clearing that up, I guess. In the meantime, Levy has been put in the uncomfortable position of decrying their description of his book and its contents even though he knows that that very description stands to move a few units. The fact that he's upset enough about this to protest it is to his credit. As for Murdoch, he himself happens to be the subject of a new book by Michael Wolff--The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch--for which Wolff was given a great deal of hands-on access. In a discussion of that book in last week's The New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann noted that, under the influence of his current wife, "Murdoch has come to regard Fox News and some of his other right-wing associations as embarrassing." We're sure that knowing that, thanks to the current state of the Post, his original "right-wing association" in this country, he's currently paying the salaries of vultures to break into Paul Newman's coffin makes him feel a lot better.

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