He is probably best known for his role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but my favourites are the filmed versions of the gay playwright Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth. In the former, Newman plays an alcoholic ex-footballer who, by implication, is gay. In the latter, the toy boy of a fading alcoholic female movie star played superbly by Geraldine Page.
Though clearly not gay himself (he enjoyed a long and happy marriage to the actress Joanne Woodward), I was delighted to learn from some quotations publicised on BBC Ceefax that he was a staunch support of gay rights:
I have never been able to understand attacks on the gay community. There are so many qualities that make up a human being . . . By the time I get through with all the things I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it’s irrelevant.
I was also pleased and impressed by what seems his very Humanist stance on such subjects as charity and death.
On charity (and he was a very generous philanthropist), he says:
I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out. The concept that a person who has a lot holds his hand out to someone who has less, or someone who isn’t hurting holds his hand out to someone who is, is simply a human trait that has nothing to do with celebrity.
In 1982, he set up Newman’s Own – the premium food company that donates all its profits and royalties after taxes for educational and charitable purposes. It’s motto reads:
Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the Common Good.
On death, he had this to say:
I’d like to be remembered as a guy who tried to help people communicate with one another, tried to find some decency in his own life and tried to extend himself as a human being.