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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Paul Newman: supporter of gay rights – and Humanist?

I was a great fan of Paul Newman – the American Oscar-winning movie star who died at the weekend, aged 83 – and not just for his acting ability. I found his blond, blue-eyed ruggedness extremely attractive.

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.

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