The legacy of a theater legend
To create a legacy is to create a story that has a beginning but does not end. Whether the world knows you or you feel you’ve come to know just a small piece of the world, leaving a legacy ensures that the sparks of your life feed the fire of knowledge, passion, and tradition in others for years to come.
BY LIA JILL LEVITT
I’ve always known of Paul Newman the legendary actor. But my knowledge of Paul Newman the unconventional entrepreneur began with a bottle of Newman’s Own Sockarooni sauce. I was captivated because, like the other products in his brand, 100% of proceeds went to charity. Plus, it was delicious–I always went straight for the Sockarooni Sauce, which included in its recipe peppers, onions, mushrooms, and the whole shebang. Paul Newman himself was a man who embodied the “whole shebang.” To some, he was a dashing movie star, to others a daring racer, and to others a divine philanthropist.
It was a hot and humid summer day in Westport, Connecticut, when I donned a long white eyelet dress and crinoline to accompany my former boss to the famous Westport Country Playhouse. She’d returned from South Carolina and was filling her trip to Connecticut with local highlights that residents like me never have time for when they actually live in a state. En route to the theater she shared what a special and significant place it was, because of the connection to Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward. They were known in the Fairfield County, Conn. community and throughout the theater world for working tirelessly to promote the arts. Having been to many local theaters, I knew upon entering that this was the crème de la crème. I remember a feeling of pride at being in such an esteemed theater where, in addition to Paul and Joanne, legends such as Liza Minnelli, Gene Wilder, and Jane Curtin have performed.
“Their spirit is within the walls and the air of the place where we work and make theater–for the Westport community and beyond.”
Mark Lamos, the Tony-award winning former Broadway director and current artistic director at the Westport Country Playhouse, spoke of Paul and Joanne’s lasting impact on the playhouse. “The Newmans’ legacy is incalculable because without them, and without their vision and fund-raising capacity and passion for the community, the art form, and the history, the Playhouse would not exist. Their spirit is within the walls and the air of the place where we work and make theater–for the Westport community and beyond.”
One of Newman’s greatest legacies is that of his 50-year marriage to Joanne Woodward, a storied actress. It is rare even outside of show business to hear of a marriage with such longevity and devotion. Paul and Joanne were also devoted to the Westport Country Playhouse and to its long, illustrious history. Founded in 1931, the theater was originally housed in a dilapidated 200-year old former tannery. In 2000 Joanne was drawn to the role of artistic director and fundraiser extraordinaire.
It seems fitting that Paul and Joanne starred together that year in Ancestral Voices – (A Family Story), because the story of the legacy their family created was admired by so many. Paul also starred in Our Town in 2002 and Trumbo in 2004. He was set to direct Of Mice and Men in 2008, the same year that Joanne returned as co-interim artistic director, but sadly had to withdraw due to his ailing health, which, in line with his private nature, he downplayed publicly.
Like Newman, We Can All Leave a Legacy
Our values are manifested in the legacy we leave. A person’s legacy does not have to be as broad-reaching as Paul’s to be impactful for generations to come. A legacy can be a family story that brings joy to our descendants, a talent passed through a family, or a donation to a charity that is meaningful to an individual.
As my time researching and writing about Paul brought me closer to his story and legacy, I listened to the sounds of Newman’s Own organic butter popcorn popping and thought about the many kernels he planted, such as his tremendous generosity, which inspire so many. Paul embodied class and being a classic, so it seems only fitting to enjoy my popcorn in front of one of his classics, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Lia Jill Levitt
Lia Jill Levitt is the founder of Ain’t She Sweet, LLC, a company dedicated to bringing joy to seniors and those to care for and about them. She the author of a book by the same name inspired by her remarkable grandmother. https://aintshesweet.net/