Sunday, September 16, 2007

When Paul Newman Saw My Mother

Last night we had my extended family over for dessert, coffee and conversation. Half-way through the evening I told them I was going to read one of my blog posts to them. My Mother -- The Actress.

The reactions when I started reading it to them were very entertaining (as I knew they would be). They started gasping, talking over each other, "Oh, yeah, how many times did we have to hear THIS story"; laughter and hilarity ensued. This part of the family was under my mother's thumb for a number of years. I've written about my cousin, her sons and her father (my uncle) in other posts. This is the part of my extended family we remain close to and live close to. We've all broken every contact with my parents and sister.

For nearly five years my mother had unfettered access to my cousin, et al. They've heard all the stories I grew up hearing. They've heard them almost as many times as I have because they know the stories word for word as I do. It is fun to hear them repeat stories that I had grown up with and had to continue to endure well into adulthood. When they repeat my mother's tales it enables me to see how my mother has altered and embellished some of her well-worn stories in more recent years.

When I finished reading to them, a couple of them in unison said, "You've got to tell the story of "The Time Paul Newman Saw Your Mother". I started laughing because I had already decided to do that. That is exactly where my mind went after telling you all about my mother's competition with Sophia Loren. People who've been in my mother's sphere for any length of time know that Loren leads to Newman.

It was the early 1970's which means I was around ten years old. I still clearly remember being told by my mother that she and dad were heading off for a romantic weekend on the coast. Sister and I were going to have a babysitter for two days. This would have been a non-event, and I would never have remembered it if not for the story my mother came back with. It was repeated with more than enough regularity to ensure it has been hard-wired into my memory neurons. If I ever get Alzheimer's, I'll likely still remember this story.

Mommy dearest and dad headed off for Salishan Lodge in Newport, OR. It was a brand new upscale resort at a popular beach destination. I believe it was the first upscale resort to come to that area. There are much nicer places there now, but at the time Salishan was swanky and new.

My mom would have been in her early thirties. She was still slim and hadn't lost her southern California sophistication yet. In a few years she gained 40 lbs and starting looking more like a chubby Mexican mamasita, but at this time my mother still had her looks.

My parents were eating a meal in the Salishan restaurant. The restaurant was rather deserted at the time except for a man seated a little way away reading a paper. My mother says she was animatedly talking with my father when she started noticing the man reading the paper was looking her direction. She could see he had startlingly blue eyes. She claims she began to feel a bit disconcerted because this man wouldn't stop staring at her. He had no expression on his face; just a blue gaze.

Finally, she said something to my father. "Honey, that man over there keeps staring at me, and he has the bluest eyes I've ever seen." Reportedly, my father then noticed this and so was able to confirm the man with the blue eyes was staring at my beautiful mother.

As my parents were exiting the restaurant they saw some excited chattering amongst the restaurant workers. One of them turned to my parents and said, "Did you see PAUL NEWMAN? He's here."

This moment has lived on in our lives as "The Time Paul Newman Saw My Mother". I kid you not. That is exactly what my father named this event. My mother positively wiggles with delight when someone says, "Remember 'The Time Paul Newman Saw You'?" We would bring it up as a kind of subtle joke; she thinks we bring it up to fondly remember her youthful and irresistible beauty. Bring up the title to this story and watch her take off!

The punchline of this story is that Paul Newman saw her, she didn't see him. Mother loves the juxtaposition of her not realizing she was in the same room as a movie star...but that the movie star noticed her. Somehow, the fact that she didn't figure out it was Paul Newman is supposed to tell us that she is not someone who needs to pay attention when the rich and famous walk into the room. She is the one with the star quality...and the movie stars pay homage to her.

Part of this story is also how my parents looked like a happy couple. Married for a little over a decade and still having romantic trysts and enjoying each other's company at a meal. Aren't we special? Not a sullen couple silently eating their omelets at the same table. No, she is still captivating to her man as she gesticulates her way through a conversation.

I keep referring to my mother's extensive use of hand and arm movements most every time I am describing her. Anyone who has known her for more than an hour will nod vigorously if one mentions her hand and arm movements as she talks. They are an entity until themselves. They are not meant to emphasize her words...they actually serve to distract from her words. To hypnotize you into not noticing what she is really saying. I am suspicious of the possibility that Newman's attention was grabbed by the constant movement of my mother's "graceful" arms and hands. Oh, yes, don't forget to notice how graceful and lovely her hands are. This is how she showcases one of her assets. She is quite proud of her shapely hands and arms and manicured nails. I am nurturing a belief that Paul Newman was simply a victim of gesticulation manipulation. Having been hypnotized by those beautiful butterflies attached to the end of her arms, I am becoming more sure of what Paul Newman was really looking at. He probably wanted to knock her to the ground and tie her arms behind her back.

Mom still tells this story to anyone she is trying to impress. Now that she is pushing 70 years old it is important to underline the fact that she was a stellar beauty in her day. Who of you can tell stories of when movie stars noticed you? That is hard to compete with. No one ever tries.

Her audience just smiles and oooh's and ahhhh's. We're in the presence of a woman whom the stars take notice. Don't you forget it.


Anonymous said...


My first reaction to this story is how expertly the details would have been mercilessly massaged into 'the legend' that your family now know in order to get maximum effect from the smallest amount of truth.

I am sure you would have thought through all the possibilities. For example, perhaps if it WAS Paul Newman (and not just a blue eyed man - hence the fact that she didn't recognise him), its possible he just glanced at her rather than stared . Its also possible his lack of expression was due to either annoyance - as an actor he would have been acutely aware when somebody else was overdoing the loud voice and gesticulations to get his attention - or just plain boredom -how many fantastically beautiful women would he have been exposed to.. I'm not sure he would have been that intoxicated by another one. There are a thousand and one different versions of what was otherwise a very insignificant fact - I was possibly in the same vacinity as Paul Newman.

Its incredible isn't it, an N never lets the facts get in the way of a good story. I am sure your mother should be given a lifetime achievement award by the academy.

Anonymous said...

He noticed her and he didn't say one word. Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

I got stories like this from my mother all the time.

Paul was probably thinking "who the hell is that nutjob?" Of course that would never have occurred to your mother, would it? ;)

Anonymous said...

First, I would like to say that I fully believe the blue eyed man was Paul Newman. He was in the Newport area in 1971 to film "Sometimes a Great Notion" which was about a logging family in a small coastal town. Second, I highly doubt that he was struck by the beauty of the woman frantically gesturing at the man sitting with her. He was probably wishing for her right arm to fall off just like Fonda's did at the end of the logging movie.

Fast forward 11 years when I was 10 years old and subject to my father's impromtu family trips during the summer. These trips always involved scorching heat and wide open spaces with minimal shelter. Usually, it was an air show, car race or something about tractors.

"When My Mother (And I) Saw Paul Newman"

Dad loaded us into the car and we headed for Portland International Raceway to watch the car races. I was annoyed about this because:
1. It was extremely hot;
2. I knew we would be there all day long;
3. I knew that in-between races, Dad would want to check out the cars which meant I would have to stop reading my Trixie Belden book, climb down the bleachers and walk around because all of us had to go so Dad could point out stuff to us;
4. My brother (4 yrs. younger) was in his own world and completely unaware of how unbearably hot it was and snow cones had a way of magically appearing in his hands;
5. It was windy and dirt kept blowing into my face; and
6. I was wearing those bell bottom jeans with red rick-rack on the hems that were hand-me-downs and people at school made fun of them.

During one of these in-between race walk-arounds, Dad and my brother were over by a race car and Dad was doing his "point and tell" thing with my brother. I was standing with my mom a little ways away with my nose still in my book and letting Mom know that I was hot and ready to go home.

(Keep in mind that even though I complain, I really didn't mind these trips. If it had been a bit cooler, I wouldn't have been grumpy at all.)

All of a sudden, Mom started pulling at my sleeve and acting all un-Mom-like. Once she had my attention, she whispered "Look who is standing next to me!" I leaned back, took a look at the man wearing race driving clothes and said in a very unimpressed voice, "Yeah, the race car guy from the race we just watched."

Mom: "If I poked my elbow out a little bit, I'd actually touch him!"

I took a second look, still didn't see what all the fuss was about and said, "He's old."

Mom: "That's Paul Newman!"

I shrugged, resumed reading my book and thought to myself, "The heat's getting to Mom. Maybe we can go home soon where nobody can see me wearing these pants." A moment later, I realized that Mom was no longer standing next to me but had stepped away and was fixin' to take a picture of that race car guy.

This is my favorite part of the story: I was still standing fairly close to Paul Newman and my mother actually waved me to the side so I wouldn't be in the picture. Cracks me up!

Dad wandered over to check out the next car and we followed. Mom was still acting silly and Dad asked me, "What's gotten into her?" I replied, "She was standing next to that old race car guy back there and then she started taking pictures of him." Dad looked back and said, "Oh, that's Paul Newman." I said, "Yeah, that's what Mom said." Dad then said, "You were named after his wife...your middle name is her first name. Do you see all of those tires over there? These cars wear the tires out so fast during a race that..."

I do not believe Paul Newman saw me or my mother. However, I do believe he was aware of us in the same way that a person is aware of someone standing in line behind her at the grocery store.

The next time I go to Mom's, I'm digging out the photo albums.

Anonymous said...

What I think is funny is that she really didn't achieve anything other than sitting there. Just her "presence" was enough to inspire the attention of greatness. It's a great excuse not to set goals, work hard and achieve success. In her eyes she is a success for just living.

My mom didn't use her arms - for her it was her vocabulary. I look back at her (and me since I use to talk that way) and she talked like a friggin' loon. It was like speaking to a bad crossword puzzle.

Arms,'s all a slip of the hand to mask that they don't really do anything or have a purpose.

Anonymous said...

Lol my mom does that a lot too. It is like she is chopping a fish in the air. I really get nervous if she is talking and driving. Takes both hands off the wheel and starts making gestures. I then ask her to please put her hands on the wheel.

Anonymous said...

Those were GREAT and LOL Mommy Stories. You totally made my morning. I love the picture that you included. That's a spooky movie. I didn't realize she was a N, but I didn't know anything about that subject when I watched it. I'll have to rent it again. Thanks for the laughs and sharing. :-)

Anonymous said...

All of my Nmom's stories are legendary by now: of her beauty, how she had 3 men asking for her hand simultaneously, how men have stopped in their tracks to talk to her, etc. But the famous story was when she met was Clint Eastwood in Carmel in the early 80's and he "propositioned" her to go "back to his place". If I had a dollar for everytime I heard that story, I could pay for my therapist 10 years over!! Gag!