There are many good Paul Newman movies and many good moments of Paul Newman in mediocre movies, but, for me, he rose to true greatness, and the movie with him, in The Verdict, 1982. I frequently hear people say what I say -- Newman should have won an Oscar for his role as the alcoholic attorney trying to finally do the right thing -- to regain his self-worth and to achieve justice for a Boston family victimized by medical malpractice. The film was directed by Sidney Lumet, working with a David Mamet screenplay. There was an excellent cast -- Jack Warden, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling, Milo O'Shea -- but Newman gave his greatest of all performances, as Frank Galvin, shaking with doubt, trying to claw his way out of a bottle to win a case for the family of a young woman left in a coma during an operation in a Catholic hospital. In the jungle of his fears, Galvin finds what E.B. White called "the flashy tail feathers of the bird courage." He was nominated that year for best actor, and that turned out to be his sixth unsuccessful career nomination. (Ben Kingsley won it, for Ghandi.) If you can rent a single Newman film tonight, to remember him, try The Verdict. (If you're a Verdict fan, by all means, send along a comment. If you'd like to argue for another "Newman's Best," have at it.)

When the holy-rollers said no to Newman

Ten years ago, Paul Newman was scheduled to make a movie on a Virginia island in the Chesapeake Bay but a Christian fundamentalist uprising killed the idea. Tangier's born-again Christian elected leaders said no to Warner Bros.' proposal to film some scenes from Message in a Bottle, which was to co-star Newman and Kevin Costner. I worked this story at the time.
"Each member of the town council read the script independently and, without any discussion, the vote [against the movie] was unanimous, 6-0,"  Mayor Dewey Crockett told me. "The objections were in three categories -- language, sex and alcoholic beverages. There was a lot of raunchy language and seven or eight sex scenes. And we have a dry town here."
Still, Newman was cool about the rejection. He'd been booked for a private tour of Tangier and took it anyway. Two charter boat captains in Crisfield, Keith Ward and Curtis Johns, gave the
actor a ride to the island and escorted him to the hardware store. Newman toured the island
in a rented golf cart and left after about two hours, declaring Tangier one of
the most beautiful places he'd ever visited.
Why did Newman make the trip? Nobody seemed to know. Perhaps he felt obligated because, despite the town council vote, a lot of people wanted to see Message in a Bottle filmed on Tangier.
My contact on the story was Wallace Pruitt, who ran Shirley's Bay View Inn with his wife. "People are really tore up about it," he said.
The film was shot on location in North Carolina.
It was rated PG-13.

Newman and life

Here's a quote from Paul Newman, expressing something too few of the smug and self-satisfied in Hollywood, in Washington and on Wall Street ever own up to: "I want to acknowledge luck -- the chance and benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others, who might not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it."