By Sara Vilkomerson
“I really believe I’ve known two saints in my life, maybe three,” said writer-director Robert Benton via telephone from his office on Monday, three days after the death of his longtime friend Paul Newman. “William Sloane Coffin, who used to be head of Riverside Church and was a chaplin at Yale when the civil rights movement was won. And the other was Paul Newman. He was, I think, one the best human beings I’ve ever known … one of the most decent, the most honorable. He was extraordinary.” He laughed. “Of course, he would be appalled if he could hear me calling him a saint. It would have ended our friendship.” And what would he have been comfortable being called? “I don’t know. Just Newman, I guess. But certainly not a saint.”
By Peter W. Kaplan
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t know Paul Newman. But I spent a few weeks with him in 1983, when I went down to Florida to watch him direct a father-and-son picture he had also co-written and produced, Harry and Son, with himself, Robby Benson, Wilford Brimley, a young lop-smiled actress named Ellen Barkin and Joanne Woodward. Movie sets, as you might know, are excruciatingly boring places where time moves slowly, really underwater, and the director asks for the same thing over and over until whatever he or she wants revealed shows up.