Back in the 90’s, prior to finding my current passion and love for being a wedding photographer in Pennsylvania, I spent a lot of time traveling around the country chasing race car drivers, famous stars, and the prestige of photographing them. Along this incredible journey I had the honor of meeting all of the heroes of my youth, in addition to some high-status stars. One of the most deep and influential people I had the chance to cross paths with was Paul Newman.
Although Newman was a very generous man, and an actor who maintained a level of dignity and class that is still to this day rare in Hollywood; easy to get a hold of was one thing he was not. Getting Paul to sit for me proved to be quite a challenge. He had me pursue him in three states until we finally met in Milwaukee.
This photo shoot was different for me, and I suspect for him also. I was polite and professional, as I am with every client. I called him Mr. Newman, which I am sure made it obvious to him that I was not one of the Hollywood paparazzi shooters he must have frequently encountered. I also did not have an army of assistants helping me to get the perfect shots, it was just me and the great philanthropist, one on one.
So there I stood, a little in awe, with one of the most well known stars in the world. There were a million questions I could have asked, but I needed to stay focused on the task at hand . . . who knew how much of his time I was allowed. My assignment was to get a portrait of him for RACER Magazine to accompany a story they were composing describing how racing has changed since 1969. Mr. Newman had starred in a movie called Winning, playing a character who had won the 1969 Indy 500. The portrait needed to look rough, like we were in a garage, the “grizzled veteran” type of thing with dramatic lights, etc. You get the picture. I scouted the space where we stood, and just as I had all the logistics worked out in my mind, and had mentally prepared myself; Paul said “No, I don’t like this. Let’s go to my motor home”, and when he said motor home, he really meant mansion on wheels.
“Hmmm” I thought to myself “I’m in a bus with no light what do I do now?” As a professional and experienced photographer, I know that you can never be too prepared. In this line of work things never go as planned, so you have to be prepared to protect your good name, by having everything you could possibly need in any situation.
To say the least I was surprised by his choice, but not of course not shocked. Perhaps Mr. Newman was not being difficult, but was challenging me, pushing me to be creative on his terms. “Ok, here you go, take your shots” he said bluntly. Nothing like a little pressure, right? Keep in mind that this was before digital photography (remember film?) so unlike many “so called” photographers today, you had to know what you were doing.
“Mr. Newman, it is a little dark in here, can I turn on a light?” “No” he said . . . strike one. “If you don’t mind sir may I open one of these blinds a bit just for a little light?” I asked, “Just a little” he replied.
With that, I started to work with Paul Newman. “How cool”, I thought to myself. “I would like to work close with your eyes” I said “Yea they all do” he responded. Here I am, moving this superstar of film around, posing him, lighting him, and for a few minutes he worked with me. “Hey, do ya have it?” he inquired, “I got something” I replied. “That’s all ya get. Good luck! Nice to meet ya”. And with that, we were done. I gathered my equipment, shook his hand, and within moments I was out the door. Ten minutes of my life I will never forget.
The images turned out to be magnificent, and RACER magazine loved the photos!
I’m posting this today for various reasons. I love to share tales of my career that illustrate some of the amazing places my passion has taken me, but more importantly it is always an honor to be able to pay tribute to someone who is selfless, and has done so much for others. Throughout his life, in addition to winning numerous awards and national auto racing championships, Paul Newman founded a company with a sole purpose of donating all proceeds after taxes to various charities (which to this date has acquired over $250 million), assisted in founding the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy , donated to various scholarship funds, and partook in a multitude of other charitable acts. Everything he did was done with integrity, honesty, and class, attributes that are rare gem in today’s society.
I can not share the images which were used for the story, but I can show these out takes. I think he did like me? Thank you Mr. Newman.