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Butch Cassidy's legacy

Benefactors like Paul Newman are becoming an extinct species in our narcissistic world. Do you recall any of our actors having a charitable bone?

Sourish Bhattacharyya | Print Edition: November 2, 2008

Sourish Bhattacharyya
Sourish Bhattacharyya
As of February, Newman’s Own, the charity Paul Newman founded in 1982 with the writer A.E. Hotchner, had donated $250 million to good causes. More than his films—and I don’t remember how many times I have watched Butch Cassidyand theSundance Kid—I believe it is Newman’s philanthropic side that will be his lasting legacy. Last year, the actor had flagged off two Newman’s Own wines in pursuit of the same objective that had inspired him to launch salad dressings, popcorn, salsa, cookies, lemonade and even dog food. The post-tax profits earned by these product lines are what Newman and Hotchner—who’s still remembered for his 1966 biography of his long-time friend Ernest Hemingway—have been ploughing back into charities. One of the beneficiaries was the Hole in the Wall camps (named after the gang in Butch Cassidy) for seriously ill children. As many as 13,000 children attend it every year.

Newman’s life was a bundle of causes, from Kosovo to same-sex marriage. He put his money where his mouth was. It’s a pity he’s no longer with us, for benefactors like him are becoming an extinct species in our narcissistic world. Take our actors. Do you recall one with a charitable bone? Newman and Hotchner hit upon the idea of salad dressings when something they had created for friends became a big hit. As Newman’s daughter, Nell, who heads the charity’s organic foods division, told The New York Times: “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing—let’s just do this and give it all away. Now, Dad jokes that it takes a lot of time to give away all that money.” Newman’s biggest wealth was his sense of humour. When he was quizzed about why he did not succumb, like many other actors, to the lure of infidelity, he said: “Why go out for a burger when you have a steak at home?” This dry humour was the mainstay of the Newman’s Own marketing. “Restores Virginity” is the promise on the Old Fashioned Roadside Virgin Lemonade.

Coming back to the Newman’s Own wines, it is being produced by a bunch of funny guys who call their company The Three Thieves. Here’s the tale they have spun for the two wines—a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, whose high price, $16, has mightily upset all wine lovers. Butch Cassidy, the story goes, had a common-law wife named Bunny and they had a son named Catastrophe Cassidy. “He wanted to be like his pa, but everything [he] did was a catastrophe. He tried to rob a bank but shot his get-away horse in the foot. Raindrops kept falling on his head and he caught pneumonia. He bought some land but nothing would grow on it.”

One night, when Catastrophe was down and out, Butch’s ghost came to him and declared: “Son, don’t do no good mopin’ around like that. Like a true Cassidy you should be out there stealing your neighbour’s choice grape vines.” The ghost also said he knew now a guy, Paul Newman, “who owes me big-time.” “He’ll call it Newman’s Own ’cause he ain’t got the scruples of a pole cat but that’s what I like about him. One fatherly piece of advice: The wine’s gonna be delicious, but don’t drink up alla the profits.” Newman made sure his company did not drink up “alla the profits”.

Sourish Bhattacharyya is Executive Editor, Mail Today

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