I met Paul Newman on the set of The Hustler, a film my father had written the screenplay for. I was a boy and quickly bored by the slow going of a movie set. What I remember most about that day was every time Newman had a break in filming he would come over, sit down nearby, and perform goofy tricks for me. He smoked Salem cigarettes and must have done four different tricks with the pack alone. I was mesmerized and thought this was the greatest guy in the room. The fact he was around the corner from becoming the most famous movie star in the world meant nothing to me. That day he was your favorite uncle who whenever he appears, is full of jokes and tricks and wonders just for you.
A couple of years later I was in Los Angeles on the 4th of July. My family went to a party given by a friend of Newmans. The actor arrived that day with a bunch of his children. He had on a bright orange flight suit -- the kind jet pilots wear. Even then I thought how cool it was for a guy to wear that on just any day. I waved to him but he didn't wave back. There were a lot of people at the party and he disappeared into the crowd.
Half an hour later someone touched me on the shoulder and before I had a chance to turn around he said, "Don't tell anyone, but I've got firecrackers. Want to go shoot them off?" Fireworks of any kind are sex to 12 year old boys, so I would have gone with Dracula if he'd had some. But turning around I saw that great orange suit and off we snuck. He knew exactly where he wanted to go -- way down back in a field behind the house. It was just the two of us and we trotted to get there, he was in such a hurry. He kept looking at me and grinning -- two adventurers off on a secret mission.
When we got to the spot, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a bunch of small firecrackers. He lit one, tossed it and we jumped back. It exploded with a great loud satisfying BAM! He handed the next one to me along with the pack of matches. I lit mine and it immediately blew up in my hand. Both of us stood stunned, staring. I don't remember if it was blackened or bloody, but something must have been wrong because Newman immediately snatched me up, threw me over his shoulder and ran full speed for the house. I was fine. No big deal. Hands washed and a couple of Band Aids later I went back to the party.
Paul Newman running with a kid on his shoulder, only a father then, scared the boy was hurt, ready to do anything to make it better. That's how I will remember him.