Paul Newman’s life reminded me of my old friend Gail Bishop. When the Nevada labor leader died, I became speechless at his memorial service. Several people expressed surprise that I had nothing to say about someone I idolized.
I was stunned to silence by all those who came forward to tell stories about how Gail had helped them. I didn’t know most of them. After listening, I had nothing to add. My wife later remarked that I had been given a lesson in greatness — how one person can affect so many lives.
Such a man was Paul Newman.
Before he was elected to the state senate, Randolph Townsend was a volunteer teacher and race car driver. In 1979, he signed on to Newman’s CanAm (Canadian-American) Challenge Cup racing enterprise. His teammates were the still-driving (and still hilarious) Elliott Forbes-Robinson and future Formula One world champion Keke Rosberg of Finland.
One evening, Townsend’s long-suffering personal manager Pam Quilici (now Peri) and a couple of her girlfriends attended a team dinner before a CanAm race in Watkins Glen, New York. The great man hisself walked in and sat down next to the teens.
One was so stricken she could barely move, let alone introduce herself.
Newman flashed his baby blues and said, “You know all about me, but I don’t know anything about you. Tell me about yourself.”
The greatest star of the modern era thus put the young women at ease for what became one of the most memorable moments of their lives.
“How was Newman?” my wife later asked her friend Pam.
“Just as nice as can be,” came the response as she related the story of the nervous friend whom Newman gently calmed.
Trying to market Paul Newman was problematic because he was very, very picky.
Los Angeles ad executive Chuck Gouert recommended that we do a mailing to major advertising agencies. (Budweiser was already aboard.) He advised that we put Newman on the front page.
I informed him that Mr. Newman was very finicky about such use of his photos. We did it anyway.
Gouert predicted that with Newman’s face on the cover, one of his fellow ad execs planning a campaign would call. That’s exactly what happened.
My wife and I met a gentleman named Randy Lanchner for dinner at the then-MGM Grand Reno. I kept thinking that this guy is too deep to be a garden variety account executive. Turned out that a major New York advertising agency, one of the big four worldwide, had sent their chief legal counsel. The client was 7-Up. Perhaps you remember the campaign that starred Magic Johnson and Sugar Ray Leonard among others.
We never brought the offer to Newman. He would not do a TV standup saying “Drink 7-Up,” and the money they were offering was peanuts.
“Paul and Gene (Hackman) get $2 million a picture,” groused Newman’s racing team partner Bill Freeman.
Newman and Hackman had by then developed reputations as macho movie stars who could make a pretty decent living as race drivers were they not otherwise so talented.
Just a photo of Paul Newman drinking your product in the pits was worth millions, but 7-Up didn’t see it that way. I was personally gratified when his famous taste for beer migrated from Coors to union-made Budweiser.
Newman was “a real guy, putting aside Hollywood persona,” Sen. Townsend, R-Reno, remembered while taken aback by the news.
“He was liked and respected. He had remarkable ability to drive even late in life. I was lucky to be around him. I was certainly lucky to drive for him,” Townsend added.
I will upload the 1979 team marketing brochure with the expanded Web edition of this column at NevadaLabor.com. I will also publish a new historic photo of one of Mr. Townsend’s CanAm competitors, the late, great Reno racing legend Merle Brennan. Dan Wildhirt of Longmont, Colo., sent me a photo of Merle taken at a 1984 CanAm race at Sears Point in Sonoma, Calif., a venue all local race nuts know well. My January 1996 column written at Merle’s death has evolved into an ever-expanding memorial to the greatest racing talent Nevada ever produced.
Well done, gentlemen. Very well done.
Proving once again its tremendous value as a community asset, Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT) will premiere Michael Moore’s new film “Slacker Uprising” this week.
The Oscar winner’s latest opus is a full-length documentary shot during Moore’s 62-city tour leading up to the 2004 election. One stop was a standing room-only event at Lawlor Events Center.
It premieres Tuesday at 10 a.m. on Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter cable channels 16 and 216. It re-runs on Saturday at 5 p.m. Watch this space and my TV show for additional run times.
On Thursday, Reno City Councilman Dave Aiazzi met with SNCAT producers. He relayed a proposal from Charter Communications regarding its plans to move public, educational and governmental community stations to the higher-cost, lower-audience, minimally surfed digital tier. The city of Reno, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and my consumer group, ReSurge.TV, have all threatened legal action to stop Charter’s attempt to seize public bandwidth for premium high-def channels.
As expected, Charter’s deal was deficient in many areas, but at least it was an offer of settlement. Charter misled Mr. Aiazzi on several issues and we set the record straight while making our concerns and requirements clear.
He deserves commendation for moving the process forward. The Reno City Council and mayor stand alone among the five affected local governments to have done anything for their ratepayers. Sparks, Carson, Washoe and Douglas counties have been shamefully silent.
Stay tuned to ReSurge.TV and my show for developments.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 40-year Nevadan, editor of NevadaLabor.com and political action chair of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. He hosts live news and talk (682-4144) Monday through Friday, 2 to 4 p.m., on Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter cable channels 16 and 216, streaming at Barbwire.TV. E-mail email@example.com. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since Aug. 12, 1988.