Screen Trade: Newman’s own — the B’way stage

A few cheers for the old guy.

Paul Newman has never been a critics’ darling, and if I had to guess the reason, probably it’s the eyes. I remember once, decades past, talking with George Roy Hill, who said, “Whenever I see him again I have to stop myself from staring at those goddamn eyes to see if they’re still so goddamn blue.”

They are, but their owner, being color-blind, has no firsthand knowledge what the fuss is about.

Newman is cursed with “The Cary Grant Syndrome.” Grant, one of the greatest performers, never won an acting Oscar. He never seemed to be acting. He was just, well, there on the screen, all ease and intelligence. (Like Morgan Freeman is just, well, there today.)

Newman was Rocky G., Brick, Eddie, Chance, Hud, Luke, Butch and Henry, plus a bunch more, until the Academy, maybe worried that he was going to kick before they got around to him, smiled.

For me, Newman ranks with Grant and Robert Mitchum as the most underrated of the very great stars.

But he’s not underrated this year, baby.

And what you probably expect next is a major gush about his work in “The Road to Perdition.” After all, he’s a lock for a nomination. But that Newman is terrific in a pic is not news.

I’m talking about him supposedly coming back to Broadway. In “Our Town.” As the Stage Manager. Who narrates that glorious American piece of work and who is almost never offstage. All at a sprightly 78.

And if he does come back to Broadway, you are going to be so moved. For two reasons.

First is the caliber of his work, so quiet and underplayed and “I’m just hanging around here folks, don’t pay attention to me, the play is what matters, it’s going on just over there, watch that.” And before you know it, he has you.

The second is a terrible sadness — more than likely this will be his Broadway farewell. And all I could think of when I watched him in Westport recently was, “Why didn’t you do more of this for me, why didn’t you leave me more memories?”

I saw him in his Broadway debut, as Alan in “Picnic” (Ralph Meeker had the Paul Newman part). And as the villain (yes, he was) in “The Desperate Hours.” And, most gloriously, as Chance, with the legendary Geraldine Page in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

And whatever his film career has been, he could have duplicated it onstage — and, in a different era, would have. And I would have been there to see him.

The first time I did see him was on 72nd and Broadway, 1959, on a sunny day, and I was walking to the subway when I realized something was going on across the street. A man with wildly colored hair was walking hand in hand with a small child. It was Newman, his hair tinted for “Sweet Bird.”

At first people looked at the weirdo with the hair. Then they realized who was underneath the hairline. Then the realization hit: “My God, look who’s in front of our Walgreens.” The crowd grew so suddenly as the word spread, and the center of all that attention realized the gathering, smiled graciously at them all, hailed a cab, got in and disappeared.

“That was Paul Newman,” one lady said. “Paul Newman. He was here!”

He still is …