I learned, quite by accident, about yet another of Paul Newman’s silent, charitable contributions to the world’s less fortunate. during my stay at the Jumeirah Essex House on New York’s Central Park South. Today, on my return to L.A., I received an e-mail from the Westport Country Playhouse telling of “a joyful gathering for the community to celebrate the life of Paul Newman followed by the film of the Playhouse’ s 2002 production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” with Mr. Newman as the Stage Manager,” Nov. 22, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. I phoned Joanne Woodward (an artistic director of the Playhouse, along with Anne Keefe) to follow-up my concerns about her following Paul’s passing Sept. 26. I had known them both all during their 50-year marriage. She was very happy to hear my feelings again. Beyond a bad cold and cough, Joanne said “I’m OK.” She is pleased the Playhouse is showing the “Our Town” production filmed there. “I’m so glad,” she said, “it was such a lovely production–and he was so great.” And she insisted “It is not an homage — he (Paul) would not have wanted that,” she insisted. Whoever wants to come can come. (It’s free-of charge.) Members of the Newman family stopped by her house as we chatted warmly and she volunteered she might even take a trip (not by plane!) to L.A. to see some of their old friends.
I told Joanne I had spoken with Jay O. Sanders who is in “Edge of Darkness” with Mel Gibson, directed by Martin Campbell-in the duo-detective drama in which Gibson’s daughter is murdered. It’s Gibson’s first feature in six years. Sanders reminded me. There is no religion in the film, he said–“but we both wear crosses and St. Christopher medals.” Before returning from N.Y. to the film’s Boston location, Sanders had given an emotional tribute to Paul Newman in the Essex House Hotel Grand Salon Ballroom at the launching of Green Chimneys’ “Celebrity Dogs Unleashed” fundraiser. Sanders had also participated in Paul Newman event fundraisers for his Hole In The Wall Gang camps and had acted as auctioneer at events where Paul Newman came to the rescue, Sanders said, by personally upping the bidding himself. The Green Chimneys organization for which Sanders gave the Newman tribute is an animal-assisted therapy program for children with special needs. For “Celebrity Dogs Unleashes.” A company of performers has created 27 life-sized (!) fiberglass Labrador Retrievers decorated with the most creative colorful artwork. The list of creative artists includes Clive Davis, Glenn Close, Jane Powell, Paul Shafer, Judge Judy, Jane Goodall, Mike Richter, Bill Walton, etc. The windows of the Essex House facing Central Park each contains one of these pooches, welcoming guests into the hotel’s grand hall which also has other dogs ”unleashed” in the $90 million refurbished hotel. It sparkles from every angle of public and private room and the staff reflects the pride of the now-new hotel which has boasted showbiz clientele from nearby Broadway’s theater district–for over 70 years… The Essex House is now part of the expanding international Jumeirah hotel chain with four hotels in Dubai including the famous Burj Al Arab, the world’s most luxurious hotel. The Essex House’s director of Sales and Marketing, Thatcher Brown, departs N.Y. for Dubai in December to become Vice-President of Brand Strategy and Management of all the Jumeirah Hotels in Dubai. He says he’ll actively pursue bridging culture and business in their Dubai hotels… Brown laughingly told me he had an early start associating with the arts–growing up as a member of the children’s chorus at the Metropolitan Opera. He says he plans to bring art programs–including film– into the Dubai hotels he oversees.
Next: Out the hotel’s door and into the theaters. Stay tuned.