Paul Newman was Harvey Weinstein’s Westport, Conn., neighbor. The kind of neighbor who stops by just to drop off a loaf of bread.
As Weinstein remembers it, “So Paul called me one day and said, ‘Come on up to the camp.’ I said, ‘How far is it?’ Paul said, ‘An hour.’ I looked on the map. It was like three hours.”
The movie star arrived in his innocent-looking Volvo. “As I strapped in, I said to myself, ‘This is definitely going to be a long trip,’ ” recalls Weinstein. And so the threesome shot off for the dense woods of Ashford, Conn., — Harvey in the front seat, brother Bob in the back.
“We went like 190 miles an hour,” Harvey says. “Literally. I looked at that speedometer and thought I was going to pass out. We get out of the car. Bob and I are shaking. We’re dizzy.”
Founded by Paul Newman in 1988, the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp serves seriously ill children. Here, 1,000 kids can have fun — swim, fish, ride horses, camp, play mini-golf.
“We walk into this camp,” says Weinstein. “And these kids have big smiles on their faces. And everybody’s wearing cowboy hats. It’s like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Hole in the Wall.’
“Then I see a bunk, and I go, ‘Is that Julia Roberts or a woman who looks like Julia Roberts?’ It was Julia Roberts. She was a counselor at the camp, and had just spent two weeks living with these girls who all had cancer.
“The great Bob and Harvey, the noted tough guys, we couldn’t walk five feet without crying. These kids really broke us down.”
The Weinstein brothers have “easily” donated in the seven figures to Newman’s camp. Harvey can’t recall the exact date of that first visit, saying, “It was when I had a full head of hair.”
Bob, who has served on the camp’s board for six years, chose to support the org because of Newman.
“Paul always said he felt that luck played a great part in his life,” Bob says. “He felt that he had led a lucky life, and it was his obligation to use his good fortune to give something back. I responded to that basic philanthropic message. It really made an impression on me.”
As well as the camp, Harvey would get calls from Newman on environmental issues. “He’d just call me and say, ‘I need 50 grand,’ or whatever the hell it was,” recalls Harvey. “I loved Paul and I would like to do one-tenth of what he did with Hole in the Wall.”
Along with Gwyneth Paltrow, Brian Williams and Jeff Zucker, Harvey Weinstein serves on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation, an org that funds and creates programs in New York’s poorest neighborhoods. Since 1988, the foundation has granted more than $1.2 billion to those New Yorkers living in poverty.
“David Salzman and Paul Tudor Jones started Robin Hood along with John Kennedy Jr., who recruited me,” says the studio head. “But the credit goes to David and Paul who run it.”
Then there’s AmFAR, which first came together over a lunch.
“We started with Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Dr. Mathilde Krim and myself,” says Harvey. “And we raised 300 grand. Then, over the years we got Elizabeth Taylor and Sharon Stone. AmFAR, dedicated to ending global AIDS, is now in its 25th year.”
Barbara Davis: Philanthropist of the Year | HFPA shares its Golden Globes wealth with arts orgs | At 70, Foreign Press org expands its reach | Newman legacy at Weinstein Co. | Hollywood goes global to help a continent in need
The Variety Guide to Entertainment Philanthropy