The Disembodied Head of Paul Newman Lives On

Alternate title: Butch Cassidy and My 4-Year-Old Kid

Photo of Paul Newman smiling and sitting with children at a Hole in the Wall camp.

In our home, humanitarian Paul Newman’s recent death was approached a little different.

At about 3-years-old, my daughter came to know Newman as the face on our pasta sauce jars. That is, she began recognizing his face on Newsman’s Own food items we buy.

An image of Paul Newman's face illustrated on the wrapper of a Newman's Own marinara sauce jar.

One day she asked me, “Papa, where’s the rest of his body?”

I always meant to write the company, or the man himself, to ask, but somehow never got around to it.

Regular Thinga-readers know I read obituaries to my now 4-year-old daughter. I naturally sought out Newman’s tribute on Sunday morning.

I skipped much of the Associated Press-written piece where it focused on his movie career. What does my daughter know of movies?

Instead, I retreated to the familiar, his food. Newman’s death became a mini-lesson in consumerism.

First I jogged her memory about her noticing Tigger on a shampoo bottle at a store this summer. I explained again how the company that makes the shampoo is trying to trick people into buying it because Tigger is on it, not because it’s good shampoo.

(“Trick” isn’t the best word, but it works for a 4-year-old.)

Then I explained that because lots of people know Paul Newman from seeing him in movies, they might buy his sauce because his face is on the jar.

“Do we buy his sauce because his face is on it?”


“That’s right. Why do we buy it?”

“I like it.”

“We buy a lot of his other products, don’t we?”


“When you see his face on a box at the grocery store, do you think it will be something that tastes good or bad?”


“So Paul’s face isn’t a trick, is it? It reminds us of his
reputation and that we’re probably going to like the food we’re looking
at.” [Then I launched into a lengthy explanation of what "reputation"

Don’t get me wrong. She also understands Newman did a lot of other great things during his lifetime besides make tasty sauce.

Later in the day we went bumper bowling and finished the outing with one of her friends losing his Hot Wheels car inside a corner pocket of a pool table. So the kids played a round of pool in hopes of jostling the car free, and my wife told my daughter that Paul is an excellent pool player. In real life? Hmm.


There are three other reasons we like Paul. His nonprofit company gives its profits to educational and charitable causes, more than $250 million so far. And, tragedy in his own family led to his forming the Scott Newman Center for preventing drug abuse. And, he founded Hole in the Wall Camps to help seriously ill children have fun.

Why would he do that? Did he have a sick kid of his own? No. Watch his explanation:

And this Newman’s Own video:

What can you say about Newman’s life? That he was a stellar, yet modest movie star who shunned the shallowness of the Hollywood scene to live a relatively normal life in a committed marriage of 50 years, raising his kids and giving back to society? Sure, you’ve heard that in numerous media reports in the last few days.

But if you watch those two videos, I think you’ll agree he was a man who, when he saw how most people live and how unfortunate some peoples’ lives are, he didn’t look away. He looked at himself and dismissed his success and talent as “luck.” He remained thankful for his luck and the only way he saw to give thanks was to lift other people up.

That is a lesson I hope to impart to my daughter as we continue to see the disembodied head of Paul Newman in our home in the years to come. How can we lift people up?

Additional link:

Addendum: Here are a couple awesome videos that give a sense of life at Hole in the Wall Gang camps (and a few others by clicking through and then clicking the camp’s username at Youtube).

Part 1:

Part 2:


6 Responses to “The Disembodied Head of Paul Newman Lives On”

  1. Paul says:

    AJ, that was a beautiful tribute to an oft-overlooked celebrity. How much better off would the world be if people with his power and resources quietly went about the business of finding and filling the needs of the less fortunate, rather than paparrazi fodder like Angelina Jolie and Madonna making sure that their trips to Africa are documented for the world to see in a whirwind of self-promotion. Our church is currently going through a book entitled “One Month to Live,” in which we are challenged to think about the things we would do if we knew for a fact that we would be leaving Earth in thirty days. Since we do know that our time here is limited, why not always live that way? Be generous. Forgive. Love recklessly. Have patience. Act graciously. Live kindly. Based on what I know about his life, Paul Newman did that until his clock ran out. Thank you for focusing on the good he did for the world.

    September 29th, 2008 at 5:12 am

  2. Margie says:

    Lovely tribute to a man who will be sorely missed, but whose legacy will live on in countless ways.

    September 29th, 2008 at 6:57 am

  3. Sandy W. says:

    I think this is a very nice tribute. But still, I must admit that the title of your blog post was a little disturbing.

    Regardless, I think it’s wonderful to honor the memory of such a compassionate man. Thanks for this information.

    September 29th, 2008 at 6:27 pm

  4. AJ says:

    Thank you for reading past the disturbing title. Anyone else think it should go?

    I debated it when my wife came in at 2 a.m. with the alternate Butch Cassidy title, but by then I’d tied the disembodied title into the conclusion. (2 a.m.? Yeah, we think the kid is teething.)

    I tend to think such frank talk about death offends healthy young people more than it does people who are near the end. Sometimes a person is refreshed that an issue isn’t tiptoed around. And we’re still just talking about his likeness on product packaging. No? Disagree? Let me know.

    September 29th, 2008 at 8:06 pm

  5. LiteralDan says:

    I thought I was the only person who helped protect my kids (just my 4YO son so far, his sister is almost ready) by explaining how many ads/products around him were trying to trick him into spending his money.

    He understands their motivations, that they’re not just evil, but self-interested.

    There are precious few positive examples out there in the marketplace, but Newman’s Own is definitely one of them. This is a great tribute to a great man.

    The title is certainly jarring, but I think he would like it, and I’m sure people will read past it.

    September 30th, 2008 at 8:27 am

  6. Karen says:

    AJ, Thanks for that post and the great tribute. I buy Newman’s brand, but didn’t know anything about him until now. It was such a great encouragement to me! What a great man to be remembered!

    October 5th, 2008 at 1:02 pm

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