Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Newman's Own Blog Post

Until yesterday, when I finally watched Cool Hand Luke, I had never seen a Paul Newman film made when he was younger than 68 years old, although I was a big fan of Nobody's Fool. My familiarity was actually more with his Newman's Own brand pasta sauce, and in case there's more than one person out there with the idea that products under that label are simply a case of celebrity-endorsement marketing, the story behind it is something I've been meaning to clarify since I started this blog.

There seems to be at least one person who's confused, as I discovered after I received last year a couple of notable gifts for Christmas. My parents gave me a George Foreman Grill to try to provoke me to do something that begins to approach actual cooking a little bit more. Meanwhile, a couple of friends gave me a compact volume entitled simply, The Movie Book.

The first time I used the Foreman grill, I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the history of that celebrity-named product with the history of the sauces, salad dressing, popcorn, and other foods I had read about earlier in Newman and A.E. Hotchner's book, Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good. In that book, they tell how Newman was so unbelievably picky about his salad dressing that not only did he make his own for home use, but he also would require in restaurants that they bring him the necessary ingredients from the kitchen so he could make the dressing at the table. "On one occasion," the book says,
when the restaurant mistakenly served the salad with its own dressing, Paul took the salad to the men's room, washed off the dressing, dried it with paper towels, and, after returning to the table, anointed it with his own, which he concocted with ingredients brought to him from the kitchen.
Seems as if it could be obnoxious behavior, but who am I to argue with a man of such success? They go on, anyway, to explain the obsession this way:
At that time, almost all dressings, especially the mass-market ones, contained sugar, artificial coloring, chemical preservatives, gums, and God knows what. So Paul really started to make his own dressing not just as a taste preference, but also as a defense against those insufferable additives.
The book's first chapter, which includes the above passages, portrays the commercially available Newman's Own Salad Dressing as springing directly from a December 1980 effort by Newman and Hotchner in Newman's converted barn to mix up a batch of Newman's salad dressing in an old washtub, bottle it themselves in old wine bottles, and give it as a gift to neighbors when their families went around Christmas carolling. Apparently, there was some left over in the tub, giving Newman the idea of trying to bottle and sell that, until Hotchner pointed out that selling food produced in such conditions would break any number of laws. So Newman agreed to "take out insurance, create a proper label, and get a bona fide bottler and see if it would sell."

The rest of the book goes on to tell the story of how they went about taking those steps, what the marketing entailed, how Newman's taste for natural ingredients led to his creation of a variety of other products, and how the charitable projects ensued after the Newman’s Own® brand saw profits he never anticipated.

Until recently, I wasn't sure where the George Foreman Grill came from, but I was pretty sure it wasn't actually invented by the boxer. Excellent gift, though. In those same days of post-holiday indoor grilling, I also enjoyed and benefited from The Movie Book, which, though out of date (as one reviewer points out), did introduce me to or remind me of a number of significant persons in the film industry I knew little of, such as Ken Loach, Milos Forman, Terrence Malick, and Werner Herzog, to name a few.

However, the book's writers include at least one misleading clause in their Paul Newman entry: "he has lent his name to a flourishing salad-dressing business."

"Salad-dressing business"? This was published in 1999, and they're unaware of the sauce, the popcorn, and the rest?

But more egregiously: "lent his name"?

"Lent his name" is what Frank Sinatra evidently did with a line of spaghetti sauces, which Newman in his book recounts with pride watching go out of business. Evidently, Sinatra knew how to make sauce in a kitchen but took no interest in how it would be mass-produced or sold. Except that, apparently, while Newman says he got into selling sauce because he was dissatisfied with what was available to him in jars previously, Sinatra said the reason he went into the spaghetti sauce business was an affection for seeing his name "on all those bottles in the supermarket."

"Lent his name" is what George Foreman did with a line of indoor grills, which were invented by Michael Boehm, a salaried employee for the grill's original manufacturer who later asked the boxer to endorse the product.

Paul Newman, on the other hand, came up with the recipe and chose the ingredients for the salad dressing, the pasta sauces, and his other products, found a bottler, played a role in figuring out how to mass-produce these foods, and oversees the course of the business. As well he should. He owns it. It says right on the back of this jar of Italian Sausage and Peppers sauce, at the beginning of the sentence about donating all the post-tax profits and royalties to charity, "Paul Newman, as sole owner of Newman's Own®...." (Kind of sounds silly saying it—"Newman, sole owner of Newman's Own."

"Lent his name....."

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some leftover rotini with Tomato & Basil Bombolina to finish. And a copy of Butch Cassidy to hunt down.


Blogger trawlerman said...

Well, after pestering you for a Newman post, I better leave a comment! (My Internet use has been minimal in the latter half of December, so I'm just now reading this post of yours)

There's a record store near my work, with a decent-sized discounted (mostly remaindered, some used) books section in the back. I've passed up buying the Hotchner/Newman book several times, because I know that I wouldn't read it immediately, and if I don't read something I purchase immediately, it usually ends up in a box in storage, and may or may not be read in the future.

So, all of that, to say that I enjoyed receiving some of the content of the book through you, as I would not have otherwise known of Newman's strange (to use the kindest word) restaurant behavior.

I like Newman's Own products (and, mostly, I'm referring to the dressings), but, honestly, the reason that I tried them at all is because they had Paul Newman behind them, and I had to know what a salad dressing created by Paul Newman tasted like. I don't know that I would have that same urge to taste Brad Pitt's salsa or Olivia Newton John's pancake batter (or whatever, feel free to come up with better examples).

Anyhow, if you haven't seen The Hustler yet, please do. I've seen a lot of movies, and I've seen a lot of brokenness and depravity depicted in movies, but nothing tears me apart the way that The Hustler does. Every time.


You mentioned Terrence Malick. When I find a Director that I like (and sometimes producer or actor, too), I like to watch everything that they've ever made. Malick makes this pretty easy to do (long aside- sometimes, depending on the director, this is impossible - I'm a huge Elia Kazan fan and find it an unpardonable crime that his complete canon is not available on DVD), since he only directed four films (though the IMDB lists a fifth that I've never seen and know nothing about, except that it appears to be a short), three of which are available for relatively cheap on DVD, and the fourth of which is in theatres now (though not in the Buffalo area yet).

Ahhh, I'm probably not writing anything that you don't know, but, if you haven't seen the films, see them.

Finally, have you seen Werner Herzog acting (the role of the father) in Julien Donkey-Boy? His performance (or, rather, the character) is both funny and achingly painful (in a good way) to watch.

I've rambled.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Steve Ely said...

I never even heard of Julien Donkey-Boy. I've added it to my Netflix queue, though, and moved The Hustler closer to the top. And while I've heard much about many of Elia Kazan's films, it looks as though I've never seen any of them. I'll have to work on correcting that in 2006.

12:27 PM  
Blogger trawlerman said...

Julien Donkey-Boy is the only film that I've gone back to see a second and third time at the cinema (while I lived in London), with the matching exception of the first Toy Story movie, which I also saw three times in the theatre.

On the third time seeing Julien Donkey-Boy, I brought my tape recorder and made a sound recording of the film. I listened to it again once (sans images), then sent it to the girl I loved (now my wife). I still have the tape, but I have not listened to it, nor seen the film again in about five years.

It has a guest cameo by Will Oldham, if that means anything to you.

I also remember hearing an interview with Harmony Korine, commenting on the Dogme 95 rules, that Chloe Sevigny was not really pregnant for the film (meaning he broke the rules), but that he did everything he possibly could to try to get her that way.

London has the greatest cinemas, and I went to see, on average, about three films a week, every week, in the four months that I lived there.

Now that I'm married, I make it out to the movie theatres about a half a dozen times a year, and the films I see are usually somewhat family friendly fare, because I like to take my wife and girls out with me. It's funny, though... My daughter Mildred was more scared by some scenes in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, than she was by Reaver scenes in the film Serenity.

Abruptly, I'm hoping to put up a post about Kazan in the next few weeks.

4:45 PM  

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