By Dave Sweetman
I am blessed with a unique job of transporting customer cars around the country. Ordinary average guys like you and me who save their lunch money for that ’57 Chevy dream car like Dad used to have, all the way up to movie, TV and music celebrities who use us to take their play toys from here to there. In many places, status cars are a badge of honor, and we treat them with the same regard, respect and privacy.
I have been fortunate to have hauled cars for many entertainers: Jay Leno, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Don Imus, Jerry Seinfeld, Vanessa Williams, Kelsey Grammer, Springsteen, Stallone and others. Of all the many clients – famous and not, of wealth and without – one person stood out and treated me and our other drivers who worked with him as an equal. Paul Newman.
Like most baby boomers, I grew up seeing Mr. Newman in all of his great movies: “Hud,” “The Sting,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Color of Money,” “The Hudsucker Proxy,” my personal favorite “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” and many more.
Never in a million years would a farm boy from soybean country in Delaware even dream of meeting a famous movie star like Paul Newman. But I did on several occasions, although I do not allow myself to be star struck; I do my job and keep the client happy.
Several years ago I did a tour for Rolls Royce Motors with the “World’s Most Valuable Motorcar,” the 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. The car and I traveled from New York to San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Dallas, Houston, Miami, and several other cities. The tour lasted six months and was a fundraiser for Paul Newman’s “Hole in the Wall Gang Camp” in Connecticut. The camp is for children with cancer and severe blood diseases, to give them a camping experience they might not otherwise be able to enjoy.
I was also entrusted with the car, and sometimes the driving duties, at the different stops, as well as at meet-and-greet events at the evening socials where the money was raised. Mr. Newman made it a point to visit some of the stops, but in typical fashion he shied away from the publicity.
On several of the stops he would come over and talk as though we were longtime pals, and we would chat about his racing, trucking and anything that interested him. There were no falsehoods or no pretensions, and his blue eyes would see right through you. The farm boy from Delaware in the company of Paul Newman, talking cars and trucks, now seems like a very pleasant dream.
Several other times we had the great pleasure of working with Mr. Newman, filming for Nissan and his race team at Bridgehampton, NY. He always made it a point to say hello and talked as if he had to catch up on news since we last spoke. It made the director a bit daft, as they wanted to get on with the film production, but Paul Newman was not to be rushed.
But the ultimate Newman experience for me was a few years later. My boss at Horseless Carriage, Frank Malatesta, sponsors a group of handicapped children and works with the Eastern Christian Children’s Retreat in New Jersey.
One of the kids, Tony, was confined to a wheelchair. Because of age and use, his chair went on the fritz and was unable to be repaired. I made mention of having just finished the tour and thought perhaps Mr. Newman could advise us of a good dealer for a new chair for Tony. Making that call, I figured it would go up in smoke, but … perhaps not.
The next morning a delivery truck shows up in front of the office and drops the lift gate, and the driver scoots a brand-new electric wheelchair up our driveway. The bill is taken care of, courtesy of Paul Newman. A few minutes later, a phone call with Mr. Newman confirms the delivery and all is well. Frank and I just shake our heads in amazement. This farm boy from Delaware is once again humbled by his greatness.
After his passing in September, I couldn’t help but reflect on the times I was fortunate enough to spend with Mr. Newman. He made quite the impression, to say the least.
So, Mr. Newman, thank you for all of your great films. But thank you for the greater good that your work continues to do, through the camps and from the many millions of dollars to worthy charities through “Newman’s Own” products, and for taking the time for visits with a farm boy from Delaware. LL
Dave Sweetman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org