I first read Paul Newman’s novel In Pursuit of the Common Good when Hubby and I were on a road trip; he always drives and I always read aloud. We both laughed all the way to our destination while reading this book by Paul Newman and his friend A. E. Hotchner.
It is December 1980, a week before Christmas, Westport, Connecticut, a blanket of snow on the ground, wood smoke from fireplaces redolent in the air, tree lights festooning the houses, a pervasive Yuletide lilt, but we are laboring in the subterranean space beneath Paul’s converted barn, an area that had once been a stable for farm horses. There is a bucket filled with ice-blanked Budweisers and an array of bottles of olive oil, vinegar, mustard,condiments, and so forth. There is also an empty tub and collection of old bottles dating back to Revolutionary times by their appearance, bottles of various shapes and sizes that had been somewhat sanitized for this occasion.
Paul Newman, known to his friends as ol’ PL or Calezzo de Wesso (Bonehead), had asked his buddy A. E. Hotchner (Hotch), sometimes called Sawtooth, to help him with a Christmas project that he was assembling in this basement, which wasn’t a basement in the usual sense. There were crusty stones, a dirt floor, crumbling cement, and overhead timbers covered with active cobwebs. Also three long since vacated horse stalls, but the unmistakable aroma of horses remained. There were desiccated manure fragments here and there, and there was evidence that certain field animals were still occupying the premises. A very picturesque place in which to mix salad dressing.
The project was to mix up a batch of PL’s salad dressing in the washtub and fill all those old wine bottles using the assembled funnels and corks and labels, and on Christmas Eve our collective families would go around the neighborhood singing carols and distributing these gift bottles of PL’s dressing.
. . . Occasionally, during the hours we labored, somebody would show up–Caroline, the housekeeper, or Joanne or one of Paul’s kids. But they had the good sense to stop at the door. The smell of vintage horse piss and mold had not commingled with the aroma of Budweiser and the salad dressing ingredients, a combination that did not exactly beckon. So they stood near the door and announced that dinner was ready, or Aunt Margaret was here, or the police wanted to invalidate Paul’s driver’s, but Paul said we still had work to do, whereupon everyone seemed to scatter in a hurry. No one dared venture into that place. It was forbidding, or sanctified, maybe.
As we know, all profits from Paul Newman’s products: the salad oil, popcorn, spaghetti sauce, lemonade, salsa, and steak sauce – go to deserving charities. In September 1986, Paul Newman envisioned his own charity – a camp for children with cancer and December 1986, ground was broken for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
“I cannot lay claim to some terribly philanthropic instinct in my base nature,” PL says. “It was just a combination of circumstances. If the business had stayed small and had just been in three local stores, it would never have gone charitable. It was just an abhorrence of combining tackiness, exploitation, and putting money in my pocket, which was excessive in every direction. . . . One thing that really bothers is what I call ‘noisy philanthropy.’ Philanthropy ought to be anonymous, but in order for this to be successful you have to be noisy. Because when a shopper walks up to the shelf and says, ‘Should I take this one or that one?’ you’ve got to let her know that the money goes to a good purpose. So there goes all your anonymity and the whole thing that you really cherish. Publicize the generosity in order to become more generous. That’s been the most difficult part of it. But overcoming that dichotomy has provided us with the means of bringing thousands of unlucky children to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps.”