August 20, 2019

Paul Newman and Erik Satie

Speaking of Paul Newman, he takes my top honor for a celebrity who still tried to be just a plain old human being. While shooting “The Color of Money” in Chicago, Newman came in the first time to Convito Italiano with Tom Cruise. The hostess was like a deer in the headlights as Newman lowered his sunglasses to flash his baby blues. When she discovered Cruise standing next to him, it became debatable whether we should have instigated CPR. This was the first of many visits for Newman, being an aficionado of interesting Italian food and in the midst of building his business featuring spaghetti sauce and salad dressing.

My shining moment came when Mr. Newman tipped me to play Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie” and I actually knew the piece from memory (along with “Clair de Lune.”) Another evening, Gene Siskel interviewed Newman over dinner and I again played the Satie piece. As a result, Newman’s love of classical music made it into the article.

One incident stuck with me. Newman was sitting at the bar when a middle-aged lady asked for his autograph. He said in a very polite manner, “I’m sorry, but I don’t give autographs.” She was initially silent, then let him know in no uncertain terms that she thought he was arrogant and huffed off. Having just finished the engaging memoir of A. E. Hotchner, “Paul and Me” about his decades long friendship with Newman, I was reminded of that autograph scene.

Paul believed that he was just a regular guy who had gotten incredibly lucky and giving autographs gave the impression that he was somehow different and better than other people. Whenever possible, he tried to take off the cloak of celebrity and don a race car jacket or a T-shirt. The book is a fascinating account of his acting career, his car-racing, his accidental food empire and his charitable giving including the creation of the “Hole In the Wall Gang” camps across the globe. A heartily recommended book about a really stand-up guy.

Remembering Peter Falk

Peter Falk’s recent passing made me think of his visits to Convito Italiano, the long-gone* and charming Chicago restaurant at Chestnut and State at which I played (ahem) some years back. As luck would have it, Paul Newman was dining the night that Mr. Falk arrived. Falk, in town for a live theater performance, did indeed have poor eye sight and was trying to see if this was really his friend Newman in the dining room. Our manager had been an Australian cattle dog of sorts for errant fans trying to disturb celebrity diners so he initially tried to shepherd Falk away from Newman until it became obvious that they did indeed know one another.

Falk returned an hour after his dinner, wearing a rumpled coat, displaying the absent-minded demeanor of his Columbo character as he tried to find a misplaced play script. He was truly a courteous, lovable man, but I kept expecting him to uncover some crime heretofore undetected. And one final question: Peter, did you ever find that play script?

For continuation of the Convito story with Paul Newman Click Here.

*I should also note that there is still the wonderful original Convito Italiano restaurant at Plaza del Lago in Wilmette.
1515 Sheridan Rd # 24
Wilmette, IL 60091-1828
(847) 251-3654