Paul Newman may be celebrated as one of most iconic movie stars of the 20th century, but one of the achievements the actor was most proud of was helping others when cameras weren’t rolling.
Newman passed away in 2008 at age 83, but his legacy in giving back lives on.
In October 2017, Newman’s Own Foundation (NOF), the nonprofit founded by the screen legend, announced they were committing $6.7 million in grants to veterans organizations.
Bob Forrester, President and CEO of NOF, told Fox News it’s a decision his beloved friend would have applauded.
NOF launched 35 years ago, in 1982, when Newman decided to sell his homemade salad dressing and donate 100 percent of the profits to charity. Forrester revealed the organization recently reached a milestone of $500 million in donations, helping thousands of charities for people in need.
Both Forrester and Newman have close connections to the troops. Forrester was an army officer in Vietnam and Newman served in World War II.
“He didn’t talk about that much,” said Forrester. “People who’ve been in combat don’t talk about things like that so much. But it had a profound impact on him. He just knew he was lucky. He had a huge respect for the men and women of our military.
"He believed in the concept of luck. He would say he was lucky to be born in America with so many opportunities and he was lucky to work for the movies.”
Newman joined the Navy Air Corps after less than a year at Ohio University in hopes of becoming a pilot. After a test showed he was colorblind, he was made an aircraft radio operator.
“Here you have a young man who volunteers to go to war to help preserve the United States and its opportunities,” said Forrester. “At the same time, he thinks he’s going to be a pilot but has the bad luck of not being a pilot because of his blue eyes, or his color blindness.
"Which also happened to be one of the things that got him such good movie roles, aside from being a great actor, of course. But it was his experience out there that made him realize the difference between people was circumstance.”
And Newman never took the luck he had for granted.
Vanity Fair previously reported that while he was in the Pacific serving as a radioman on a torpedo plane, his aircraft was grounded because the pilot he regularly flew with developed an ear problem.
The rest of his squadron was transferred to another aircraft carrier, which was hit by a kamikaze, killing the members of his team.
“He believed veterans deserved our support,” said Forrester. “They are easily forgotten in our society. It was a privilege to support them… We want to bring attention to those veterans that are likely to get missed in the long term… Sometimes family members have to take care of these people for life.”
Forrester added that since 2010, about $18.5 million has been committed to programs that support veterans.
“We look for smaller organizations that more likely link to the community and the veterans they’re trying to serve,” he explained. “Maybe this will demonstrate to the bigger organizations that this can be done. That’s our philosophy.
"It doesn’t change the fact that these men and women are putting themselves in harm’s way… The organizations we support all depend on private donations.”
In addition to veterans, the foundation also supports organizations and programs that encourage philanthropy, children with life-limiting conditions, equal access to human rights and nutrition in underserved communities.
Newman, who went on to become a sought-after leading man in movies, never allowed fame to interfere with his life. Forrester, who first met the star in 1992, said he was always passionate about pursuing philanthropic work.
“He had his craft, which was acting,” he explained. “He had his family, which he really loved. But if you look at one thing that tied it all together, it was his sensitivity in his generosity. He knew he was lucky in his life and he just felt it was right to share his good luck.”
Forrester said Newman always enjoyed working throughout his life.
“His first business was actually a laundry that he started when he got back from WWII,” he said. “He went to Kenyon College, a little school outside of Ohio. All boys. He got the idea to start a laundry business. And in order to get young college males to wash their clothes, he gave away free beer.
"And of course, he made a lot of money. He always had this entrepreneurial instinct and always had a respect for small businesses. His father owned a sporting goods store and he worked in that, too.”
One of Forrester’s favorite memories of Newman was his ability to always find a reason to smile.
“We both shared the same juvenile sense of humor,” chucked Forrester. “We planted jokes on each other… [I remember] waking up in a plane finding a grape in my shoe and him claiming he didn’t put it there but was the only there. That was his 12-year-old sense of humor.”
Forrester also admired Newman’s ability to stay active.
“When we would travel, and I traveled a lot with him, he would pick his hotels not by how many stars they had, but by how many stairs,” he explained. “Because every morning we would run the stairs. He worked out every morning. He was very active.
“[But in March 2007] we were working out one morning and Paul was lagging. He was usually way ahead of us. Later he was coming to a board meeting, but he said, ‘I’m really exhausted.’ We told him to go see a doctor and he did.
"Then a series of other things happened. But you couldn’t really tell he was sick until 2008, when you could see the effects of the chemo. But it didn’t affect his personality.”
Forrester said the foundation is determined now more than ever to keep Newman’s legacy alive and inspire others to follow his giving spirit.
“I lost a great friend, but we’re carrying on his work the best way we can,” said Forrester.