April 22nd, 2009 5:33 pm | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Newman's Own Scandal: Shawn Levy's Book Lands Him on NY Post's Page Six


When Oregonian movie critic Shawn Levy was writing his biography of Paul Newman, he knew that the blue-eyed star had a longstanding feud with the New York Post. Levy's book Paul Newman: A Life won't be released until May 5, but it's already landed him on Page Six as the fuel for a final, posthumous Post vs. Newman imbroglio. And it has Levy appearing on TV tabloid Inside Edition later this week tonight.

Read Levy's side of the story (“It's like someone came and farted”) after the jump.

Saturday's Page Six led off with an item headlined, “Not So Cool Side of Newman,” and only got more inflammatory from there:
WAS Cool Hand Luke a hot-headed drunk and womanizer?

The Post's Kyle Smith reports Shawn Levy's new bio, "Paul Newman: A Life," out next month from Harmony Books, portrays the late Oscar-winner as a functioning alcoholic who, wearing a bottle opener on a chain around his neck, put away "beer after beer after beer, a case or more a day," followed by the hard stuff, usually scotch. [...]

On the set of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," despite his reputation as Hollywood's most faithful husband, Levy relates, Newman had an affair for a year and a half with a journalist who was writing a puff piece on the movie: " 'I finally said to myself, 'I can do better than this,' she remembered. 'I told him, 'You're always drunk, and you can't even make love.' I ended it."

Well, you can imagine how that went over. By Monday, the item had gone global, with the “alcoholic and womanizer” phrase appearing in London's Daily Telegraph and—in translation, obviously—in Estonian and Hungarian papers.

Levy responded on his Oregonian blog Monday, saying “I underestimated the pettiness and vindictiveness of Post publisher Rupert Murdoch and his Page Six hatchet man Richard Johnson.” (In a fairly hilarious insult, Levy goes on to note that he's “had the privilege of being demonized by NY Post commentators, an amazingly angry and illiterate bunch whom I'd love to travel cross-country with in an RV -- IF I WERE DEAF AND BLIND.”)

Not that the controversy is all bad for Levy. He's taping an guest spot on Inside Edition tomorrow, slated to run later this week.

I talked to Levy—who, in full disclosure, I consider a friend—at tonight's The Soloist screening in Tigard, where he said his book is unsparing but no seedy tell-all. (An analysis I can confirm from my reading.) He bemoaned the intrusion of tabloid scandalmongers on a book he spent five years researching: “It's like someone came and farted in my hyperbaric chamber!”

He continued: “It's just the first impression—and it's so widespread because of the medium—is so proportionally misrepresentative. Is The Godfather a movie about cutting off horses' heads? There's a dark Paul Newman in this book, but he's not Jack the Lad.”

The Post's bad blood with Newman (who died in November) is fully documented in Levy's bio. He notes that it dates back to 1981, when the star decided the paper was trying to turn the South Bronx neighborhood against his filming of cop picture Fort Apache The Bronx. It continued throughout the ‘80s, with the Post offering $1,000 to charity for every inch that readers could prove Newman stood below his stated height of 5'11”. On page 361, Levy quotes a Page Six staffer as saying Newman was so fully on the paper's “shit list” that he was left out of television listings.

The funniest quote in the book's account of the controversy comes from Paul Newman himself, about Rupert Murdoch: “I may be dead wrong. He may be the most charitable person in Australia. He might have a whole hospital complex somewhere. He may have built 63 Presbyterian churches. But I think he's a real bloodsucker. He'll take and squeeze and take anything he can get and never give anything back.”

UPDATE: I've received word that Shawn Levy's guest spot on Inside Edition is tentatively scheduled to air at 7:30 tonight on KGW.

UPDATE 2: Inside Edition handled the issue with all the class and grace you would expect. "Is it too soon for an edgy tell-all biography of Paul Newman?" is the TV tabloid's phone-poll question of the day. (It beat out the Craigslist Killer and Jennifer Hudson's possible baby.) The transcript is here, though it changes some words from the televised story and leaves out Levy's parting response to insipid questions about whether Newman "might not be happy" with the publicity: "You're a famous public figure; it comes with the dinner."
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