Letterman: Paul Newman
Before I considered devoting a week’s worth of posts to David Letterman, I intended to share this story. For some time, I have been fascinated by the evolution of Dave’s relationship with a personal hero of mine, Paul Newman. For the uninitiated, I wrote a lengthy piece a couple years ago about Mr. Newman, and I have for many years prior and since emulated Paul. I read anything I can to learn more about the man’s many efforts, I revisit his incredible film career, and by that virtue I model aspects of my pursuits after those of his.
During the Writer’s Strike of 1988, in order to kill time, Dave told the stories of his first pair of encounters with Paul. In the first part of the clip, he tells it on his own show. In the second part, you’ll also see him tell the story to Johnny Carson. There’s nothing particularly special about this story, but it hints at Dave’s adulation of Paul. Though Newman shrugs as he passes Letterman in the stands at an auto race, Letterman is starstruck. It’s clear from his multiple retellings of the story that, like me, he too holds the “persona of Paul Newman” as he put it in retellings, in high regard.
At some point in time after running into Paul Newman at a couple auto races, the two developed a friendship, one centered around a love for cars — fast, fast cars. In certain circles, Paul was known for disguising immensely powerful engines in rather diminuitive bodies, “cue cars” as they’re known in England. His Volkswagen stuffed with a 300 horsepower Ford engine is the stuff of legend. In others, he was known as a champion race car driver. On the other hand, Dave is an Indiana boy thru-and-thru, and as co-owner of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing team, he is a fixture on the IndyCar circuit.
While Paul’s Volkswagen is inarguably cool, this is a post about my favorite of his cars, “The Paul Newman Volvo.” One day, seemingly out-of-the-blue, Paul called Dave, and asked if he wanted a specially built Volvo station wagon.
He retold his “Paul Newman Story” and introduced the world to the idea of the Paul Newman Volvo on Jon Stewart’s last-ever episode of his short-lived late night talk show. Then, he likely received a call from Paul, “Did you have to go and do that?” and revised the story, telling more of the car’s origin on Al Roker’s CNBC program, but he was careful not to name-drop, omitting any mention of Paul.
Without getting terribly personal, I’ve gone through some things this year that left me sideways, and this episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [LINK] has been an immensely helpful bit of respite. I must have watched it a hundred times. If you watch no other clip in this post, take time to watch this one. It’s Dave — the Dave of present day — as unbuttoned as I can recall seeing him, and it’s just great. I love so many parts of this: the trip to the hardware store, the part where Dave asks Jerry with some seriousness, “are these people actors?” and the overall charming, humble, soft-spoken nature of their banter. Oh, and of course, I love the car, much as I love the men responsible for them.
Do you want a puffer on yours?
This is a bit of inside baseball, but Stew Leonard’s which makes an appearance in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was Newman’s local grocery store and the first retailer to carry Newman’s Own.
For more on the car itself, read Swedespeed’s delightfully detailed piece and Jalopnik’s republished version of the piece.
As recently as 2013, Newman’s 960 Volvo station wagon was for sale.
Newman/Haas Team Racer Sébastien Bourdais and Paul speak with Dave on The Late Show.
“Where the hell are the singing cats?”
“Would you like to buy a monkey?”
And again, one more time, I cannot say it enough, watch Dave’s segment of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Thank you, all of you, for humoring me as I relive some of my favorite moments from Dave Letterman’s splendid career. And thank you, Dave, for stirring the enthusiasm in a twelve-year-old boy, one who — for the past twenty-two years — has unfailingly heeded your advice: “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”