Paul Newman, More Than A Decade Ago

In 1997, Daniel Zwerdling traveled to Connecticut to profile actor Paul Newman, who died Friday at the age of 83. Hear an excerpt from that story in which Newman challenged Zwerdling to a duel: pingpong.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Sad news arrived from Westport, Connecticut, yesterday, that a national treasure had passed away. Actor Paul Newman died after a long battle with cancer. He was 83. In 1997, our colleague Daniel Zwerdling went to Connecticut to profile the star. We want to end with an excerpt from that story. Here Newman challenges Zwerdling to a duel.

(Soundbite of 1997 interview with Paul Newman)

Mr. PAUL NEWMAN (Actor; Film Director; Entrepreneur; Auto Racing Driver and Enthusiast): Are you a ping pong player?

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Yeah.

Mr. NEWMAN: I'll kick your ass.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ZWERDLING: Wait a minute. I haven't played for a long time.

(Soundbite of ping pong game)

ZWERDLING: Newman's guests are often subjected to a right of passage, playing him at ping pong in the middle of his conference room, and some employees watch...

Mr. NEWMAN: I get 10 points on you just on the basis of age.

(Soundbite of ping pong game)

Mr. NEWMAN: Oh, nice move.

ZWERDLING: No, oh....

(Soundbite of laughter)

ZWERDLING: Newman's 1969 movie "Winning" is about competing.

(Soundbite of racecar)

ZWERDLING: And after he learned to drive a racecar to play the role, he turned racing into a second career. A lot of fans have probably heard that Newman dabbled with racing, but many don't realize that until he retired from the track a couple of years ago, Newman was one of the leading racecar drivers in America, perhaps in the world. He won a host of national championships and came in second in the famed 24-hour Le Mans race in Europe.

(Soundbite of racecar)

ZWERDLING: Can you explain what it's like when you get in the car. They, what, strap you in? Can you sort of take us through the - what you go through?

Mr. NEWMAN: Well, you throw up a lot.

ZWERDLING: Are you serious?

Mr. NEWMAN: No. The actual act of strapping yourself into a racecar is sensational because you create a cocoon for yourself. And there simply is - you know, the objective is very clear and clean. And you don't have one critic saying, well, yes, it's a good film, and another critic saying, oh, it's a bad film. You're either there and cross the finish line first, or you're back somewhere, so that the definition of good is very cleanly delineated. And in films it was always murky because there were different opinions. There can't be a different opinion, you know, when you're driving.

HANSEN: Actor Paul Newman. He died Friday at the age of 83. To listen to Daniel Zwerdling's 1997 profile of Paul Newman, and to express your own thoughts on his passing, go to npr.org/soapbox. This is NPR's Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen.

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