Paul Newman’s daughter Clea on their shared competitive spirit
I REALISED EARLY ON that my parents were famous. Walking down the street in New York City with my sisters, people would tap us on the shoulder and – pointing at our mum and dad a few strides ahead – say, ‘Do you know who that is? That’s Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward!’ ‘Who?’ we’d reply, smiling to each other. I was once trampled on in Los Angeles by a rush of photographers trying to get to my parents. A little unnerving, but I brushed it off quickly. Crowds of them would often trail us out of a restaurant and down the street. But Mum and Dad wore their fame lightly, and were always so generous and calm when people approached them, that it never felt too intrusive. If someone came up to Dad and he wasn’t in the middle of a private dinner with the family or something, he’d say, ‘Well, do you wanna have a beer with me?’
But though fame wasn’t something that preoccupied my dad, I know he cherished the times when he could just be himself. Dad never wanted his legacy to be his acting. He really wanted his charity work to be what people remembered – he started a free camp, Serious Fun Children’s Network, 30 years ago where sick kids could, in his words, ‘raise a little hell’.
For both of us, our hobbies were our great leveller, the thing that kept us grounded and focused. For Dad it was racing-car driving, for me it was showjumping. And both of us loved nothing more than watching each other compete. I think I was about 23 in this picture, which was taken at a horse show in Tampa, Florida. It’s one of my favourites because we are so enjoying each other’s company. Knowing my dad, he had probably just told me a dirty joke to make me laugh.
Dad was competitive (I inherited that particular gene) and had always been a pretty good athlete, but despite spending his life on film sets, he always said he never really found his people until he started racing in his 40s. In racing he found this community that he just loved to be around. It was a tight-knit group of guys who didn’t care that he was ‘Paul Newman, the movie guy’. I felt the same way about horse riding, and he loved that I was so passionate about it. It’s the most important lesson he ever taught us, I think – to find your passion and pursue it wholeheartedly.
Dad came to watch me compete all over the country, whenever he could. I had a horrible fall once when I was jumping at Madison Square Garden, aged 16. My parents were sitting in the stands, and when my horse and I flipped over a jump (I was told afterwards that my horse appeared to cartwheel across the ring), everyone thought I was dead. My dad ran down the back of the seating and jumped over the barrier into the ring. He was by my side before I sat up. I remember opening my eyes and looking up at him standing over me and saying, exasperated, ‘Dad, what are you doing in the ring?’ When you’re competing at a high level, the most embarrassing thing is to have your dad leap into the ring mid-competition.
I’m sure there must have been some sideways glances exchanged when Paul Newman bounded on to the course, but it was so typical of him. Because first and foremost, before the Hollywood movie star or the champion racing-car driver, he was just my dad.
When my horse and I flipped over a jump, everyone thought I was dead. My dad ran down and jumped into the ring
Clea Newman at an event with her father Paul in Tampa Bay, Florida, 1988