In Memoriam: Paul Newman's Philanthropic Legacy

Hollywood's star power dimmed significantly last Friday when Paul Newman died from cancer.  Newman was no conservative, in fact he was active for many liberal causes. But Newman was not your typical Hollywood liberal and his real legacy doesn't lie in celluloid images or political causes, it is found in the millions of lives he touched through his charitable work.

According to a story in Newsday, Newman purposefully chose to exploit his own celebrity to make a difference in the world.  “The silver screen idol knew it was his fame that was the selling point – 'Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good' was his foundation's tagline” writes Nia-Malika Henderson.

Newman's personal generosity stands in sharp contrast to other prominent liberals.  According to CMI's National Cultural Values Survey, and a study by Syracuse University professor and philanthropy expert Arthur C. Brooks, “progressives” tend to give a lower percentage of their own money to charitable causes than conservatives, and secularists less than religious believers.

More than $200 million has been given to multiple charities through Newman's Own Foundation, an organization created to distribute the profits of Newman's Own line of food products, created by the actor.  The most famous of Newman's charitable endeavors is the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, named after the gang in his 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  The camps, launched in 1988, serve seriously ill children.  The original camp is located in Connecticut and has since spread to 11 other locations, including Africa, France, Ireland, Israel and Vietnam.

Newman's philanthropy also extended to a variety of social causes, ranging from the Safe Water Network, which provides safe drinking water to impoverished communities, to the North Shore Animal League of America.  Newman's Own also co-sponsors the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award an annual $20,000 prize which goes to a U.S. resident “who has fought courageously, despite adversity, to safeguard the First Amendment right to freedom of expression as it applies to the written word.”

Newman was a supporter of many liberal political causes, like gay rights and same-sex marriage.  According to an article appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Newman “boasted that being No. 19 on President Richard Nixon's 'enemies list' was one of his proudest achievements.” These are not insignificant items on Newman's resume, but they also are not things for which he will ultimately be remembered.

Unlike many of today's crop of narcissistic Hollywood celebrities, Newman and his wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward, lived in Connecticut, far away from the Hollywood fish bowl, and devoted their time and resources to causes greater than themselves.  The Newsday article states that Newman once said, “What could be better than to hold your hand out to people who are less fortunate than you are?  That's simply the way I look at it.”

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.