Keeping Paul Newman’s Name Alive
If only on store shelves
While humorist Greg Schwem is not a fan of celebrity products, he makes an exception for Newman’s Own – if only to keep the memory of Paul Newman relevant.
I have never been a fan of restaurants owned by, or associated with, celebrities. I could be if, while dining, the celebrity whose name is on the door and the menu were sitting near me or, preferably, being told the wait is “over an hour, since you don’t have a reservation.”
So far, that hasn’t occurred. I’ve never spotted Michael Jordan devouring a T-bone at Michael Jordan’s Steak House; never saw Jimmy Buffett – may he rest in peace – working the blender at Margaritaville or encountered Robert De Niro dunking tuna sashimi into soy sauce at Nobu. During Oprah Winfrey’s six-year run as a partner in Chicago restaurant The Eccentric, I visited one evening and pointedly asked the waiter if Oprah was really in the kitchen, whipping up a side dish known only as “Oprah’s Potatoes.”
Also, a visit to a celebrity-owned restaurant invariably ends with a bill that could easily be paid by a celebrity but not us common folk. The same holds true in grocery or liquor stores. I’ll happily save a few bucks and not purchase the Guy Fieri barbecue sauce or the Nick Jonas tequila. My football tailgates won’t suffer.
And yet, I recently found myself feeling sorry for actor Paul Newman. And not because he’s dead.
Newman, star of classics including “The Sting,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and “The Color of Money,” not to mention the owner of steely blue eyes, launched a line of “Newman’s Own” salad dressings in 1982. According to newmansown.com, the line grossed $300,000 in its first year. None of those profits came from me, for I remember picking up a bottle of Newman’s Italian dressing while in college, glancing at the price and immediately placing it back on the shelf. My date, who I promised to cook for, “Italian style,” had to settle for generic dressing, which did its best to compliment the other generic products that dotted the menu. Cash-strapped college students were not Newman’s target demographic.
Eventually Newman parlayed his success into other foods, including pizza, spices, olive oils and spaghetti sauces. It was the latter that caught my eye during a recent grocery visit. Newman’s Own Marinara, Tomato & Basil and Sockarooni (“so delicious it could knock your socks off,” the website proclaims) sauces were among the CHEAPEST on the shelves.
College students, there’s a SALE in aisle five! Paul Newman has been officially marked down!
How did Newman allow brands like Rao, Barilla and Classico to dominate the “too lazy to make your own sauce” market, charging upward of $2 more for sauces? Sad to say, I think it’s because the name “Newman” no longer carries the relevance it used to. Cool Hand Luke died 15 years ago this month. The more time that elapses, the more likely shoppers will pick up a bottle of Newman’s Own and say, “Who?” before putting it back.
Yes, we are a celebrity obsessed culture, but we also want to feel like we have a connection with the celebrities we support. If Taylor Swift launched a line of gum and charged $5 per stick, I am certain sales would still explode, for what young girl doesn’t want their breath to smell like Taylor’s?
Now fast-forward 15 years. Taylor will be 48. Probably married with a couple of kids. Maybe doing a 90-minute Vegas residency as opposed to a three-and-a-half-hour stadium show. Will her gum still be a hot commodity? Or will it be alongside the gossip rags and the disposable lighters in the grocery checkout aisle while a new female singer, who probably is currently in preschool, is charging $10 per stick. And making millions.
This time, I tossed two jars of Newman’s sauce into my cart, not because they were cheap but because I don’t want Paul Newman, whose films I still watch, to fade away. Besides, the labels say, “100% profits to help kids” and, as vague as that sounds, kids need all the help they can get these days.
Now I just have to find that college girl and invite her over for a dinner that will knock her socks off.
Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of two books: Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad and the recently released The Road To Success Goes Through the Salad Bar: A Pile of BS From a Corporate Comedian, available at Amazon.com. Visit Greg on the web at www.gregschwem.com.
© 2023 Greg Schwem. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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