September 29th, 2008
09:28 PM ET

When I met Paul Newman

I'm a fortunate man. Paul Newman once gave me an interview.

It was the summer of 2003 and he had left his home in Connecticut to come to Long Beach, California, to see his racing team compete in the annual Grand Prix. He was 78 at the time but hadn't given up racing cars himself, although he was not behind the wheel that day.

We sat down for a chat as the race cars roared around the course nearby, producing a sound I can only liken to a million bees buzzing violently in your ear. The sound was visceral and exciting - it was the first time I really understood the power and thrill of auto racing.

Newman wore those kind of "Blue Blocker" teardrop-shaped sunglasses just low enough on his nose that his famous blue eyes peered above them. He was not the kind of star who felt the need to put on false bonhomie with an interviewer. Yet he was generous with his time.

We talked about his passion for racing, which had been ignited decades earlier while shooting the movie "Winning" about an up-and-coming race car driver. He told me the feeling he got from driving a race car was "very close to sex. Something seductive. The cars themselves are almost immoral."

He said racing satisfied the competitive side of his nature, which could never be completely fulfilled by acting.

"It's hard to be competitive about acting because there are so many unknowns. Who's to say that one performance is better than another actor's?" he told me.

Newman did not like to be fussed over and the impression I got from my time with him is that he enjoyed the camaraderie of his racing cohorts because they didn't treat him like a big deal. Despite the adrenaline-fueled atmosphere of the track, Newman, paradoxically, could relax there.

He told me he had tried other sports such as tennis and skiing, but discovered the perfect fit in a race car cockpit.

"I have no physical grace at all," he said without any self-consciousness. "You can check my wife's feet if you don't believe me. Every time I dance with her, they're crushed."

He was polite and pleasant during our interview, laconic at times and expansive when talking about the particulars of what makes a great race car driver. After the interview he hopped aboard a fire red scooter to make his getaway. Crowds gathered around as he maneuvered the vehicle and he looked uncomfortable with all those eyes directed on him. Then he hit the gas, the crowd parted and he sped away toward the track. There was a big smile on his face. He was liberated by speed.

– Matt Carey, CNN Entertainment Producer

Editor's note: The original post said Mr. Newman was in Long Beach for a Formula One race. It was a CART race. The sentence has been edited.


Filed under: Uncategorized
September 25th, 2008
02:44 PM ET

New-old Johnny Cash, Kinks

Good things to look forward to this fall:

- The Associated Press is reporting that a lost recording by Johnny Cash, “I Am the Nation,” will be released as part of “Johnny Cash’s America,” a documentary on the Biography Channel. The documentary will run on October 23; a DVD/CD companion package comes out October 28.

“I Am the Nation” is a recitation in which Cash talks about the United States through mentions of important people and events in American history. The recording was found among his personal effects after his death.

Cash, of course, is no stranger to statements about America; indeed, some of his greatest songs touch on issues that have united - or divided - the country. Think of “Ragged Old Flag” or “Man in Black,” or songs focusing on specific figures such as “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”

- Kinks fans, get ready. The long-awaited Kinks box set is going to be a reality December 1 - at least in the UK. It’s called “Picture Book,” and it will run through the band’s entire career from 1964 onward.

According to Universal Music, which is releasing the set, the six-disc collection was compiled by Ray Davies and features an essay on the Kinks by rock critic Peter Doggett. (I guess John Mendelsohn wasn’t available.) The box includes more than 100 tracks, “a third of which are previously unreleased or new to CD,” according to a press release.

Now, anyone who’s followed this space knows I’m a huge Kinks fan, and I can’t wait for this box. But all I can find is references to the UK release; I’m trying to determine if it’s coming out in the U.S., where the Kinks had a more convoluted record company history. (I’ve got an e-mail to a Universal Music publicist - I’ll follow up if I get any response.)

Also, I hope the recordings - which were sonically muddled in the Shel Talmy days, though that was part of their force - have been remastered and cleaned up a bit … though not too much. Castle and Sanctuary have done a nice job with the titles they’ve handled; those works should be the model.

Thanks to Ron Sexsmith for the tip (and for those who like Sexsmith, keep an eye on CNN.com for a forthcoming story - and go see him on tour. He’s terrific).

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer


Filed under: Uncategorized
September 24th, 2008
11:49 AM ET

Happy National Punctuation Day!

With all the breaking news out there - Clay Aiken, Lindsay Lohan, Abe Vigoda - I’d hate for a story to get lost. And National Punctuation Day is just that kind of story.

For most people, punctuation is an irritant: a misused collection of periods, commas, virgules, question marks and exclamation points that is thrown, willy-nilly, into an e-mail or text message. But for some of us, punctuation is an overlooked treasure. Without punctuation, a declaration turns into a question. Without punctuation, sentences run endlessly until they bump into the next page. Without (correct) punctuation, Canada’s Rogers Communications may not have lost more than $2 million.

So, celebrate the semicolon. Offer hosannas for hyphens. Pay attention to asterisks. National Punctuation Day only comes around once a year - and that day calls for more than one exclamation point!!!

OK, maybe not.

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

P.S. Any errors made in the previous are the fault of my copy editor.


Filed under: Uncategorized
September 22nd, 2008
12:04 AM ET

Tina Fey, Sarah Palin, and a purse

Has anyone seen Tina Fey’s purse? She came into the press room and announced that she couldn’t find it. She said it’s a “purple purse with an iPhone in it with a picture of a naked toddler.” She didn’t mention anything about a reward.

Fey’s series “30 Rock” won Best Comedy for the second year in a row, but when she came backstage everyone wanted to talk about her impersonation of Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live." Fey, a Democrat, quickly said she hoped the role was a limited run.

“I want to be done playing this lady November 5th,” she said.

Fey said she was “very resistant” to acknowledging the resemblance between her and Palin. But, she admitted, others saw things differently. When her small child saw Palin on TV, Fey recalled, there was an immediate response: “There’s Mommy!”

– Matt Carey, CNN Entertainment Producer


Filed under: Uncategorized
September 21st, 2008
11:47 PM ET

Bryan Cranston's bald head

On stage, Bryan Cranston - who won best actor in a drama for "Breaking Bad" - compared his bald head to the denuded crown of the Emmy trophy. Backstage in the press room he explained why he shaved his head.

He said it’s for his role in the AMC series, the part that just won him the first Emmy of his career. Cranston said his character, a high school chemistry teacher turned drug dealer, is undergoing chemotherapy. Apart from cutting his hair, Cranston said he also dropped 17 pounds to appear more convincing as a cancer patient.

He said the downside of having close-shaved hair is that stuff keeps getting caught in his stubble, including fuzz and Jujubes.

– Matt Carey, CNN Entertainment Producer


Filed under: Uncategorized
September 21st, 2008
11:04 PM ET

Stewart and Colbert raise spirits

Finally some action in the Emmy press room! It’s been slow here … only a few winners had come backstage, perhaps because it’s such a long walk between the Nokia Theatre and the tent where the media is assembled.

But Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert just injected some life back here, mercifully.

Stewart, who won for Variety, Music or Comedy Series for the New York-based “Daily Show," joked “It’s always great to win. It’s a long flight out here.”

I must say, Colbert, who won as part of the writing team on “The Colbert Report," was funnier than Stewart. He was asked whether it was tough competing with Stewart, who in effect was his boss when Colbert was a “Daily Show” correspondent. His response: “I’ve been gunning for [Stewart] for years. Even when I worked for him I did not wish him well.”

He was also asked who he would cast to play John McCain and Sarah Palin (the questions in the press room are not necessarily very smart) and he recommended Don Rickles as McCain. As for Palin, Colbert said he could play her “because I too have absolutely no business being vice president.” Ouch! And that’s coming from a (faux) conservative commentator.

– Matt Carey, CNN Entertainment Producer


Filed under: Uncategorized
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