Paul Newman, one of the greatest stars of the silver screen, is known for roles like Butch Cassidy and Luke from Cool Hand Luke, but he also had a passion for charity. His legacy endures through Newman’s Own, an organic food brand that sells everything from pasta sauce to pet food. What’s the story behind this recognizable shelf staple?
It was Christmas time in 1980. Newman and his friend, playwright A.H. Hotchner, hung out in Newman’s barn and mixed salad dressing together. Newman had been making the recipe for years and giving it to friends, and this year, he and Hotchner gave it away while charoling with their families. One of those neighbors – a young Martha Stewart. The two men decided to sell the dressing and it went on sale in stores in 1982, adorned with Newman’s smiling face. They didn’t have high expectations – on the Newman’s Own page, there’s even a quote from Newman about how it started as a joke – but they turned a profit of over $900,000. Since they were both already successful, they decided to donate all the money to charity.
This service-minded philosophy made sense for those who knew Paul Newman. In 1980, the same year he and Hotchner gave away his salad dressings, he opened the Scott Newman Center in California. Newman’s son had died of alcoholism at just 28, and the center that bore his name provided drug-prevention education and resources to the community. Newman also began giving his five daughters $25,000 each every year, on the condition they donate it to a charity.
Newman’s Own evolves
One of the biggest innovations that came from Newman’s Own was its launch of organic food options. In 1993, Newman’s daughter Nell tried to convince her dad to start an all-organic section of his company. That year, she cooked Thanksgiving dinner for her family and revealed that she had used only organic food. Today, you can find Newman’s Own Organics selling pet food, salad dressings, popcorn, chocolate, and more.
How Newman’s Own works
In 2005, Paul Newman began to let go of his company. He knew he was approaching the end of his life. Hotchner recalls the annual tradition he and Newman shared where they ate lunch together and decided what charities they would support. In 2007, they were working with $260 million. Newman told his friend they needed to bring in “professionals.”
They installed a Board of Directors with Robert Forrester at the chairman. Profits not only go to charities as grants, but any reserves are set up to invest in future programs, unexpected costs, and emergencies like natural disasters.
Trouble in paradise
Paul Newman died in 2008 at age 83. His will was read to his family at a hotel and they were shocked at what they heard. Most of what Newman had promised them about involvement in Newman’s Own was missing. The chairman, Forrester, said Paul had simply changed his mind. Changes to the company came almost immediately, and the family had their hands tied. Newman’s Own Organics, which had technically belonged to Nell Newman, was forced to return total control and ownership back to the Foundation. Her image and name, which had once been on the label, vanished.
In a 2015 article, Susan (another of Newman’s daughters) said that there wasn’t a “single living Newman” who respects or has confidence in Robert Forrester. While Newman’s Own continues its charitable work, would Paul really have wanted his family so removed from its operation? It’s impossible to say what his thought process was during the final days of life.
Ben and Jerry’s is another company with the greater good in mind, and it also faced controversy over how it was being run.