In the wake of the recent death of artist/writer Leonard Starr, my closest friend and longtime studio-mate during my illustrator-career, an unforgettable, eminently character-defining anecdote comes to mind.
It happened when Leonard and his wife moved from Manhattan to suburban Westport, Connecticut. There, they had purchased a home which like so many others in that artist-colony town sat amid several hilly acres of woods. Woods so dense, and the terrain so uneven that, often, houses on adjoining properties were not visible.
Such was the case with Leonard’s handsome two-story place, and that of his immediate neighbors, whom he’d not met: movie megastar Paul Newman and his lovely actress-wife, Joanne Woodward.
And less than a week after moving in, there was a knock on Leonard’s front door. Leonard opened it and found himself facing Paul Newman, there to welcome his new fellow-Westporter.
In a phone conversation with Leonard a few days later, he described the encounter, which had struck him as an amusing incident. For me, however, his description of what followed was, and will, I have zero-doubt, remain the totally coolest conversational response I have ever heard or read about. A level of Cool to which we all aspire, but of which almost none of us are capable. A degree of Cool that nails so eloquently the very core of who Leonard Starr was.
As Leonard swung the door open, Paul Newman grinned: “Hi. I’m Paul Newman.”
Leonard smiled back, and without hesitation said: “No shit?”
Understandably, Newman cracked up.
I mean – wouldn’t you?
And c’mon, if you were suddenly confronted by a figure as famous as Paul Newman, who introduced himself in that way, would you be sufficiently, instantly composed to come back with that totally appropriate and hilarious response? I know I wouldn’t.
From the moment Leonard told me about it, that became, for me, the forever Benchmark of Cool.