Thursday, October 02, 2008

So long, Butch

I was on the cusp of 20 when “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” came out, and I immediately watched it twice more in the theater and then two more times when it hit the drive-in.

I was in school at the time; my roommate was night manager of a Standard station back when gas stations employed mechanics and tried to hide the more unpresentable ones on the night shift.

Thereafter, he would respond to my bursts of college-boy enthusiasm with a shake of his head and say, “You just keep thinkin’, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.”

It reflected his wish to be the deadly Sundance Kid, but I’d always wanted to be the sidekick anyway, from the time back in first grade, when I watched Davy Crockett but identified with Georgie Russell.

Butch Cassidy was the best sidekick ever, because, even though he had never actually shot anyone, and even though he didn’t know how much dynamite to use to blow a safe (sorry, Woodcock), he was still the leader of the gang and just as apt as Sundance to end up with the girl.

Paul Newman played a lot of those roles, the guy who manages to keep a twinkle in his eye no matter how badly he’s losing, the guy you’re willing to believe in, even when it’s plain he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Best of all, in real life, he kept that twinkle and that willingness to go after what he wanted -- a great marriage, a LeMans trophy, a business that gives back, a charity for kids -- and somehow, against the odds, he got it all.

Maybe in real life he was like Fast Eddie, not content to play it safe and not afraid to lose. Maybe he really believed what Fast Eddie said: “I'm the best you ever seen, Fats. I'm the best there is. And even if you beat me, I'm still the best.”

However he did it, he managed to make second place the winner’s circle.

(This piece first ran as an editor's note in the Franklin Journal, September 30)

1 comment:

ronnie said...

Nicely written. He was two rare and needed things, a gentleman and a philanthropist. The world is worse off for his passing.