Sunday, October 05, 2008

Shame On America Sunday: Paul Newman Edition.

Paul Newman was on the cover of virtually every magazine, this week-- because he died; people in America paid attention to Paul Newman this week because he was no longer alive.

America didn't celebrate Paul Newman much in recent years, because Paul Newman was not doing anything America felt like celebrating. He wasn't flashing his private parts, he wasn't walking down the red carpet, he wasn't even acting that much.

In his past few years, Paul Newman, who acted less and less as he grew older, spent more and more of his time, and more and more of his money, on charity work. Charity was so important to him that his daughter Melissa Newman said philanthropy, and not acting, should be what Newman was remembered for. It may well be what Newman ultimately is remembered for, but it's a guarantee that it's not what he was known for, because as good as he was at acting and as good as he was at philanthropy, Newman suffered from a notable lack of skill at self-promotion.

Paul Newman's charitable giving was prodigious. Everyone knows, by now at least, that Newman's salad dressing donated all of its profits -- all of its profits, from the moment it was created, to charity. How much did that total? Over $250 million since its inception in 1982, when Paul Newman founded the company just for the heck of it.

But his drawing attention to that giving was in inverse proportion to how much he gave, and there is a lot that people don't know about how much Paul Newman gave away.

What else should everyone know about Paul Newman? Well, how about this: in 2006, on top of the money his salad dressing company was already giving away, Paul Newman gave away $8,746,500 to various groups -- children's groups, Gulf Coast hurricane relief, and other causes. I like to break things down to give an idea of what's really going on. So, in 2006, Paul Newman gave away, out of his own pocket, $23,936 per day to charities. He gave away $998 per hour in 2006. He gave away $16 per minute to charities, in 2006 alone.

Picture Paul Newman walking down the street, handing out $16 per minute to people who need it, every minute of every day from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2006. Why didn't that make the news? Why wasn't Paul Newman on the cover of any magazines, in 2006?

Do you remember who was on the cover of a magazine in 2006? I didn't, but I checked. The Magazine Publishers of America picked the 10 best covers of that year. They included Bono, two Scarlett Johannsen photos, Julianne Moore, and Busta Rhymes. Those were the people who we paid attention to in 2006. Did they deserve it? Probably not.

I tried to be fair; I picked out the celebrity most likely to be deserving of notice in 2006 for something other than being famous, flashing his private parts, or otherwise demanding attention. I've heard Bono does a lot of good work and charitable stuff; I think he was in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize, so I chose him to compare with the 2006 Paul Newman.

I googled "Bono Charitable Donations 2006," and didn't find any articles showing how much Bono gave to charity that year. I did find an article claiming that U2, a famously Irish band, shifted its music publishing headquarters to the Netherlands to avoid paying taxes to Ireland. They did that in 2006, the year Bono was featured on a magazine cover but Paul Newman was not. The article also pointed out that Bono will not discuss whether he personally gives money to charities; he may, he may not. I'm not saying whether he does or does not; I know, though, that there are plenty of reasons suggesting Bono talks a lot about charity, and benefits a lot from charity, while not being a terribly charitable person himself.

That highlights celebrity "charitable efforts." Celebrities love raising money for charities -- that is, they love being on TV for Hurricane Katrina telethons, and they love taking private jets to Al Gore's Inevitable Truth Concerts, or whatever they're called, because they love getting their name and faces on TV, their music played around the world live, and they love the resulting increase in music sales, offers to star in TV shows or movies, and the other results.

And we -- well, not "we," but "America," because I don't idolize people who are famous for being selfish -- love them for it; we idolize celebrities like Bono, who are all about promoting charitable causes but still own three houses, and we ignore celebrities like Paul Newman, who just quietly go around giving away $16 a minute for an entire year (it's actually more, but I'll get to that in a bit.)

How much do we love people who are famous and selfish, and how little do we care about people who are famous but not selfish? Look at the Forbes 100 list of "most powerful" celebrities. Forget, for a moment, about the money they make; lets look instead at the part of that list that gets very little attention, the Web, Press, and TV Rank. Those ranks are developed by looking at how often people are googled, how often they are mentioned on TV, and how many magazine covers they appear on.

In 2008, the highest web ranked celebrities were Angelina Jolie (1), Oprah Winfrey (2) and Beyonce Knowles (3). They were the most-searched celebrities on the web, the people America wanted to know most about.

In 2008, the highest press-ranked celebrities were all athletes: Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and David Beckham; they were talked about the most in the press and appeared on the most magazine covers.

In 2008, the celebrities you heard about most on TV were Oprah, "Dr." Phil, and Tiger Woods again.

Let's check the number 1 on each of those -- let's check out what kind of charitable giving those number 1s engaged in.

This information is courtesy of Parade Magazine's "Giving Back 30," a listing of the top 30 celebrity contributors. Topping that list is Oprah Winfrey, who gave $50,000,000 of her money away; not an insignificant number by any means, but not that noteworthy (I'll get to that in a minute, too.) Angelina Jolie checks in at 6, with the "Jolie-Pitt Foundation giving away $8.4 million in 2007. Tiger Woods is 18th, giving away $1,350,000. "Dr." Phil doesn't appear on the charitable top 30 list at all.

So America demanded to know about, and fawned all over, the 1st, 6th, and 18th best charitable givers in 2007. America loved those people for having boobs, or television shows, or hitting tee shots -- but didn't factor in how much they gave away.

In 2007 alone, Paul Newman is fourth on the list for 2007, at $11,000,000. But how much did you hear about him that year? You didn't hear about him as much as you did about Angelina Jolie, "Dr." Phil, or the others; I know you didn't, because Paul Newman did not make the Forbes Celebrity 100 in 2008; he was not among the top 100 celebrities you heard about in 2008. Instead, you heard about and saw and Googled such celebrities as Lauren Conrad (100), Gwen Stefani (69) the Spice Girls (37) and Shame On America's old friend, Jay Leno and his 160 cars and a fire engine. (36).

Jay Leno, by the way, was not in the top 30 celebrity charitable givers in 2007. Not even in the top 30, which bottomed out around $1,000,000 in giving; Jay Leno, if he gave anything to charity in 2007, gave away less than $1,000,000. Maybe he was too busy playing with his 160 cars and a fire engine to take time to write a check to charity.

Paul Newman did not make the 2008 Forbes 100 most powerful celebrities, even though he gave away all his company's profits that year, even though he gave away $10 million of his own money that year (on top of the $8,000,000 he gave away the year before). Paul Newman didn't make that list even though he gave away, in addition to all of that, an additional $120 million, $120 million in additional charitable giving that wasn't even included in the other categories of giving-- $120 million in additional giving he accomplished by donating his ownership of the Newman's Own company to charities in 2005 and 2006.

That's right: Paul Newman did two things in the past couple of years: he gave away more than $130 million over a couple of years, and he died. Only one of them landed him on magazine covers; the $120 million donation, which he did for himself as a celebration of his 80th birthday, wasn't even discovered until 2008. He kept that quiet, and nobody bothered to ask. We might have known if Paul Newman had been a spoiled rich kid living in California and making out with Brody Jenner, but as it is, we didn't know anything about that $120 million he gave away over two years.

Speaking of making out with Brody Jenner, I wonder how much Lauren Conrad gave to charity in 2008? Let's google the girl who made number 100 in 2008 on the Forbes Most Powerful Celebrity list.

It turns out that in 2008, Lauren Conrad also "gave" to charity, attending a "Paws for Style" fundraiser, a fundraiser for which she stayed in a hotel room (the cost of the room was donated by the hotel) and for which the charity paid her airfare to attend (she said she made a contribution to the charity that was larger than the airfare, so there would be no expense to the charity.) And Lauren Conrad heroically donated her time and image to a magazine cover and heroically donated the clothing she wore for the photo shoot -- clothing which likely was given to her in the first place -- all of which generated Lauren Conrad plenty of attention, enough to help boost her over Paul Newman on the Forbes 100 list.

Celebrities get all sorts of press coverage and attention for all sorts of "good causes," good causes they mostly attend simply to generate press coverage for themselves and further their career. Lauren Conrad used -- used -- charitable funds when she used a donated hotel room (instead of paying for it herself and asking the hotel to donate cash to the charity) and had the charity fly her out -- reimbursing the charity later. Whatever funds she helped generate with her photo shoot, she also generated an equal amount of publicity for herself, and did not disclose how much of her incredibly-unearned wealth was given to that charity -- or how much of the charitable contributions people made were used up in photographer's fees, a refreshment table, security or other fundraising costs.

That's the nature of celebrity charity: Use it to generate publicity, and give a small amount of your own personal fortune while reaping the extra sales and money generated by the publicity. This happens all the time at "charity concerts," and only one time in my memory has a band not benefitted from the charity -- that band being Pink Floyd, which saw a 1,343% increase in album sales after playing at AlGorePalooza -- and which promptly donated each and every cent of the extra money they earned. (The only other band I was able to find that donated its profits was "Keane," a band I've never heard of -- charity doesn't get you on magazine covers, remember.) (To make up for that, all the videos in this post are from Keane, and you can visit their site here.)

And America loves celebrities for it; America idolizes celebrities in general, and loves them even more when they "give" to "charity," without questioning whether the celebrity is living up to their espoused ideals (how much do you really give, Bono?) or whether the celebrity is not profiting more from the charity than vice versa (Lauren Conrad, Julia Roberts) or whether the celebrity gave a tiny percentage of their wealth (Oprah.)

That latter will make people mad. People will tell me how can you fault her for giving away $50 million? But I can. Oprah gave away $50 million, and I said that's a not insubstantial sum. But Forbes estimated that Oprah is worth $1.5 billion. So Oprah is worth this: $1,500,000,000. And she gave away this: $50,000,000.


She gave away 3% of her money. That's all. 3%. She left herself with this much: $1,450,000,000. Or, put another way, she left herself with enough money that if she lived to be 100 she could spend $1,500 per hour, every hour for a hundred years, and not run out of money. Oprah's $50 million giveaway amounts to pocket change for her. She should get the same amount of credit, for giving her $50 million away, that I get for putting my pocket change into the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas. Nice? Yes. Praiseworthy? Only a little.

Paul Newman, on the other hand, was not worth $1,500,000,000. And yet, he gave, out of his own pocket in that same year, 1/5 as much as Oprah-- and even more, when you consider his company's giving away all that money, and even more when you consider that Paul Newman got zero publicity for all that giving. Paul Newman did not get all sorts of publicity for giving away that money; he didn't generate even more money for himself through his charity.

Every time Oprah opens a school, every time Lauren Conrad gets flown to New York for charity, every time Coldplay takes a private jet to AlGoreAThon, they do a good thing for charity and a better thing for themselves; they donate a miniscule amount of their time and money to charity and reap rewards far greater than they give up.

But we pay attention to them, and we put them on magazine covers, and we watch their TV shows and buy magazines to find out what kids they're adopting this week, and we reward them for their "kindness" in throwing some pocket change into the red kettle while enriching themselves. Shame on America for that.

And we ignore the truly charitable, truly newsworthy, truly good people, like an old man who gave away nearly everything he had -- doing it quietly and without generating anything for himself but the good feelings that come from giving away $16 a minute. Doing it so quietly that we don't notice or comment on it, and pay him no attention until he's dead. Shame on America for that, too.

The world will miss Paul Newman. We won't miss his acting -- we'll be able to enjoy that on DVD. But we will miss his goodness, goodness we didn't even know much about until after he was dead.

The Fix: Instead of buying magazines, watching shows, and googling people for the wrong reasons, why not try paying attention to those people who actually give, without demanding attention for it, without using their giving to generate publicity for themselves, and without much notice, at all? Why not go buy a Pink Floyd album, or a Keane album? Paul Newman's daughter said people should remember him by engaging in philanthropy -- so you can help truly good celebrities, and maybe give a little yourself, too.

Here are 5 people who gave away money without you hearing about it and without generating publicity for themselves; the links are to a site where you can find out more and/or buy stuff from them:

Herb Alpert -- gave away $13,000,000 in 2007

Barbra Streisand-- gave away $11,000,000 in 2007.

Eric Lindros -- gave $5,000,000 in 2007 to the hospital where he was treated. (The link is to his biography on Amazon.) (By comparison, "Brangelina" promised $400,000 to the country where Shiloh was born.)

Tracy McGrady -- gave $1,000,000 to "Stand Up For Darfur."

Mike & Jennifer Miller -- gave $1,000,000 to support The Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Mike Miller, a player on the Grizzlies, earned $8,000,000 in 2008, so his $1,000,000 gift constituted 12.5% of his salary. If Oprah gave away just 12.5% of her net worth, she would give away $187,000,000 -- leaving her, still, the ability to spend $1,400 per hour every hour for 100 years and still have money left over.)


Paul Newman vs Clint Eastwood said...

I'm with you - your opinion on only paying attention to good, classic stars who gave us so much over the years (and not so much recently) when they die is unfortunate and just plain wrong. We should take the time to celebrate their achievements more often. Not just in a lifetime achievement award the some academy doles out. Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to the author of this extraordinarily well-written article. I came across this piece shortly after it was published and re-read it when I need to remind myself of how stunningly decent and inspirational one person can be. A small post-script: At a recent charity auction, Paul Newman's watch sold for over 16 million dollars. I don't think the collector wanted to own a piece of Paul Newman - as symbols go, I think it was an attempt to possess a piece of Paul's consciousness because it was so darned graceful and extraordinary. We should all be so lucky...