Section: Features

Collegian archives reveal Paul Newman’s antics on the Hill

The Kenyon playboy has graced national headlines once again with the recent publication of a third book, a memoir about Paul Newman ’49, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man. During his time on the Hill, Newman was an avid socialite and quite the fixture on campus. The Collegian archives provide a captivating account of the life of one of Kenyon’s most famous alumni.

After graduating from Kenyon, and a brief stint in Yale’s drama department, Newman began his acting career in the 1950s and became a notable star by 1970. In addition to his acting career, he created a surprise smash-hit food company, Newman’s Own, whose salad dressings have taken over the nation’s supermarkets. After the business took off, Newman began donating all after-tax profits to charity. The company has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various children’s charities, including FoodOrg, which connects schools with farms to educate students with real farm work, and SeriousFun, which develops camps for seriously ill children. 

Newman came to Kenyon following his service in the United States Navy, hoping to expand his view of the world and dive into his studies. But as he spent his first night in Gambier sipping his roommate’s whiskey, he realized what else the Hill had to offer. In a May 1949 issue of the Collegian, Newman shared an autobiographical account of his undergraduate experience at Kenyon. In the piece, he explained how he became enthralled with drinking and socializing with his peers. “I quickly made friends on the campus by spilling and otherwise violating a full bowl of French 75’s all over the Alpha Delt Bullseye,” he wrote. 

By his own account, Newman was more focused on getting out and immersing himself in the social scene rather than in Kenyon’s academics, noting in his article that he was “developing the unique philosophy that I would not let my studies interfere with extracurricular activities.” Newman, of course, was a star of the theater department and was in nine productions at Kenyon. One such production, Charley’s Aunt, which starred Newman in drag, opened less than a week after the Old Kenyon fire of 1949. Newman also joined the football team, although he admitted that this was another ploy to make more friends. However, he was kicked off the team because coach Pat Pasini found three beer bottles tied to Newman’s cup. 

In his article, Newman noted how his antics made the first two years fly by, but he surprised himself by not flunking out. “Suddenly I found myself a Junior, much to the surprise of my father whose only report of me in two years had been when a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter called up home to tell him that I was in jail with five other Gambierians, one of whom had kicked five teeth loose from the face of a local constable,” Newman said in his article. Newman’s alcohol addiction continued worsening after he graduated from Kenyon; later in his life, he would work to maintain sobriety.

Throughout his time as a student, Newman also worked to improve the Gambier community, starting an on-campus laundry service during his junior year that took off and became a hit among students and some local residents. The laundry business was early evidence of his entrepreneurial talent that only grew when he left Gambier. 

“Finally in my senior year, I became adjusted mentally,” Newman shared in his article. He even made the merit list his final year, which, according to the memoir, was a dream come true. He was grateful for his time at Kenyon, evidenced by his donations to Kenyon later in life. In 2007, a year before his death, Newman donated $10 million toward scholarship funds, hoping that many more students could experience as much as he did on the Hill. In a statement with the donation, he wrote, “I believe strongly that we should be doing whatever we can to make all higher education opportunities available to deserving students.” 

Newman’s extraordinary tales of his time at Kenyon are certainly fitting for such an extraordinary man.


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