Inside the Family Battle for the Newman’s Own Brand Name
Below is a great article by Mark Seal from Vanity Fair about Paul Newman and his Newman’s Own brand and illustrates the dynamics and importance of succession planning.
Joanne Woodward, youngest daughter Clea, and Paul Newman at a party for Paul’s 50th birthday at La Cave Henri IV restaurant, New York City, January 26, 1975. Digital Colorization by Vanity Fair; © Globe Photos/ZumaPress.com.
When Paul Newman died, in 2008, he left his Newman’s Own food empire, and the charitable foundation it supports, in the hands of his adviser Robert Forrester. But, his eldest daughter says the family believes their father’s principles are being betrayed.
The first clue something was wrong was the change in the label.
It was still playful and lighthearted, radiating a message of goodness and giving on the packages of food products sold by Newman’s Own Organics, the all-organic spin-off of Newman’s Own specialty foods. The old label had pictured movie star Paul Newman in an American Gothic pose beside his daughter Nell, who had co-founded and run Newman’s Own Organics alongside her father’s larger company. Blonde and beautiful, with her father’s famously striking blue eyes, Nell shared his love of food, philanthropy, and the outdoors. So it was strange when, earlier this year, her image went missing from the labels on the packaging of her company’s organic pretzels, Fig Newmans, and more than 100 other organic products. As it turned out, Nell herself had gone missing from the company that she had started in her home in 1993 in Santa Cruz, California, after convincing “Pop” (as she and her four sisters called their father) that organic foods were the wave of the future.
In reporting one of the first magazine profiles of Nell and her all-organic crusade, in 1995, I encountered a forceful, outspoken young woman, who told me how she planned, through pretzels (her company’s first product), to take the organic-food movement mainstream. Over the years I watched with wonder from afar as she made it happen: within its first year, Newman’s Own Organics pretzels became the No. 1 organic snack food in America, and soon after her Fig Newmans were the No. 1 organic cookie. Nell, now 56, and her business partner, Peter Meehan, created an ever expanding catalogue of products that filled the shelves not only of organic-food stores but also of supermarkets from coast to coast. In fact, the organic line eventually threatened to become as popular as the salad dressing, popcorn, pizza-and-spaghetti sauce, and nearly 100 other products sold by the non-organic Newman’s Own food empire, which had been founded in 1982 by Paul Newman and his friend the writer A. E. Hotchner.
What was behind this extraordinary vanishing act of Paul Newman’s daughter?
Before he was a food entrepreneur, Paul Newman was one of the great movie stars from the 1950s through the 1980s, not only a heartthrob with chiseled features and piercing blue eyes but also a seriously accomplished actor. Along with Montgomery Clift, James Dean, and Marlon Brando, he came out of Lee Strasberg’s legendary Actors Studio, and like the others he often portrayed rough-hewn, charismatic outsiders. Newman’s own version of this prototype was handily described by Shawn Levy in his 2009 biography, Paul Newman: A Life. “For fifty years, on-screen and off, Newman vividly embodied certain tendencies in the American male character: active and roguish and earnest and sly and determined and vulnerable and brave and humble and reliable and compassionate and fair.” Newman perfected this character in a string of popular movies that featured his icy masculine cool: The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Sting (1973), among others.
Newman’s macho screen image was reinforced by his personal life, which he kept private. He neither preened for the paparazzi nor pursued the glamorous life lived by other Hollywood stars of his caliber. He preferred to putter around his spacious but hardly spectacular 12-room Colonial in Westport, Connecticut, on 10 acres, with his second wife, the actress Joanne Woodward, and their children. His hobby was auto racing, and he was no dabbler. He won four national amateur titles, two professional race victories, a second-place finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a victory in his team’s class at Daytona.
In later years Newman also came to be much admired for his charitable activities. His Newman’s Own Foundation, which is entirely supported by the profits of the Newman’s Own food empire, has supported good works to the tune of $430 million since its creation, and it continues today to help fund programs in four main “focus areas”: children with life-limiting conditions, empowerment, nutrition, and encouraging philanthropy.
What About Bob?
After Newman’s death, in 2008, one person took charge of his legacy—both the food company and the related charitable foundation: Robert H. Forrester. He met me one morning in the then Westport offices of Newman’s Own, Inc., where images and reminders of Paul Newman are everywhere: on movie posters and in photographs on the office walls and on the memorabilia scattered about. Newman’s pool table and popcorn machine are still there, too. To begin my visit, Forrester played a promotional video, made in 2007, in which Newman is once again at his side. “He could have been interviewed [in the video] by anybody [else],” said Forrester proudly. “And Paul said [to me], ‘I want you.’ ”
The two men were complementary. Simply wanting to give away the company’s ever increasing profits, Newman loathed the details of business, while Forrester reveled in them. “ ‘Forrester, what’s going to happen when I croak?’ ” Forrester remembered the man he calls his “great friend” asking. “And I said, ‘If you somehow figure out how to come back for a visit 10 years after you pass, it will feel right to you.’ ”
White-haired and wearing a green gingham shirt beneath a green V-necked sweater, Forrester, 67, seemed to me like a kindly and earnest uncle. For four hours, he and his sizable staff explained how they are preserving and expanding Newman’s legacy. “Paul didn’t give his heart easily, but he put a lot of trust in Bob,” said Pamela Papay, who became Newman’s Own, Inc.’s first employee, in 1984. “Bob was a giver and not a taker.”
A veteran consultant to nonprofit organizations, Forrester was enlisted by Newman in 1993, to straighten out problems the actor was having in opening his first foreign Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (named after the Wyoming mountain pass where Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch outlaw gang hid out), for seriously ill children. The two men eventually became such close friends that Forrester worked for 13 years for Newman and his organization for free, Forrester says, and donated $2.7 million of his own money to Newman-related charities. In 2005, Newman appointed Forrester as the first president and C.O.O. of the Newman’s Own Foundation, and later, chairman and C.E.O. of Newman’s Own, Inc., and co-executor of his will. In the six years since Newman’s death, Forrester told me, the food company’s top-line revenue has grown 7.25 percent in compounded annual revenues, and the Newman’s Own Foundation has given away more than $170 million.
“There’s no other company out there doing anything like this, where every cent we make we give away,” said Mike McGrath, who introduced Wolfgang Puck soup and helped sell it to Campbell’s in 2008, before succeeding Forrester as C.E.O. of Newman’s Own, Inc., in 2014.
“We always say it’s about quality trumping the bottom line. That’s what Paul said. It’s all for the common good,” said Newman’s Own, Inc.’s new president and C.O.O., Dave Best, whose former jobs at General Mills and Unilever involved managing such iconic brands as Cheerios and Hamburger Helper.
At the end of our meeting, I joined the staff for an all-Newman’s Own lunch before being sent off with a Baggie of Newman’s Own cookies. I found it all inspiring and uplifting. But even while the foundation remains a global force in funding good works, some people have doubts about whether Newman’s wishes are truly being fulfilled. The questions have come from some of Paul Newman’s daughters and friends, and also, according to sources, from Joanne Woodward, who, upon hearing the details of the disposition of her husband’s reported $600 million estate, allegedly exclaimed, “Oh, my God, that’s not what it was supposed to be!”
“Whether my family will go public [with our complaints] or not, there isn’t a single living Newman who respects or has faith in Robert Forrester and his management of my father’s food company, Newman’s Own Foundation, or the continuation and protection of his legacy,” Paul Newman’s eldest daughter, Susan Kendall Newman, tells me. Susan, 62, is a former actress and award-winning television producer who supplies media and production services for nonprofit organizations. Friends describe her as smart, outspoken, and possessing a strong social conscience.
Newman’s Own employees, from left: Lori DiBiase, Dave Best, Kelly Giordano, Mike McGrath, Ron Restani, Pamela Papay, and Robert Forrester. Photograph by Ben Hoffman; Grooming by Susan Phear; Produced on Location by Susan Phear.
“Some family members may be angry at me for speaking out,” says Susan. “But I feel like the Newman family has been taken hostage by Bob Forrester. I think Mr. Forrester has forgotten that it is a privilege and enormous responsibility for him to preside over my father’s legacy and carry out his wishes. He seems to be more interested in self-aggrandizement and lavish trappings. [Forrester says this characterization of him is “totally untrue.”] My father would never support many of the things he is doing.”
Her four sisters are all distressed by the situation, Susan says. (The two oldest daughters, from Newman’s 1949 marriage, to actress Jacqueline Witte, are Susan, who lives in California, and Stephanie, 60, who leads a quiet life away from the family business and foundation. A son, Scott, died in 1978. Newman’s three daughters from his second marriage, to Joanne Woodward, are Nell, 56; Melissa “Lissy” Elkind, 53, who has volunteered at a Connecticut women’s prison; and Claire “Clea” Soderlund, 50, who has long been involved in philanthropy in Westport and beyond.) But the others have remained silent for fear of making the current situation worse, Susan says, or are bound by confidentiality agreements.
“I will not be muzzled any longer,” she says.
‘It was just a joke, a lark,” 94-year-old writer A. E. Hotchner said, sitting in his sunny Westport house, four miles from the Newmans’ former home. He and Newman met in 1955, when Newman starred in The Battler, a television play Hotchner had written based on a Hemingway short story. The two men quickly became lifelong close friends. (Hotchner jokingly claims in his 2010 memoir, Paul and Me, that they bonded over being the two most inept fishermen ever.)
Hotchner recalled how, a few days before Christmas in 1980, Newman phoned to say, “How about coming over and giving me a hand with something?” Hotchner did, only to find his friend drinking beer in his barn, with “a big washtub of vinegar and olive oil and condiments and a lot of dirty wine bottles. It was ridiculous, but it was fun. We drank beer and we mixed up the stuff.”
“The stuff” was Newman’s soon-to-be-famous salad dressing, which he had bottled for years and given away. Newman and Hotchner tied ribbons around the wine bottles, gathered their kids, and went Christmas caroling, distributing the bottles along the way. One of Newman’s neighbors then was a young caterer named Martha Stewart, who held a blind taste test. Newman’s was voted No. 1. Calling it Newman’s Own, Newman allowed his face to be put on the label. In 1982 the dressing went on sale in local gourmet shops and groceries.
Recalled Hotchner, “To our absolute disbelief, we banged quite a profit that first year”—$920,000, in fact. “Paul said, ‘We can’t be in the business of making money off of it! You’re a writer and I’m an actor and this isn’t what we do. Let’s give it all away to charity.’ ”
“Nothing like it,” Hotchner continued, remembering the joy of those giddy, exuberant early days, when Newman tirelessly promoted his food products. In 1988 they established the first Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, serving 288 children. By 2012, the camps would reach 384,700 children worldwide.
In 1978, Newman’s life imploded when his only son, Scott, died of an accidental drug-and-alcohol overdose at the age of 28, in a room in a Los Angeles Ramada Inn. Scott had endured a troubled adolescence, getting kicked out of several prep schools for using drugs and alcohol and for disruptive behavior. As a young adult he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an actor, but he met with little success.
Newman was wracked with anguish over his son’s death. “I think about him … often … it hurts,” he told Hotchner on a fishing trip in the Bahamas. “The guilt. The guilt. All I could have done … And didn’t do…. And all I did was make more movies and be a big star.” His biggest regret was that he and his son had never really discussed his son’s problems.
In 1980, when the remorse and grief were still fresh, Newman opened the Scott Newman Center, in Torrance, California. It provided drug-prevention education in schools and other places in the community. With his son gone, Newman turned his attention to his five daughters. To inspire them to follow in his philanthropic footsteps, he began giving each of them $25,000 annually—to donate to charities of their choosing.
In 1993, Nell, then the director of the Ventana Wilderness Sanctuary, in central California, where she was working to re-establish the bald-eagle population, was seized by the idea to create an all-organic division of Newman’s Own. Her father, unfamiliar with the concept of organic food, wasn’t convinced. So, that Thanksgiving, Nell packed a suitcase full of organic California produce, flew to Westport, and cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the family. After “Pop” cleaned his plate, she whispered in his ear, “How did you like your all-organic Thanksgiving dinner?” Newman’s Own Organics was born, with Nell’s company donating a royalty in exchange for using her father’s name and image on the packaging. By 2014 she had given away more than $50 million.
‘It is no secret that I will soon be completing my 75th year on this planet,” Paul Newman wrote in a letter he addressed to “The Newman Clan. All” on May 4, 1999, “that it will be twenty years since Scott died, that we are approaching the millennium. The convergence of the above begs for some gathering of family … for all of you to ask questions of your aging father while the opportunity still exists. Questions about my intention as regards to family, questions about expectations, about history, family responsibilities, trusts, business continuity, charity—in short everything.”
Newman’s longtime attorney, Leo Nevas, then 87, drafted a six-page letter outlining Newman’s estate plans, which included, “Give Paul’s children the major voice in the distribution of a large part of the funds for charity.” Newman asked his assistant to distribute the attorney’s letter to his wife and daughters and wrote across the top, “This seems to be where we are headed. Pop.”
Nell, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, 2008.
In 2005, the Newman’s Own Foundation was established, and two years after that Newman began to “withdraw,” as A. E. Hotchner wrote in his memoir. He burned his tuxedo in Hotchner’s driveway and vowed never to attend another black-tie event. He made his last movie (as the voice of Doc Hudson, the retired car-racing judge and doctor in the 2006 Pixar hit, Cars) and then he began to relinquish his involvement in Newman’s Own.
“Every December for 24 years, Paul and I shared a pastrami sandwich, a root beer, and licorice jelly beans while selecting a steadily increasing number of recipients of our profits, which reached a total of $260 million in 2007, the last year Paul participated,” wrote Hotchner. By then, Newman had told him, “Hotchnik, it’s time we got out of the grocery business, you and I, and brought in professionals.”
“A board of directors was installed with a very knowledgeable chairman, Robert Forrester, who organized the charitable arm of the company into a foundation,” Hotchner wrote.
Forrester would be the head of the Newman’s Own Foundation, but, according to earlier planning documents, Newman’s daughters were intended to be substantially involved. Each would receive an inheritance of $500,000 upon their father’s death. To follow in his footsteps, each daughter was to have a foundation set up for her, to be funded with assets from their father’s estate. The documents suggested that 50 percent of their father’s residual estate would be equally distributed among their foundations, with the remaining 50 percent left to support Joanne Woodward.
Including his daughters in his will was a major departure. “From the time we were children, our father informed us there would be no inheritance,” Susan says. “He felt large sums of money eroded your ambition and mostly sabotaged your life. We all accepted this. That’s not to say that financial assistance wasn’t forthcoming over the years. In my mid-30s he called a family meeting and told us he was making some provisions for us after all. Apparently, Joanne had convinced him to do so.”
But Newman had often changed his estate plans. “The distribution of Paul Newman’s assets was governed by the terms of a trust created in 1980,” says Brian Murphy, Newman’s Los Angeles-based business manager and accountant of 30 years and co-executor of his will. “Over the years the trust was amended twelve times, the last being in April 2008, six months before Paul’s death.”
In 2006, Susan Newman met with Robert Forrester, in Paul Newman’s New York City office, at his Fifth Avenue apartment. “I was told each daughter would inherit a million dollars, which was a sizable increase over what we had been told previously, and my father would set up foundations for each of us,” she says. “Mr. Forrester also told me they would be funded with up to $30 million or more per daughter,” she adds. “Newman’s Own Foundation would have some cursory supervision over them, and the moneys had to be distributed within a finite period of time.” In addition the daughters were to serve on the Newman’s Own Foundation board and the entity that controlled the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, with “one daughter (perhaps two) serving on its board of directors on a rotating basis,” according to documents outlining Newman’s preliminary estate plans.
That year, other meetings among Newman’s advisers and his daughters commenced. “These weren’t casual gatherings,” says Susan. “They were well-orchestrated meetings that required some of us to fly in from out of state. There were business advisers, lawyers, accountants, and authorities in family philanthropy. We were told very specific things, not only about the future of our father’s businesses, primarily philanthropic, but our daughterly responsibilities as my father envisioned them. Of course there were ongoing conversations with our father as well.” (Forrester responds, “Factually, I have no basis upon which to say what level of knowledge all his daughters had about his final estate plans. While he did ask me to speak with them in 2006, about what was then the direction in which his thinking was taking him, he also asked that I make sure they all knew it was preliminary thinking on his part.”)
When Newman had turned 80, in 2005, he was still jogging up and down the stairwells of the hotels where he stayed during trips to the car races in which he and his team competed. He subsisted on burgers and beer as he flew to the races with his pals on Newman Air, his name for his small Sabreliner business jet. At home, he was religious about exercising on his Versaclimber until drenched with sweat.
On August 13, 2007, in an outtake from the promotional video interview with Robert Forrester, Newman spoke of his intentions for his family. “All my children get a certain amount to be able to give away every year and they will be giving away my estate as well…. Yes, they are involved. They sit on the board of the companies and the foundation.”
Around the time Newman made that video, the pain began. First in his back. The doctors found a spot on his lung, which was partially removed. The pain persisted. Then another diagnosis: it was leukemia.
“During these some weeks in the hospital, I’m reminded that I haven’t been extraordinarily communicative,” Paul wrote on February 26, 2008, to his lifelong friend the screenwriter Stewart Stern, whose credits include such classics as Rebel Without a Cause. “Actually for the first week I didn’t know where I was. In fact, weeks ago I can remember asking Joanne, with confusion, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘You don’t remember going to the hospital at four o’clock in the morning, something short of insane?’ I didn’t.”
This period, some say, is when major changes in his estate planning were made.
“Many people who have executed a will when they are hale and hearty sometimes have a panic motion with the imminence of death,” observes a close friend of Newman’s. “And a lot of it has to do with whoever has the most influence on them in those last few weeks or months before they die … their lawyer or doctor or priest…. I’m not saying it happened here.”
Newman continued to meet with various attorneys and advisers, often in his office in the barn of his Westport property. He had always disliked such technical business meetings, so he would go into the room, express his wishes, and then leave, saying, I’ll be back later.
On April 11, 2008, six months before his death, Newman, with the assistance of a new lawyer, re-wrote his will. Four months later, on August 11, a medical report stated, “Memory loss continues to be a serious issue.” By then, he would call his nonagenarian attorney’s Westport office, instead of his new attorney, sometimes making suggestions on issues that had already been decided.
Asked about Newman’s state of mind in his final days, Forrester says he “remained lucid, made well-reasoned decisions, and was fully in control of his planning, at least until a couple of weeks of his passing.”
On September 26, 2008, Newman died at age 83, surrounded by his family. The reading of the will, in a Westport hotel, was supposed to be routine—at least for Newman’s wife and daughters. He and his advisers had repeatedly expressed his intentions, they believed.
“Then we had the rug pulled out from under us,” says Susan.
Most everything that the daughters felt they had been promised was gone. There was nothing about one or two daughters rotating on the Newman’s Own Foundation board, because, Forrester says, Newman had changed his mind: “Paul never thought of Newman’s Own as a family enterprise. For him it was always about the public good. At one time, he was giving some thought to having one daughter on each board serving a time-limited term, but ultimately decided against doing so.”
The millions that had been discussed as going into their personal foundations—50 percent of Newman’s residual estate—went to Joanne Woodward’s marital trust, and the daughters’ foundations would not be funded until after her death, to ensure that Woodward would be adequately cared for.
Since its creation, the sole member of the Newman’s Own Foundation had been Paul Newman. On July 29, two months before his death, Newman signed a “Written Consent of Sole Member” document, appointing Robert Forrester and Brian Murphy as his foundation’s second and third members. Forrester explains, “Around the time of our June 2008 Board meeting, Paul asked Brian Murphy and me to join him as members of the Foundation. A consent document to this effect was drafted by legal counsel and signed by Paul on July 29, 2008…. As sole members, we appoint the Board of the Foundation and approve bylaws. Once this has been done, the Board of Directors has fiduciary and governance responsibilities for the affairs of the Foundation; approving policies, plans, budgets, grants, etc. Further it is the Foundation Board of Directors, not the Foundation’s members, who are responsible for appointing members to the Board, and for approving the bylaws of Newman’s Own, Inc. (the food company).”
But according to Susan, “The keys to the kingdom had virtually been given to one man, Bob Forrester.”
“Prior to my father’s death, Mr. Forrester’s favorite word was ‘transparency,’ ” she says. “I had never heard the word thrown around as frequently as he used it. After my father passed away, and every plan had been changed and/or deferred, if we asked any questions, we were accused of being adversarial. Mr. Forrester became less available and when we were in communication he could easily become riled up. [Forrester says he continues “to work with members of the Newman family on a regular basis” and knows of “no unanswered questions.”] Soon after he had control of the foundation, it seemed like almost everyone who walked through the door (employees, contract workers, and others) was being asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It’s almost impossible to get a straight answer. Some of us receive calls from people with serious concerns, but they fear reprisals with their employment, retirement packages, or contracts. In some cases, they’re nervous about whether their funding will be reduced or discontinued. Ultimately, those concerns prevent any public disclosure.” (Forrester responds, “It has been a long standing practice, predating my involvement with Newman’s Own, that employees, business partners, advisors and members of our Boards sign confidentiality agreements.”)
Some of the daughters considered asking for a 10-day continuance before the will was filed for probate. “We discussed this with many lawyers, and they said it was not unusual to ask for an extension to better understand the changes and new provisions. But Forrester responded, ‘No, absolutely not.’ Then there were immediate warnings,” says Susan: “ ‘You’re contesting the will, and could be disinherited.’ Ever since then, we’ve been walking on eggshells.” (Forrester says he has no recollection “of such a conversation and that kind of request would have been made not to me but to the lawyers.”)
Each daughter might still be able to make recommendations for grants to charities of her choosing, as Newman had planned. But with stipulations. “Final authority for grantmaking decisions is solely reserved by the Foundation’s Board of Directors,” they were advised in a letter from Forrester four days after their father’s death. There were no guarantees that the program would continue, that allocation levels wouldn’t change year-to-year, or that the foundation board would approve every recommendation.
Forrester insists that Woodward knew about all of her husband’s estate plans. Others say any mention of the changes upset her to the point where the subject became taboo. “Joanne’s dislike for Bob is well known within her inner circle,” says Susan. (Woodward was not available for comment.)
“My dad was a brilliant guy with many diverse talents, but he didn’t trust people,” Susan says. “Sadly, it is my belief that he had a propensity for trusting the wrong people. I am terribly concerned about my father’s legacy…. Frankly, I feel, there are just too many questions about my father’s health at the time he was making extremely important decisions … We weren’t the only ones affected. Loyal household staff, longtime employees, and some loved ones had their trusts deferred, or were written out entirely.”
Particularly troubling to some was the alleged disappearance of a codicil to Newman’s will, in which he bequeathed one of his racecars to his driver. A source close to the trustees insists the codicil never existed. However, some friends and family members believed the mysterious codicil, to which Newman’s longtime housekeeper and one of his nurses supposedly served as witnesses, was simply never filed, and they viewed this as evidence of possible irregularities. The driver filed a complaint in a Connecticut court. Depositions were taken. But the complaint was eventually dropped.
Controversy erupted when Newman’s passion, his Newman/Haas Racing team, was de-funded for the 2009 season, although Newman had allegedly specified that the support was to be continued. “Even though [Forrester] understood that Paul wanted to support the team the following year, he said Joanne’s estate could not afford that and hopefully we would understand that as of that day the Newmans’ participation was out,” recalls Mike Lanigan, a former racing-team partner of Newman’s. (Forrester says he has “no role in Woodward’s estate or personal financial affairs.”) Lanigan says he spent considerable time with Newman shortly before his death. “He would tell me what he wanted shortly before he died,” he says. “I don’t think his wishes in a number of subjects were fulfilled. I’m not talking about the race team. I’m talking about the whole scenario of his estate.”
Also de-funded was the Scott Newman Center, founded by Paul Newman amidst his personal devastation over his son’s tragic death. In 2011, Newman’s Own Foundation officials announced that they didn’t intend to continue as the center’s primary donor and insisted that a consultant of their choosing be hired for planning and fund-raising. New sources of funding were not found, however, and the center closed in May 2013. “Paul was very much involved in making this decision; in fact, it was Paul who first expressed a concern about the center’s continuing viability,” Forrester says. “This was in 2006, when it became clear that the center had developed such an overdependency on funding from Newman’s Own, that it was on the verge of losing its tax-exempt status as a public charity. We reached out to them at that time, and offered to work together on their achieving greater financial self-sufficiency…. Regrettably, despite well in excess of a million dollars in grants from the foundation over a four-year period, and a tremendous amount of donated time, the center could not make any substantial progress in broadening its base of support, and its board made the decision to discontinue operations.”
After her father’s death, according to a source, Nell Newman was prevented from releasing new products because Newman’s Own, Inc., might want to release the same products. Long discussions over Nell’s licensing agreement to use her father’s name and image, set to expire on December 31, 2014, broke down, and her license was not renewed. She was told she was a disqualified person, the tax-code term barring relatives of the founder of a private foundation in some cases (but not Nell’s, some attorneys would insist) from working for a company owned by a foundation. So Nell offered to work for the company for free, but was turned down. Once, Newman’s Own Organics was thought to be worth between $30 and $50 million, but the company’s value would have been reduced greatly if it could no longer use Paul Newman’s name or image. Launching a new company would mean jeopardizing the employment security of her 30 employees. Without employees or products, Nell decided she had no other choice but to turn her company back over to Newman’s Own, Inc., and walk away, according to a source. Her name and image began to disappear from the label. (Newman’s Own, Inc., now sells most of her organic products.)
Again, Forrester says the decision was Paul Newman’s. “It was always the intention that Organics would someday be re-integrated into Newman’s Own when its license expired,” he says. “As organic foods became more mainstream, having two separate companies with essentially the same brand selling into a single market was becoming increasingly confusing. Having the Newman’s Own brand back in one place was something Paul was encouraging and supporting us and Newman’s Own Organics to do. Starting in 2006, and up until his passing, he was actively involved in efforts to accomplish this, and it was one of his greatest hopes that he would have seen this done during his lifetime.”
Others find it difficult to believe that Newman would have wanted his daughter to leave the company she founded. “[Paul] was one proud fellow when Nell was so very, very passionate about her belief in organics and he wasn’t, you know,” Stewart Stern told me shortly before his death, at 92, last February. “He had to have it proven to him because it was business, and it was proven or there wouldn’t have been the two of them on all those cans and boxes and everything else. It seems fantastic to me that it is possible that there’ll be any change in that.”
I asked the foundation’s publicity representative if a member of Paul Newman’s family would speak to me in their support and received this statement from Clea Soderlund, who remains a foundation vice president: “From a very young age, our parents taught us that being a good citizen in your community and giving back should be a priority if you were as lucky as we were…. I am very proud to be a part of his legacy…. It is a special gift and an honor.”
Paul in 1982. By Fred Squillante/A.P. Images.
For Susan Newman and others, it’s now more complicated. “My father didn’t believe in what he called noisy philanthropy. He didn’t need the ego stroking of having his name on the side of a building. He wanted the money to go directly to the camp kids and charities. In the early days, my dad used to get a kick out of his conference table being a Ping-Pong table. Robert Forrester has bought a building. I’ve heard the total cost after renovation is between $12 million and $14 million. It may be more.” (While declining to comment on the cost, Forrester says, “Newman’s Own had some time ago seriously outgrown the space available to it…. Management explored all options, including leasing and buying new facilities…. The Board of Directors made the decision to purchase our new home.”)
“As Paul’s eldest daughter, I feel a responsibility, call it a duty, to fulfill his wishes and safeguard his legacy,” continues Susan. “There are too many glaring examples of Mr. Forrester’s decisions’ being out of sync with the beauty and integrity that is essential to my father’s philanthropic legacy. That has got to change.” Forrester counters, “This could not be further from the facts…. Everything we are doing today is in line with Paul’s way of doing things…. The Company has continued to prosper financially, while staying 100 percent committed to the value proposition of ‘Quality Trumps Profits,’ and the philanthropic practices we follow today are ones established with Paul.”
The truth of what Paul Newman wanted may have to remain a mystery, said Stern, who was also extremely close to Joanne Woodward. “Like all great heroes, Paul was flawed. Some of those flaws have been appearing in the lives of people who were left behind in the swirl of his going. He would share everything and absolutely nothing, and it was the nothing part that was so very, very, very confusing, even to his best of friends…. He was enigmatic to a degree that I have never experienced with anybody else…. I don’t know and nobody knows precisely what the whole thing is in terms of Paul’s wishes or settlements.”
Click to read the original Vanity Fair article.