The things you ponder during the All-Star break…
And the No. 1 star is … Paul Newman.
The great actor and man would have been 97 on January 26.
He died of cancer in 2008.
His birthday was widely saluted, and most of the stories mentioned just how versatile he was in his long career.
In “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” he gave a knockout performance.
His talent sizzled in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
He made all the shots in “The Hustler” and took home the Oscar in the sequel, “The Color of Money.”
He played the Hell out of his roles in “Hud” and “Harper.”
He deserved the checkered flag for his work in “Winning.”
Raindrops kept falling on his head, but the fall didn’t kill him in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
As “Cool Hand Luke,” he heard the prison captain tell him, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
He pulled the con off with aplomb in “The Sting.”
This was disgracefully underplayed and I’m going to bring it up to help celebrate the NHL’s All-Star break: Newman’s best and most memorable work was as Reg Dunlop in “Slap Shot.”
That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
The words came from Nancy Dowd’s script.
If you’re reading this hockey-oriented site, you probably know all this, but …
The inspiration and many of the lines came from the experiences of Nancy Dowd’s brother, Ned, and from the tape recorder he carried around as a player before he portrayed Ogie Ogilthorpe in the movie.
The performance was all Newman.
It was so unforgettable for those who saw it, they most likely have seen it a thousand times — both on a screen of some kind and also, most important and most numerous, in their minds.
(The less said about the sequels, the better. And a “remake” would have been sacrilegious. That didn’t stop the ridiculous “The Longest Yard” remake from being greenlighted, though.)
“Slap Shot,” the ’77 original, was so memorable — largely thanks to Newman — that even the barest of outlines or references to lines summons the scenes and Reggie’s wicked grin.
Dunlop, despite what some of the fans screamed, didn’t stink:
• As sportscaster Jim Carr would have agreed before asking the listeners to keep the questions within the boundaries of good taste, Dunlop represented the old guard of the Federal League — and did it well.
• Sportswriter Dickie Dunn reveled in Reg’s praise, offered with a newspaper in one hand and a glass in the other. (Here’s the scene.) Reg read: “‘To see the three Chiefs make a scoring rush, the bright colors of their jerseys flashing against the milky ice, was to see a work of art in motion.'” Then he added, “That’s good writin’, Dickie.” The sportswriter responded, “I was trying to capture the spirit of the thing, Reg.” Reg assured him, “Oh, you did.”
• After noting that they brought their toys, Dunlop challenged the Hanson brothers to show the Chiefs what they had … besides foil.
• From the bar, Dunlop went home with the lady in the red dress and won at least $5 in the process. Every one of the Chiefs thought he was the greatest. At least that’s what he told the lady in the red dress — his estranged wife.
• Dunlop refused to admit defeat after the announcement of the mill closing.
• He couldn’t name names, but Dunlop let it slip to Dickie that a senior citizen’s community in a southern state was in the market for a hockey team and could be the Chiefs’ salvation. And he knew that if Dickie wrote it, and endorsed it, everyone would think it must be true and begin fantasizing about off-ice diversions in F-L-A.
• Dunlop learned enough about Charlestown to know that the dog in the statue saved Charlestown in the 1938 flood. That disclosure didn’t exactly impress Lily Braden.
• Dunlop riled Dave Carlson into being “a killer” (and “a mess”) by playing on his sympathies and getting even obtuse Dave to notice “an expression of sadness” on his face.
• Dunlop’s pep talks were better than Knute Rockne’s. Sometimes, he asked the boys to play it smart, but when it got beyond that, he was inspiring. “Tonight, we got our fans with us! They spent their own dough to get here, and they came here to see us. All right, let’s show ’em what we got, guys. Get out there on the ice and let ’em know you’re there. Get that [bleeping] stick in his side, let ’em know you’re there. Get that lumber in his teeth, let him know you’re there!”
(Can I get a “Hallelujah!”?)
• Dunlop ran a tight enough ship that the Hansons knew they should listen to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” All the way through. No matter what the referee was threatening.
• Dunlop claimed he hadn’t been able to call Francine because he was on the phone every waking moment with the guy who owned the Chiefs … or so he said, until he found out the owner was a woman, Anita McCambridge, whom he couldn’t talk out of folding the team for a tax write-off, and he offered his thoughts on how her son might turn out.
• When Dunlop wasn’t drinking beer, he was drinking Canadian Club and water.
• Wearing No. 7, he was in his early 50s during filming.
• In a taped game-day radio appearance Dunlop had told the boys to listen to, he told host Jim Carr (whose rug was in place) about his plans for an opponent so adept at using his stick for carving that he was called Dr. Hook: “I’d like the folks to come down and watch us cream them punks from Syracuse … I am placing a personal bounty on the head of Tim McCracken. He’s the coach and chief punk on that Syracuse team. … A hundred bucks of my own money for the first of my men that really nails that creep.”
(Can I get another “Hallelujah!”?)
• Dunlop hated “Lady of Spain.”
• Finally, he told the boys he wanted to win the championship, but that he wanted to win it clean. Old-time hockey. Toe Blake. Dit Clapper. Eddie Shore. Playing it straight. Not like clowns, goons, freaks in a sideshow.
(And we never found out what happened after he went to the Minnesota Night Hawks.)
Yes, the performance was all Newman. (Trivia: Veteran actor Strother Martin played both the prison captain in “Cool Hand Luke” and general manager Joe McGrath in “Slap Shot.”)
One regret is that Newman made “Winning,” a 1969 release, before “Slap Shot.” That piqued his interest in auto racing, and he ended up the influential co-owner in Newman/Haas Racing on the open-wheel circuit.
If he had made “Slap Shot” first, maybe he would have ended up an NHL owner, talking sense into his brethren at key moments.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Newman.
Also, here’s the newspaper column I wrote after Newman’s death in 2008. I had briefly talked with him a couple of times — at auto races in Portland and Denver, when he was with the Newman/Haas team, but never got to ask him about “Slap Shot.” I do think he’d enjoy watching this Avalanche team and wouldn’t stand for anyone calling them names.
Recommended reading/listening: The Making of Slap Shot, by Jonathon Jackson. The book now is out of print and a rare collectible, obtainable through used book sites, including ABE and Alibris. Here’s my newspaper story on Jackson and the book.
Terry Frei (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html
His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here