REFLEXIONS ON SUNDAY: Remembering an ultimate cowboy

If you were not born yesterday, then, like me, you are still mourning the late Paul Newman (God rest his soul in peace), who passed away on September 26.

If you were not born yesterday, then, like me, you are still mourning the late Paul Newman (God rest his soul in peace), who passed away on September 26.

For your information, by ‘yesterday’ I mean any time after the 1950s! For if you were not old enough to see films in the ’50s and ’60s, you should seal your mouth when people are talking about real action films.

Those were the good old days when films were films, not movies. These mega-powerful films drew their giga-authoritative power from towering, commanding and unassailable figures who could not convince you that they were acting, even if they tried!

Paul Leonard Newman was in the league of these superhero defenders of good values and tireless annihilators of peddlers of evil.

The films were known as ‘Westerns’. Paul Newman, who was born in 1925, starred in many Westerns in the 1950s and 1960s, but I ‘met’ him for the first time on the screen of a film hall called Lotus Cinema, in Mbara town, south-western Uganda, in 1969.

He continued to act in other film genres until 1986, even becoming a film director and entrepreneurial humanitarian, but I kept that memory of him as a ‘cool’ cowboy.

As a cowboy he commanded a shrewd-guy presence, a tough and practical law-enforcer who spelt death to all the outlaws.

I remember us in the film hall, as senior-one boys, watching drunken and raucous men fighting and harassing innocent waitresses and old men in a bar.

We shouted and hurled abuses at the rough men, but of course nothing happened: they were on screen.

Then a tall man in a Stetson hat, chewing a black cigar, appeared in the doorway. Everything went dead, on screen and in the hall.

He swung the half doors of the saloon (as the bars were known), and ever so slowly and deliberately walked in, the heels of his spurred boots sharply breaking the silence and echoing: d-o-n-g, d-o-n-g, d-o-n-g……!

As he walked to the counter, he surveyed the room, his blue eyes seemingly piercing through the skin of the thugs, and his fingers impatiently drumming at the two revolvers on his hips. At the counter, he turned on his heels to face the bar.

The gangsters stood motionless in the different poses they were found in, watching. Everybody held their breath, on the screen and in the hall, so much that you could hear a feather drop.

Then, in three corners of the bar, we saw three ruffians discreetly cock their revolvers, but the man’s fingers moved in a blur and it was all we could do to catch sight of the revolvers spitting fire at the same time. The hooligans lay dead, including those who tried to flee.

Unfortunately, we did not see anything else as all of us scrambled to get out of the hall.

Of course, we only managed to fall in a heap! Again we rose but, in the ensuing stampede, many of us were hurt and it was only a miracle that no one was killed.

It took great effort for the official of the cinema hall to convince us that Paul Newman – for that was the selfsame star – was not going to shoot us also! We went back to watch the rest of the film.

But so much fear had he put into everybody that, after seeing it to the end, a boy who had stolen a shirt from his fellow student promptly returned it when we went back to school!