It was 1968. Late March.
Only months earlier “Cool Hand Luke” was the biggest hit in theaters -- and now here was the 50-egg-eating hero, crisscrossing the Wisconsin countryside, rallying support to make Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy the Democratic nominee for president.
There were stops in downtowns all over: in Eau Claire, La Crosse, Chippewa Falls, Kenosha. Then, on one brisk morning, just days before the Wisconsin primary election, Paul Newman pulled into Delafield.
Margaret Zerwekh has a photo of it. It’s a photo, in black and white, recently unearthed from stacks of other black-and-white photos around the Delafield home she has lived in for nearly 70 years. And, at the moment -- on a warm and muggy afternoon in August -- it’s on her dining room table, where the 96-year-old Zerwekh sits in her wheelchair, a blanket over her shoulders, eating soup.
The photo is a good one, showing Newman standing atop a car hatchback, in a dark suit and tie, on the corners of Milwaukee and Genesee streets. He’s clutching a bullhorn, addressing a surrounding crowd. Behind him, just over his left shoulder, is a Pabst Blue Ribbon sign hanging outside Zunker’s –- the old Delafield watering hole. (Where Maztalan, the Mexican restaurant, is today).
Written on the back of the photo, in neat cursive, is: “Mar. 28, 1968.”
Now, nearly 50 years later, Zerwekh can’t recollect too much from that day. However, she agrees to lend the photo out so it can be shown to volunteers at the Delafield History Center, on Wells Street.
Once there, right away the following morning, Germaine Hillmer -- a Delafield resident since 1965 -- says she missed Newman when he was in town. She does remember, however, hearing about how short he was. “But,” says Hillmer matter-of-factly, as if only relaying an undisputed truth of all Hollywood leading men, “they all are.”
Gayle Maney, another volunteer and longtime resident, hadn’t seen Newman either. Studying the photo though, Maney points out that the young man -- standing slumped, with hands in his pockets, beside Newman’s right leg -- is Al Johnson. Most know him as Al the Plumber.
Later that afternoon, Johnson -- a Delafield alderman for 18 years and plumber here for nearly six decades -- is found resting on a sofa chair on his front porch overlooking Oneida Street. The self-proclaimed “Drain Surgeon” confirms that it is him. “You can tell it’s me because of my hair,” he says.
Johnson is right. At age 82, his hair today looks just as it does in the photo. Only in the photo, it’s dark brown. Today, it’s pure white. In the photo, he wears a jacket and necktie. Today, he wears a faded T-shirt that reads, “Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double.”
Johnson supposes about 80 people turned out for the rally back in 1968. “Hardly anyone came in support of McCarthy,” he says. “We were all there to see Paul Newman.”
Sue Braunschwieg was one of them. She isn’t in the photo, but Maney -- earlier at the Delafield History Center -- recalled that Braunschweig, a former neighbor of hers, was also there. “Sue was just ga-ga for Paul Newman,” Maney had said. “I remember her saying that he had the bluest of eyes.”
Reaching Braunschweig later, by phone at her Oconomowoc home, her voice noticeably warms while reminiscing about Newman’s eyes, as if the blue were a tropical water she experienced once on vacation, but never swam in again. “Paul,” she says, “looked wonderful.”
Other than that, Braunschweig can’t recollect anything else from the day. She knows Newman gave a speech but can’t remember a single word from it. She wasn’t a McCarthy supporter. Wasn’t even a Democrat. “It didn’t matter to me,” she says.
Back then, Braunschweig and her husband lived on Milwaukee Street, not far from Newman’s scheduled stop. Still, she recalls, it was difficult going over to see him. She had little children at home at the time and had trouble getting someone to watch them.
Why didn’t she just take them with her? “Well,” answers Braunschweig, “I didn’t want Paul to know I had kids.”