Author/critic/columnist Shawn Levy wrote today that one of the things he discovered while writing about Paul Newman for his book Paul Newman: A Life (Harmony, May 5) “was that he had a [nearly] 30-year feud with the New York Post.” Which has now come back around and bitten Levy’s book in the ass, albeit in a cheap and petty way.

The feud started “when Newman was filming Fort Apache: The Bronx> in New York. Newman came to feel that the Post had deliberately stirred up community animosity toward the film. A few years later, Newman and the Post were fighting about — of all things — how tall the actor was (the Post said he was no more than 5’7″, whereas Newman held he was 5′ 11″).

“During these battles, Newman was outspoken in his disgust with the paper: ‘I wish I could sue the Post,’ he told a rival publication, ‘but it’s awfully hard to sue a garbage can.’ And the Post gave as good as it got. For some years, Newman’s name could only appear in the pages of the tabloid in a negative light; this even extended to the TV listings, where Newman’s name was left out of descriptions of his films (The Hustler with Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Robert Redford and Katherine Ross, etc.).

“I found all this amusing and reckoned that the war of words would have died with Newman last fall, but I underestimated the pettiness and vindictiveness of Post publisher Rupert Murdoch and his “Page Six” hatchet man Richard Johnson. Over the weekend, the Post published a wildly sensational account of my book — representing it as a tale of multiple infidelities, non-stop drinking, profane outbursts and rivalries with other movie stars.

“All of those things are in there, yes, but to declare that the book — which is rather square and includes 22 pages of notes and bibliography — is about all those things is like saying that The Godfather is a movie about killing horses or Austin Powers is a film about Burt Bacharach.”

I read teh Post piece last weekend, immediately recognized the tawdry and salacious tone and decided not to write about it for fear of giving credence to any suspicion that Levy’s book, which has been carefully sourced and written in a brisk, clean style, might be some kind of icky Hollywood-star bio, which it absolutely isn’t. But as long as Levy’s run his piece, whatever.

Newman was 5’11”?