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Crusading Against Drugs on the Big and Little Screens

September 21, 1986|BOB DROGIN | Bob Drogin is a Times staff writer

A conversation with Susan Kendall Newman, 33, daughter of actor Paul Newman and executive director of the Scott Newman Foundation. The anti-drug organization is named after her brother, who died in 1978 of a drug and alcohol overdose. It is financed in part by profits from sales of her father's salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and popcorn. Q: What is the foundation's purpose? A: The foundation's main objective is to get the entertainment (business) and all other areas of the media to depict any substance-related issue--tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs--in a way that does not glamorize, in a way that is accurate, in a way that does not lead children to believe that this is a kind of rite-of-passage phenomenon. We are trying to sensitize those people to the incredibly important and powerful role-modeling potential that they possess.

We (the Newman family) made a very conscious decision to stay within our own level of expertise, which is communication, film making. We looked at what was available in the marketplace, and we laughed about the terrible propaganda-type, scare-tactic-level films that still exist in the marketplace. What's hard for the educators to recognize is the fact that these children were raised on "Star Wars." They know production value. For the millions of children who've been smoking dope for years and are still pulling off Bs in school, you have no credibility.

So what we try to do is say, "Let's be realistic about where these kids are in terms of their sophistication and try and create in-house films that address drug-related problems and decision-making and resistance-type training." When we first started--we've been in operation for six years--there was not a warm reception by the industry. There was mainly denial. And there was mainly a sense of "Good work, Newmans"--lots of back-patting and eyes glassing over. And what we had to do was to work very hard to convince them that we're not here to be watchdogs, you know. We're not here to take away any constitutional rights. But the industry does not formally recognize its impact on the culture.

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