Plimpton at the Miami Book Fair International, November 11, 1987
|Born||18 March 1927
New York City, New York
|Died||25 September 2003 (aged 76)
New York City, New York
|Education||St. Bernard's School
Phillips Exeter Academy
Daytona Beach High School
University of Cambridge
|Occupation||Journalist, writer, editor, actor|
|Spouse(s)||Freddy Medora Espy (1968–1988)
Sarah Whitehead (1991–2003)
|Notable credit(s)||The Paris Review|
Plimpton was born in New York, the son of Pauline (née Ames) and Francis T. P. Plimpton, a diplomat, lawyer, and name partner of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. Plimpton was also a maternal great-grandson of Adelbert Ames, a decorated general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and Reconstruction-era Governor of Mississippi and great-great-grandson of controversial Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler, known as "Beast" Butler in the South.
He attended St. Bernard's School, Phillips Exeter Academy, and Daytona Beach High School, where he received his High School diploma before entering Harvard University in July 1944. He wrote for the Harvard Lampoon, was a member of the Hasty Pudding-Institute of 1770, Pi Eta and the Porcellian Club. His field of concentration was English. Plimpton entered Harvard as a member of the Class of 1948, but didn't graduate until 1950 due to intervening military service. He was also an accomplished birdwatcher.
His studies were interrupted by military service lasting from 1945 to 1948 during which he served as a tank driver in Italy for the U.S. Army. After graduating from Harvard, he attended King's College at Cambridge University in England. He earned a second bachelor's degree at Cambridge and took a master's in English there in 1952.
In 1953, Plimpton joined the influential literary journal The Paris Review, founded by Peter Matthiessen, Thomas H. Guinzburg, and Harold L. Humes, becoming its first editor in chief. This periodical carries great weight in the literary world, but has never been financially strong; for its first half-century, it was allegedly largely financed by its publishers and by Plimpton. Two articles by Richard Cummings, "An American in Paris" (The American Conservative) and "The Fiction of the State" (Lobster), disclose that the CIA provided funds for The Paris Review, using the foundation of publisher Sadruddin Aga Kahn's foundation as a conduit, and that Plimpton was an "agent of influence" for the CIA. Peter Matthiessen took the magazine over from Harold Humes and ousted him as editor, replacing him with Plimpton, using it as his cover for his CIA activities. Plimpton was also associated with the literary magazine in Paris, Merlin, which folded because the State Department withdrew its support. Poet laureate Donald Hall, who had met Plimpton at Exeter was Poetry Editor. One of the magazine's most notable discoveries was author Terry Southern, who was living in Paris at the time and formed a lifelong friendship with Plimpton.
At Harvard, Plimpton was a classmate and close personal friend of Robert Kennedy. Plimpton, along with former decathlete Rafer Johnson, was credited with helping wrestle Sirhan Sirhan to the ground when Kennedy was assassinated following his victory in the 1968 California Democratic primary at the former The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Outside the literary world, Plimpton was famous for competing in professional sporting events and then recording the experience from the point of view of an amateur. In 1960, prior to the second of baseball's two All-Star games, Plimpton pitched against the National League. His experience was captured in the book Out of My League. (He intended to face both line-ups, but tired badly and was relieved by Ralph Houk.) Plimpton sparred for three rounds with boxing greats Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson, while on assignment for Sports Illustrated.
In 1963, Plimpton attended preseason training with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League as a backup quarterback and ran a few plays in an intrasquad scrimmage. These events were recalled in his best-known book Paper Lion which was later adapted into a feature film starring Alan Alda, released in 1968. Plimpton revisited pro football in 1971, this time joining the Baltimore Colts and seeing action in an exhibition game against his previous team, the Lions. These experiences served as the basis of another football book, Mad Ducks and Bears, although much of the book dealt with the off-field escapades of football friends such as Alex Karras and Bobby Layne. Another sports book, Open Net, saw him train as an ice hockey goalie with the Boston Bruins, even playing part of a National Hockey League pre-season game.
Plimpton's classic The Bogey Man chronicles his attempt to play professional golf on the PGA Tour during the Nicklaus and Palmer era of the 1960s. Among other challenges for Sports Illustrated, he attempted to play top-level bridge and spent some time as a high-wire circus performer. Some of these events, such as his stint with the Colts, and an attempt at stand-up comedy, were presented on the ABC television network as a series of specials. After being demolished at tennis by Pancho Gonzales, he wrote that he considered himself to be a fairly accomplished tennis player and that the drubbing by Gonzales was the most surprising of his ventures against the great athletes of his time.
A 6 November 1971 cartoon in The New Yorker by Whitney Darrow, Jr. shows a cleaning lady on her hands and knees scrubbing an office floor while saying to another one: "I'd like to see George Plimpton do this sometime." In another cartoon in The New Yorker, a patient looks up at the masked surgeon about to operate on him and asks, "Wait a minute! How do I know you're not George Plimpton?" A feature in Mad Magazine titled "Some Really Dangerous Jobs for George Plimpton" spotlighted him trying to swim across Lake Erie, strolling through New York's Times Square in the middle of the night, and spending a day with Jerry Lewis. In 2006 the musician Jonathan Coulton wrote the song entitled 'A Talk with George' as a humorous tribute to Mr. Plimpton's many adventures. Plimpton was inducted as an Honorary member of the Adelphic Alpha Pi Fraternity at Olivet College, in Olivet, Michigan, in 1979.
Plimpton also appeared in a number of feature films, as an extra and in cameo appearances. He had a small role in the Oscar-winning film Good Will Hunting, playing a best-selling psychologist. He was also notable for his appearance in television commercials during the early 1980s. Among the most memorable are his role as spokesperson for Mattel's Intellivision in a blunt and aggressive ad campaign that advocated the superiority of their video games over those of their competitor, Atari 2600. He was also the host of the Disney Channel's Mouseterpiece Theater (a Masterpiece Theatre spoof which featured classic Disney cartoon shorts). He appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can" as host of the "Spellympics" who attempts to talk Lisa Simpson into losing the spelling bee with the offer of a college scholarship at a 7 Sisters College and a hot plate: "It's perfect for soup!" he says. He also had a recurring role as the grandfather of the Dr. Carter character on the long-running NBC medical television series, ER.
A longtime fireworks aficionado, Plimpton wrote the book Fireworks and hosted an A&E Home Video with the same name featuring his many fireworks adventures with the Gruccis of New York in Monte Carlo and for the 1983 Brooklyn Bridge Centennial. He was appointed Fireworks Commissioner of New York by Mayor John Lindsay, an unofficial post he held until his death.
Shortly before his death, Plimpton wrote the libretto to a new family opera-musical Animal Tales, in collaboration with Grethe Barrett Holby. The piece had been commissioned by Grethe Barrett Holby's Family Opera Initiative with composition by Kitty Brazelton. George explained Animal Tales by saying "I suppose in a mild way there is a lesson to be learned for the young, or the young at heart - the gumption to get out and try one's wings." The creative team also included set designer Franco Colavecchia and costume designer Camille Assaf. The work premiered in its entirety in November 2008 with Keith Buterbaugh in the role of Dr. Alfred J. McGee, Jendi Tarde as Hamster, Barbi McCulloch as Goldfish, Ryan Naimy as Dog, Aus Jordan II as Turtle, Kyrian Friedenberg as Frog, Branch Fields as Parrot, and Garrett Taylor as Horse. Musicians included Jenny Lin on piano, David Vincola on Latin percussion and DJ Elan Vital.
A personal friend of the New England Sedgwick family, Plimpton edited Edie: An American Biography with Jean Stein in 1982. He also appeared in a brief interview footage about Edie Sedgwick in the DVD extra for the film Ciao! Manhattan. In addition, he appeared in the PBS American Masters documentary on Andy Warhol.
An oral biography titled George, Being George was edited by Nelson W. Aldrich Jr., and released on 21 October 2008. The book offers memories of Plimpton from writers such as Gay Talese and Norman Mailer.
Plimpton was married twice. His first wife, whom he married in 1968 and divorced in 1988, was Freddy Medora Espy, a photographer's assistant who was a daughter of the writer Willard R. Espy. They had two children: Medora Ames Plimpton and Taylor Ames Plimpton. In 1992 he married Sarah Whitehead Dudley, a freelance writer, with whom he had twin daughters, Laura Dudley Plimpton and Olivia Hartley Plimpton.
Voice, Baseball, PBS 1994
George Ames Plimpton (18 March 1927 – 25 September 2003) was an accomplished American actor, editor, journalist and writer. He wrote often about sports (particularly baseball) and founded the The Paris Review. He played one of the psychiatrists in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting.