9/29/03 - George
Plimpton died in his sleep last Thursday night here
in Manhattan. He was seventy-six years old. Although
I met him many times and even interviewed him once
for a cable television program, I really didn’t
know him other than as a passing figure in the New
He was one of the great literary men of his age which was the last half
of the 20th Century, not so much for his writing (which was fairly prolific)
but especially for his lifelong work as editor of the Paris Review.
He also cut a wide swath on the New York scene, most welcome in the most
exclusive (and/or expensive) drawing rooms and dining rooms. He was also
a habitue of those places where the nighttime crowds congregate – discos,
nightclubs, concert halls, restaurants; uptown, downtown, all around
He gained fame as America’s most prominent amateur
who wrote about his experiences as an athlete, musician,
and/or actor who played with the pros and lived to write
about it. He was always industrious and enterprising with
his projects literary and cultural, but to this observer,
he just always seemed to be having a good time taking it
I often saw him at parties – cocktails, book parties, fund-raisers.
He was very generous with his presence in supporting friends and causes.
Tall and lanky, he often looked just a little bit disheveled like a professor
at the end of his day. In the past few years it was interesting to see
the longtime craggy yet boyish looks take on advancing age because despite
the changes wrought by time, he never lost his youthful aura. George
was essentially age-less.
His ancient mid-Atlantic accent was a reference to his Edwardian antecedents,
including an early mentor, the late sportsman and bridge champion Harold
Vanderbilt. He was born into old Massachusetts stock which traced its
origins back to the Mayflower, a connection without peer in
that world. He also came from great, old New England wealth (the Ames
family) on his mother’s side. Unlike most people of his generation
and crusty background, he was able to navigate comfortably down many
roads, high and low, and count among his friends people from all walks
It was a charmed life, no matter how you slice it. Intelligent, creative,
full of bonhomie and camaraderie, and loaded with privilege unfamiliar
to most of us. His celebrity, however, was not accidental but the result
of a curious and perspicacious mind. He had the ability to learn from
his experiences in the arena, and brought from them a shrewdness about
conducting himself publicly. People will remember him as they knew him
in life, a man who lived out his days to the fullest, always acquiring
knowledge while reveling in whatever took his fancy.
Although he never attained great stardom or great wealth or highly lauded
distinguished achievement, there were probably few with those attributes
who were not in awe of his joie de vivre and the freedom with
which it graced him.