Pick up a newspaper these days, enter a movie theater, walk into a bookstore, switch on a radio or glance at a TV screen and you likely will be reminded of the existence of a tall, amiable fellow named George Plimpton. Though he has since become as familiar a figure as, say, a 30-game winner or a political candidate, George's association with us began more than 12 years ago. We were searching for someone to write about Harold Vanderbilt, the sailboat racer and inventor of contract bridge. George was establishing the literary magazine he edits, the Paris Review, and had developed for it the technique of in-depth interviews with famous writers. We said, how about trying a bridge master and sailor instead? He was rather surprised at the suggestion, but agreed, and the result was a four-part series and a lasting affiliation with George Plimpton.
Since the Vanderbilt story three of Plimpton's assignments for us have turned into books—Out of My League, Paper Lion and now The Bogey Man, excerpts from which begin on page 88 of this issue. Paper Lion stayed on the bestseller lists for months, has sold 550,000 paperback copies and seems to have set a standard by which all personalized pro-football books are being judged. For example, two of the latest such works—one fiction and one non-fiction—are using as advertising lines, "What they didn't tell George Plimpton" and "Ranks with Paper Lion."
The success of Paper Lion has led us into a game that might be called Keeping up with George. It is a tough sport. This week the movie version of Paper Lion is being released, with Alan Alda playing the part of Plimpton and with a number of the Detroit Lions playing themselves. (Our editor, incidentally, does not play himself.) Among his other recent enterprises, George has been the star of a one-hour television special in which he plays the triangle, sleigh bells and cymbals with the New York Philharmonic; has made television commercials for Oldsmobile; has played table tennis on a TV show against champion Dick Miles (another of our contributors); has performed as the mayor of New York in a new Norman Mailer movie; has popped up on talk shows as regularly as Peggy Cass; and has continued to give parties that suggest he is not the paper lion but the social lion of New York.
Though he is now writing a novel, George is staying busy for us. He recently spent a fortnight on our behalf as a forward with the Boston Celtics, which was, in his words, "The most grueling physical labor I have ever attempted." In his three minutes of game action to date—against the Atlanta Hawks in an exhibition—he blew a lay-up, was charged with a foul and received credit for an assist. And at this moment he and his wife Freddy are in Africa hunting the wily bongo. "This should be interesting," George said as he was leaving. "The last rifle I shot was an M-1 in the Army."
October 13, 1968
We are often amused by George's diverse activities, and we have enjoyed seeing him emerge as a Renaissance man. But above all we have relished his development as a journalist and writer. It is in that area we judge him most critically, and we know he excels.