The Genius of George Plimpton

The Genius of George Plimpton
(Image courtesy of George Plimpton Estate)

George Plimpton was—in the words of his son Taylor Plimpton—“An amateur in the world of the professional”. His unmistakable voice had a timbre all its own. It was a hybrid of old New England and old New York, and would later lead to his short-lived, but nonetheless potent, cameos in “Reds” and “Good Will Hunting”. Exceedingly tall and lanky, Plimpton was a good-looking fellow and he aged well like a fine scotch. By his late sixties he developed a whole head of white hair and pronounced wrinkles that spoke of his experiences, of which there were several.

For those of you unfamiliar with George Plimpton, he is one of the founders of the outstanding literary quarterly The Paris Review and the upcoming star of Tom Bean and Luke Poling's documentary, "Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton As Himself”, but it goes so far beyond that.

George Plimpton was a man who knew no bounds. As a journalist, he was fearless, such to the point where he joined the Detroit Lions as a third-string quarterback despite having no previous experience and the build of an old money aristocrat. He did it in order to write Paper Lions—a humorous account of an average man proving just how hard it is to play professional football. It was later turned into a mediocre film with an over-eager Alan Alda, but never mind that.

He was a ladies man. It was rumored he seduced a young Jacqueline Bouvier prior to her marriage to John F. Kennedy (how different her life would have been), and, at the fore, he was a writer: he tried to experience everything and anything under the sun and write about it with the same journalistic integrity.

I see a lot of myself in George Plimpton. I can’t imagine how many times he was called “incorrigible”, and “wet behind the ears”, simply for being bold enough to go out and try new things.

Upon founding The Paris Review with Harold L. Humes and Peter Mathiessen in the spring of 1953, he wrote a letter to his parents back in New England that spoke volumes about his character:

“I’ve decided to stay over here in Paris and run this magazine, I think I’d be a fool not to.”

He was stalwart in regards to the ambitious little literary quarterly, staying with it until the end of his life in 2003. He did the literary world a service by doing that. So many quarterlies flourish and fail, but Plimpton’s enthusiasm and dedication kept it alight in such a way it should be an inspiration to all us fledgling “wet behind the ears” editors.

The Paris Review would go on to publish the first excerpts of Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries, and Jeffrey Euginedes’ The Virgin Suicides, and it would be the first magazine to realize the genius of Jack Kerouac through their publication of his short story, “The Mexican Girl”. Time magazine called it, “The biggest ‘little magazine’ in history”, and all this was possible because of this one simple mission statement in the first issue by William Styron:

The Paris Review hopes to emphasize creative work—fiction and poetry—not to the exclusion of criticism, but with the aim in mind of merely removing criticism from the dominating place it holds in most literary magazines. […] I think The Paris Review should welcome these people into its pages: the good writers and good poets, the non-drumbeaters and non-axe-grinders. So long as they're good.”

This, dear readers, this simple statement and this editorial grace, led me to founding Chicago Literati. I’m presently in talks to try and bring the Plimpton documentary to Chicago for an exclusive screening, if you’re interested, comment below, like the link on our Facebook fan page or Tweet at us (@chicagoliterati).

Citations: Plimpton, Taylor. "My Father’s Voice." The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 17 June 2012. Web. 13 June 2013.

"Paris Review." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Apr. 2013. Web. 13 June 2013.

"The Paris Review." Founding Editors. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013.


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