An author known for his “participatory journalism” including sports and theatre, George Plimpton was born on this day in 1927. Our playlist of music covers celebrates Plimpton who covered professions on Crosscurrents, 3/18 at 8 am. You are invited to engage in some “paticipatory radio” by tuning into the show on live on-air stream through the wehsite at http://www.krnn.org
GEORGE PLIMPTON QUOTES and LIFE
“I have never been convinced there’s anything inherently wrong in having fun. ”
“Well, I have to write. A lot of people forget that. They think I’m sort of crazy baffoon who can’t make up his mind what to do in life.”
“I never understood people who don’t have bookshelves.”
“At the base of it was the urge, if you wanted to play football, to knock someone down, that was what the sport was all about, the will to win closely linked with contact.”
NYT OBIT edit 27 Sept 2003
George Ames Plimpton was born on March 18, 1927, in New York.
Many of Mr. Plimpton’s books dealt with his adventures, most notably ”Out of My League” (1961), on baseball; ”Paper Lion” (1966), on football; and ”The Bogey Man” (1968), on golf.
As a ”participatory journalist,” Mr. Plimpton believed that it was not enough for writers of nonfiction simply to observe; they needed to immerse themselves in whatever they were covering. For example, football huddles and conversations on the bench constituted a ”secret world,” he said, ”and if you’re a voyeur, you want to be down there, getting it firsthand.”
All of this contributed to the charm of reading about Mr. Plimpton’s career as dilettante par excellence — ”professional” athlete, stand-up comedian, movie bad guy, circus performer and many other trades — which he described elegantly in nearly three dozen books.
As a boxer, he had his nose bloodied by Archie Moore at Stillman’s Gym in 1959. As a major league pitcher, he became utterly exhausted and couldn’t finish the inning at an exhibition game between National and American League all-stars in 1959 (though he managed to get Willie Mays to pop up). And as a ”professional” third-string quarterback with the Detroit Lions, he lost roughly 30 yards during a scrimmage in 1963. On Sunday Mr. Plimpton was in Detroit for a 40th-anniversary reunion with the players who once lined up with ”a 36-year-old free-agent quarterback from Harvard.”
He also tried his hand at tennis (Pancho Gonzalez beat him easily), bridge (Oswald Jacoby outmaneuvered him) and golf. With his handicap of 18, he lost badly to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
In a brief stint as a goal tender for the Boston Bruins, he made the mistake of using his gloved hand to catch a flying puck, which caused a nasty gash in his pinky. He failed as an aerialist when he tried out for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. As a symphonist, he wangled a temporary percussionist’s job with the New York Philharmonic. He was assigned to play sleigh bells, triangle, bass drum and gong; he struck the last so hard during a Tchaikovsky chestnut that Leonard Bernstein, who was trying to conduct the piece, burst into applause.
And he didn’t always fall on his face. One night in 1997 (too old by then to engage in strenuous contact sports), he showed up at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, which was then having its amateur night. He announced that he was an amateur, and when asked what he was going to play, replied, ”the piano.” He knew only ”Tea for Two” and a few other tunes, but played his own composition, a rambling improvisation he called ”Opus No. 1.” The audience adored him, and the charmed judges gave him second prize.
In 1983 he scored another success when he volunteered to help the members of the Grucci family plan and execute a fireworks display to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge. They accepted his kind offer, and he did his job without destroying himself or any of the Gruccis. For a time, he was regarded as New York City’s fireworks commissioner, the bearer of a highly unofficial title with no connection to the city government. In 1984 he wrote a book on his love of the rockets’ red glare, called ”Fireworks: A History and Celebration.”
Perhaps his career was best summarized by a New Yorker cartoon in which a patient looks at the surgeon preparing to operate on him and demands, ”How do I know you’re not George Plimpton?’