THE GREAT PLIMPTON: A Tribute To A Real Sportsman
How old was I when I witnessed first sight of George Plimpton?
Honestly, I don't recall, but, I remember this distinguished-looking man, his voice, and the fact that my father liked him very much.
He was a star, as far as I could tell, a brilliant light, a genius, I thought.
He did what he wanted to do, and this represented freedom and adventure in the most exciting way.
Plimpton was a teacher—a professor who taught me how to approach my work, my art, my craft.
His lessons appeared in the form of books, television interviews, commercials, magazine articles, movies, plays, TV shows, and great parties that included fireworks.
Plimpton's Paris Review
The Paris Review, the bold literary magazine, was founded by Peter Matthiessen, Harold L. Humes, Thomas Guinzburg, Donald Hall, and George Plimpton in 1953.
During his lifetime, Plimpton was the first and only editor.
Through The Paris Review, he introduced writers Terry Southern, Phillip Roth, Evan S. Connell, and Samuel Beckett to the world.
He would go on to edit "The Paris Review Interviews: Writers At Work," a series that included interviews with literary giants such as Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, Allen Ginsburg, Truman Capote, Jean Cocteau, William Carlos Williams, William Burroughs, Lillian Hellman, James Jones, Blaise Cendrars, Evelyn Waugh, and many more.
The passion Plimpton had for The Paris Review would forever remain in his heart.
In fact, for financial reasons he moved the headquarters from Paris to his Manhattan apartment, which occupied two floors for its offices.
He never took a dime for his duties as editor and said, "It was a gas."
I was 16, a sportsman, and a student reporter at the Sun Journal in Brooksville, Fla., when I read The Paris Review for the first time.
I knew George Plimpton made his living as a journalist, writing articles about his adventures.
Plimpton's spirit gave rise to my desire to have my work published in The Paris Review, since it represented the "top."
He was the inspiration for my vision to create Brewcups, an online literary paper.
Plimpton himself said, "The Paris Review afforded me this lifestyle."
His lifestyle included sports, travel, romance, adventure, and great coffee time with literary greats of his day.
He always believed that The Paris Review would remain relevant.
Today, The Paris Review presents a number of awards including the Plimpton Prize, a $10,000 prize awarded annually for best fiction or poetry.
In the autumn of 2009, I wrote this poem titled:
The Paris Review
Written for joy by few
In writer's ink and way,
Each knowing how the dog barked,
Task to table they worked
Yet they do not in vain—yet they do not complain.
Let man toast with thrill
And step forward to toast
Those who knew such and such.
For passion in the heart
Note that of writing legends we cheer
What a group—a few.
A glorious time for such a job,
They in their day designed;
But much for they as for you.
Come we together as one
This literary pack—it's true
Began with three words—The Paris Review.
In this slice of life, subtitled "Plimpton Participates," I write about an imaginary walk with Plimpton.
Plimpton said to me that he was born in New York to Francis T.P. Plimpton, a lawyer and diplomat, and Pauline (nee Ames) Plimpton, on March 18, 1927.
Plimpton's bloodline is deeply rooted in America, by the fact that Adelbert Ames, a maternal grandfather, was a highly-decorated Union Army general and Reconstruction-era governor of Mississippi during and after the Civil War.
His great-great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Butler (aka "Beast") was a Union general and quite a controversial one.
It was autumn, a bit cool, so I thought coffee served outside with blueberry scones was perfect for the occasion.
We sat at a picnic table near the UF College of Journalism. I asked, "Would you be so kind to talk about your education?"
"I attended St. Bernard's School, Phillips Exeter Academy, and actually received my high school diploma from Daytona Beach High School," said Plimpton.
"What a marvelous experience—surf, sand, and babes!
"I trekked from the warmth of Florida to Cambridge in July 1944 to enter Harvard University.
"Loved every minute of it!
"I became a member of the Hasty Pudding Institute, Pi Eta, and the Porcellian Club, and I wrote for the Harvard Lampoon.
"English, my boy, was my concentration.
"Duty to country interrupted, I served in the military for two years, returned to my beloved Harvard, and graduated in 1950.
"In fact, at Harvard, a chap by the name of Robert F. Kennedy was a good friend and classmate.
"What good times we shared, especially by telling jokes, laughing, and playing touch football."
We finished our Colombian brew, visited the J-school and decided to walk over to Florida Field.
"This place remains me of my days with the Detroit Lions," he said. "I attended preseason training camp as a backup quarterback and participated in an intra-squad scrimmage.
"I recalled the events in my book, Paper Lion. Hollywood turned it into a movie starring Alan Alda in 1968.
"I joined the Baltimore Colts in 1971, in an exhibition game played against my former team, the Lions.
"This time, I served up a book titled Mad Ducks and Bears featuring the off-field follies of my football friends, Alex Karras and Bobby Layne. Hey, run a post pattern, I'll throw you a pass."
I was truly excited about the day; I was hanging out with one of the most successful literary journalists in the world, and we were having a blast.
It's funny what a little imagination can produce.
I told Plimpton that I heard professional tennis player Pancho Gonzales demolished him in a match, so I arranged an opportunity for him to display his skills and redeem himself at UF's tennis complex.
Plimpton eagerly took me up on this because of his competitive nature.
He blew me off the court in three straight sets.
I thought I had game; I was a tennis star in high school with scholarship offers to boot.
But, on this day, I was no match for "The Great Plimpton."
OK, I was a baseball freak, as well—a catcher and pretty good at it, I might add.
Plimpton had no problem walking over to McKethan Baseball Field to toss a few.
I said, "Legend has it that you pitched against the National League and wrote a book titled: Out Of My League; well, I just want you to know, I met Hank Aaron—so, we're even."
He laughed. Let me see your stuff, old man. Who you calling old? Try this kid!
He released, and I saw the ball move like a butterfly and sting like a bee when it hit the center of my mitt.
Boy, it still hurts.
I wanted revenge, so I rushed him over to the "O" Dome, the O'Connell Center, to show off my free-throw shooting skills.
I was a 93 percent from behind the free-throw line shooter.
He has no chance.
He politely allowed me to go first, and I nailed 8-of-10 shots.
Plimpton tossed in his first shot, Wilt Chamberlain style—underhand; then this guy buried 9-of-9 in a row.
I just held up my hands like Michael Jordan in total disbelief, like, "what is this sh--?"
For one moment in time
While in that arena I met
On center stage the true key,
I discovered that pen is king,
Man in uniform is door—open.
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