Magazine article The New Yorker

Plummer's Pad

Magazine article The New Yorker

Plummer's Pad

Article excerpt

For some years in the nineteen-fifties, Christopher Plummer lived in the Algonquin Hotel, on West Forty-fourth Street. One morning last week, a few days before his eightieth birthday, he returned there, from his home, in southwestern Connecticut, and took a round booth at the back of the dining room and recalled his residency. He was wearing a gray tweed jacket over a black sweater, and carried wraparound sunglasses. He seemed happy and fit--punchy--as if he had just won a tennis match against Errol Flynn. He ordered a decaffeinated double espresso, and then asked the waiter, "Do you have biscotti? Things like that?" The waiter replied that there were no biscotti. After the man walked away, Plummer whispered, "You're fired," in feigned affront, and laughed.

He looked around the empty wood-panelled room. A young man who lives in a hotel doesn't "have any responsibility for looking after anything," he said. "You can be free, live out your sexual fantasies." ("I exuded a repellent confidence," Plummer wrote in his autobiography, published last year, referring to his early acting career.) He stayed in the hotel for two years and, later, returned for one more. "It's nice to have the bed done for you," he said. "That signals another day. The horror that happened yesterday is all over and forgotten. Clean sheets. You start life all over again."

Plummer was twenty-five when he first checked in. He was new to New York, and a decade away from starring as Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music"--which he refers to as "S. & M."--but he was already making a living, in the theatre and live TV soap operas. "In my teens, I was terribly shy, and people scared me," he said, of his upbringing, in Montreal. His parents had divorced, and, as a boy, he never met his father. "I just always dreamed of going away and staying somewhere transient and being a playboy of every Western--and Eastern--world." And a hotel, "it fits the bill."

Besides, he had no real sense of how to live independently. "I wouldn't have known how to run my life in a flat." (He recalled a designer friend who had an attractive idea for a home where dirty dishes were somehow drawn down a chute and ground to dust.) "And in those days, when drinking was fashionable, it was great fun, this lobby. I'd just roll into bed, drunk, most of the time. …

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