Magazine article The New Yorker

GEORGE PLIMPTON POSTSCRIPT Series: 4/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

GEORGE PLIMPTON POSTSCRIPT Series: 4/5

Article excerpt

A few weeks before entering the ring at Stillman's Gym against Archie (the Mongoose) Moore, George Plimpton ordered a "wildcat" drink called Crashweight Formula #7. Plimpton would need whatever bulking up he could get in order to survive the rough attentions of the light-heavyweight champion of the world. "I am built rather like a bird of the stiltlike, wader varietythe avocets, limpkins, and herons," he wrote. "I can slide my watch up my arm almost to the elbow." On the day of the three-round exhibition, in 1959, Moore flicked uncertainly at Plimpton's most patrician part: "He jabbed and followed with a long lazy left hook that fetched up against my nose and collapsed it slightly. It began to bleed." The dizzying pain was short-lived, but the essay that followed, "Three with Moore," ranks high in the annals of Plimptoniana.

George Plimpton, who died last week at his town house, on East Seventy-second Street near the river, was a serious man of serious accomplishments who just happened to have more fun than a van full of jugglers and clowns. He was game for anything and made a comic art of his Walter Mitty dreams and inevitable failures. Borrowing from Paul Gallico, a sportswriter of an earlier generation, who tried to box Jack Dempsey, Plimpton deepened the idea of "participatory journalism," quarterbacking the Detroit Lions for a book called "Paper Lion," pitching to Willie Mays and Ernie Banks for "Out of My League," golfing with Sam Snead for "The Bogey Man." In further pursuit of material, he played basketball under Red Auerbach in Boston and triangle (Mahler's Fourth) under Leonard Bernstein in New York. He flew on a trapeze with the Flying Apollos, and took a bullet from John Wayne in "Rio Lobo." None, in any field but the literary, would call him skilled. Nick Pietrosante, a running back with the Lions, once told me, "As soon as he put on his shorts in training camp, with that oblong body and his dangling legs, you knew George had no ability whatsoever. He was a good guy, though. He had that Harvard accent . . . so I don't think he'd been knocked on his ass too many times. He was gutsy."

Plimpton did not necessarily need to be. He was born to a wealthy New York family. His grandfather was the founder of the Ginn publishing company and a philanthropist. His father was one of the founding partners of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. One of his forebears, Benjamin (Beast) Butler, was the governor-general of New Orleans and told Abraham Lincoln that he would agree to be his running mate "only if you die within three weeks. …

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