Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself
He was not born in the woods to be scared by an owl. Shadow Box
“A collection of experiences…no one could be that good—and Plimpton isn’t.” The documentary entitled, Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself, begins with the aforementioned as an introduction about his life as a “participatory journalist.”
As one of the founders and editors of the Paris Review in 1953, a position in which he would have until his death, George Plimpton began interviewing many great authors of the day including Hemingway. His dramatic form of questions and answers, a conversation with authors according to the documentary, was a form that Plimpton invented.
While running the Paris Review from his office (and home) in New York city years later, he started to write for Sports Illustrated. Plimpton always felt that if you were going to write about a particular project, you should fully comprehend all aspects of that field first. At Yankee Stadium during a 1958 Post Season All-Star game, he made the most of that opportunity as a pitcher. The amount of publicity from his participation in that game eventually became his first book, Out of My League. The editors of Sport Illustrated set up these participatory reports for Plimpton into other sports: Golf, basketball, and eventually a boxing match with Archie Moore.
Shadow Box: An Amateur in the Ring, is not only an account of his boxing match with one of the greatest fighters known as “The Mongoose,” Archie Moore, but also his routine to prepare for the fight along with conversations from boxing aficionados. Included in the book are the stories entailing Muhammad Ali, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, and Hunter S. Thompson to name a few. Plimpton’s book essentially places you in the ring, whether that ring is with Moore or Thompson, you feel a personal relation to his recorded events. He writes, “I could have gone peacefully through life without taking a poke at anyone or being poked at…” Thankfully for us, he jumped into the boxing arena that went from his fight with Moore, to his personal time in Miami and Zaire with Muhammad Ali.
One of his most popular books entitled, Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last String Quarterback, documented his time with the Detroit Lions. Wearing the number “0” he was sacked deep into the soil of the football field, but he played. In this sport of hard hits, he immersed himself in on the field and off the field activities: spending time with the players in their rooms talking, listening to music, or at a near-by club dancing and socializing. Tom Wolfe hailed Paper Lion as an achievement in “New journalism, an emerging style of literary non-fiction.”
Footage in the documentary shows his personal and political side of his friendship with the Kennedy’s. Bobby Kennedy, in particular, was attracted to George, as told by his son Robert Kennedy Jr, “Admired George for his courage…his curiosity about life.”
“You have to be perfect,” said Plimpton in his reference to the New York Philharmonic as a triangle player. Watching George’s intensity backstage and onstage, you realize the critical comprehension he applied to his presentation. And he performs this role under the scrutiny of the famous composer, Leonard Bernstein. This was another aspect of George Plimpton’s “participatory journalism” that made him the “Everyman,” for his attempts to live and learn something new. He was a photographer for Life magazine in Africa; a stand-up comic. A summation of these noble attempts in the documentary is duly noted: He always tried to prove himself and when he failed, he succeeded.
“I have this enormous advantage of wandering as a writer into this world that people know absolutely nothing about.”—George Plimpton
He loved the Paris Review, it gave him importance, and people enjoyed working there. He never made money from the literary magazine. So, he took odd jobs, like commercials for various products and companies, to keep the Paris Review afloat. His second wife tells us, “He was happy for who he was.” George Plimpton said this about the magazine, “Of all the choices I made in my life, that had been the best one.”
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself is a fascinating documentary. He died in 2003, but his accomplishments in the field of “participatory journalism” will be engraved in our lives, most indubitably, as a natural storyteller.
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