"He was interviewed in the early '60s by a young novelist, Pati Hill.""It is also one of the pleasures of oral biography, in that the reader, rather than editor, is jury.""My favorite monologue in the book is Kate Harrington's story of her relationship with Truman.""The New York Times published the guest list on the front page. The masks were a brilliant concept."
George Ames Plimpton was born in New York City on March 18, 1927 and spent his childhood in New York City, growing up in an apartment duplex on Manhattan's Upper East Side located at 1165 Fifth Avenue. During the summers, he lived in West Hills, a hamlet located in the Town of Huntington in Suffolk County, New York. He was the son of Francis Taylor Pearsons Plimpton, and the grandson of Frances Taylor Pearsons and George Arthur Plimpton. His grandfather was the founder of the Ginn publishing company and a philanthropist. His father was a successful corporate lawyer and a founding partner of the law firm Debevoise and Plimpton. He was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations serving from 1961 to 1965.
His mother was Pauline Ames, the daughter of Oakes Ames and Blanche Ames; and the granddaughter of Medal of Honor recipient Adelbert Ames, an American sailor, soldier, and politician, and Oliver Ames a U.S. political figure and the 35th Governor of Massachusetts (1887 - 1890). She was also the great granddaughter of Oakes Ames (1804-1873), a congressman who was impeached in the Credit Mobilier scandal; and Governor-General of New Orleans Benjamin Franklin Butler, an American lawyer and politician who represented Massachusetts in the United States House of Representatives and later served as the 33rd Governor of Massachusetts.
George had three siblings: Francis Taylor Pearsons Plimpton Jr., Oakes Ames Plimpton, and Sarah Gay Plimpton.
He attended St. Bernard's School, Phillips Exeter Academy, and Daytona Beach High School, where he received his high school diploma before entering Harvard University in July 1944. He wrote for the Harvard Lampoon, was a member of the Hasty Pudding Club, Pi Eta and the Porcellian Club. His field of concentration was English. Plimpton entered Harvard as a member of the Class of 1948, but didn't graduate until 1950 due to intervening military service. He was also an accomplished birdwatcher.
His studies were interrupted by military service lasting from 1945 to 1948, during which he served as a tank driver in Italy for the U.S. Army. After graduating from Harvard, he attended King's College at Cambridge University in England. He earned a second bachelor's degree at Cambridge and took a master's in English there in 1952.
In 1953, Plimpton joined the influential literary journal The Paris Review, founded by Peter Matthiessen, Thomas H. Guinzburg, and Harold L. Humes, becoming its first editor in chief. This periodical carries great weight in the literary world, but has never been financially strong; for its first half-century, it was allegedly largely financed by its publishers and by Plimpton. Two articles by Richard Cummings, "An American in Paris" (The American Conservative) and "The Fiction of the State" (Lobster), disclose that the CIA provided funds for The Paris Review, using the foundation of publisher Sadruddin Aga Khan's foundation as a conduit, and that Plimpton was an "agent of influence" for the CIA. Peter Matthiessen took the magazine over from Harold Humes and ousted him as editor, replacing him with Plimpton, using it as his cover for his CIA activities. Plimpton was also associated with the literary magazine in Paris, Merlin, which folded because the State Department withdrew its support. Poet laureate Donald Hall, who had met Plimpton at Exeter was Poetry Editor. One of the magazine's most notable discoveries was author Terry Southern, who was living in Paris at the time and formed a lifelong friendship with Plimpton, along with future classical and jazz pioneer David Amram.
At Harvard, Plimpton was a classmate and close personal friend of Robert Kennedy. Plimpton, along with former decathlete Rafer Johnson, was credited with helping wrestle Sirhan Sirhan to the ground when Kennedy was assassinated following his victory in the 1968 California Democratic primary at the former The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Outside the literary world, Plimpton was famous for competing in professional sporting events and then recording the experience from the point of view of an amateur. In 1960, prior to the second of baseball's two All-Star games, Plimpton pitched against the National League. His experience was captured in the book Out of My League. (He intended to face both line-ups, but tired badly and was relieved by Ralph Houk.) Plimpton sparred for three rounds with boxing greats Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson, while on assignment for Sports Illustrated.
In 1963, Plimpton attended preseason training with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League as a backup quarterback and ran a few plays in an intrasquad scrimmage. These events were recalled in his best-known book Paper Lion which was later adapted into a feature film starring Alan Alda, released in 1968. Plimpton revisited pro football in 1971, this time joining the Baltimore Colts and seeing action in an exhibition game against his previous team, the Lions. These experiences served as the basis of another football book, Mad Ducks and Bears, although much of the book dealt with the off-field escapades of football friends such as Alex Karras and Bobby Layne. Another sports book, Open Net, saw him train as an ice hockey goalie with the Boston Bruins, even playing part of a National Hockey League pre-season game.
Plimpton's classic The Bogey Man chronicles his attempt to play professional golf on the PGA Tour during the Nicklaus and Palmer era of the 1960s. Among other challenges for Sports Illustrated, he attempted to play top-level bridge and spent some time as a high-wire circus performer. Some of these events, such as his stint with the Colts, and an attempt at stand-up comedy, were presented on the ABC television network as a series of specials. After being demolished at tennis by Pancho Gonzales, he wrote that he considered himself to be a fairly accomplished tennis player and that the drubbing by Gonzales was the most surprising of his ventures against the great athletes of his time.
A 6 November 1971 cartoon in The New Yorker by Whitney Darrow, Jr. shows a cleaning lady on her hands and knees scrubbing an office floor while saying to another one: "I'd like to see George Plimpton do this sometime." In another cartoon in The New Yorker, a patient looks up at the masked surgeon about to operate on him and asks, "Wait a minute! How do I know you're not George Plimpton?" A feature in Mad Magazine titled "Some Really Dangerous Jobs for George Plimpton" spotlighted him trying to swim across Lake Erie, strolling through New York's Times Square in the middle of the night, and spending a day with Jerry Lewis. In 2006 the musician Jonathan Coulton wrote the song entitled 'A Talk with George' as a tribute to Mr. Plimpton's many adventures and approach to life. Plimpton was inducted as an Honorary member of the Adelphic Alpha Pi Fraternity at Olivet College, in Olivet, Michigan, in 1979.
Plimpton also appeared in a number of feature films, as an extra and in cameo appearances. He had a small role in the Oscar-winning film Good Will Hunting, playing a best-selling psychologist. He played Tom Hanks's antagonistic father in Volunteers. He was also notable for his appearance in television commercials during the early 1980s. Among the most memorable are his role as spokesperson for Mattel's Intellivision in a blunt and aggressive ad campaign that advocated the superiority of their video games over those of their competitor, Atari 2600. He was also the host of the Disney Channel's Mouseterpiece Theater (a Masterpiece Theatre spoof which featured classic Disney cartoon shorts). He appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can" as host of the "Spellympics" who attempts to talk Lisa Simpson into losing the spelling bee with the offer of a college scholarship at a 7 Sisters College and a hot plate: "It's perfect for soup!" he says. He also had a recurring role as the grandfather of the Dr. Carter character on the long-running NBC medical television series, ER.
A longtime fireworks aficionado, Plimpton wrote the book Fireworks and hosted an A&E Home Video with the same name featuring his many fireworks adventures with the Gruccis of New York in Monte Carlo and for the 1983 Brooklyn Bridge Centennial. He was appointed Fireworks Commissioner of New York by Mayor John Lindsay, an unofficial post he held until his death.
Shortly before his death, Plimpton wrote the libretto to a new family opera-musical Animal Tales, in collaboration with Grethe Barrett Holby. The piece had been commissioned by Grethe Barrett Holby's Family Opera Initiative with composition by Kitty Brazelton. George explained Animal Tales by saying "I suppose in a mild way there is a lesson to be learned for the young, or the young at heart - the gumption to get out and try one's wings." The creative team also included set designer Franco Colavecchia and costume designer Camille Assaf. The work premiered in its entirety in November 2008 with Keith Buterbaugh in the role of Dr. Alfred J. McGee, Jendi Tarde as Hamster, Barbi McCulloch as Goldfish, Ryan Naimy as Dog, Aus Jordan II as Turtle, Kyrian Friedenberg as Frog, Branch Fields as Parrot, and Garrett Taylor as Horse. Musicians included Jenny Lin on piano, David Vincola on Latin percussion and DJ Elan Vital.
A personal friend of the New England Sedgwick family, Plimpton edited Edie: An American Biography with Jean Stein in 1982. He also appeared in a brief interview footage about Edie Sedgwick in the DVD extra for the film Ciao! Manhattan. In addition, he appeared in the PBS American Masters documentary on Andy Warhol. Plimpton also appeared in the closing credits of the 2006 film "Factory Girl".
An oral biography titled George, Being George was edited by Nelson W. Aldrich Jr., and released on 21 October 2008. The book offers memories of Plimpton from among others writers such as Norman Mailer, William Styron, Gay Talese and Gore Vidal and was done with the cooperation of both his ex-wife and his widow.
In 2006 Jonathan Coulton recorded 'A Talk with George' as part of his 'Thing A Week' series. The song mentions his career and exploits.
In addition, an asteroid was named for George Plimpton.
A feature length documentary about George, directed by Tom Bean and Luke Poling, is currently in post-production. It will be completed and released sometime in 2011.
Plimpton was married twice. His first wife, whom he married in 1968 and divorced in 1988, was Freddy Medora Espy, a photographer's assistant. She was the daughter of writers Willard R. Espy and Hilda S. Cole, who had earlier in her career been the publicity agent for Kate Smith and Fred Waring. They had two children: Medora Ames Plimpton and Taylor Ames Plimptom, who has published a memoir entitled “Notes From the Night: A Life After Dark.”
In 1992 he married Sarah Whitehead Dudley, a graduate of Columbia University and a freelance writer. She is the daughter of James Chittenden Dudley, a managing partner of Dudley & Company, a Manhattan-based investment management firm and a geologist and Elisabeth Claypool. James and Elisabeth established the 36-acre Highstead Arboretum in Redding, Connecticut. George and Sarah were the parents of twin daughters, Laura Dudley Plimpton and Olivia Hartley Plimpton.
Plimpton died in 2003 of natural causes at his apartment in New York City, New York at the age of 76.
Letters in Training (letters to home from Italy, privately printed, 1946)
The Rabbit's Umbrella (children's book, 1955)
Out Of My League (baseball, 1961)
Go Caroline, (about Caroline Kennedy, privately printed, 1963)
Paper Lion (about his experience playing professional football with the Detroit Lions, 1966)
The Bogey Man (about his experiences travelling with the PGA Tour, 1967)
Mad Ducks and Bears (about Detroit Lions linemen Alex Karras and John Gordy, 1973)
Shadow Box (about boxing, author's bout with Archie Moore, Ali-Foreman showdown in Zaire, 1977)
One More July (about the last NFL training camp of former Packer and future coach Bill Curry, 1977)
Edie: An American Biography (1982)
Fireworks: A History and Celebration (1984)
Open Net (about his experience playing professional ice hockey with the Boston Bruins, (1985)
The Curious Case of Sidd Finch (a novel that extends a Sports Illustrated April Fools piece about a fictitious baseball pitcher who could throw over 160 mph (250 km/h), 1987)
The X Factor: A Quest for Excellence (1990)
Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (1997)
Writers at Work (The Paris Review Interviews), several volumes
American Journey: the Times of Robert Kennedy (with Jean Stein)
The Writer's Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from the 20th Century's Preeminent Writers
Above New York's by Robert Cameron)
The Detective (1968)
Rio Lobo (1970) (Plimpton's preparation and filming for his role as "Fourth Gunman" was the subject of a television program.)
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
Little Man Tate (1991)
L.A. Story (1991)
Ken Burns' Baseball (1994)
Just Cause (1995)
Good Will Hunting (Miramax, 1997) as Dr. Henry Lipkin, Psychologist
When We Were Kings (1997) as himself, Reporter
The Last Days of Disco (1998)
Just Visiting (2001)
Factory Girl (2006)
Soul Power (2008) as himself
Plimpton! The Man on the Flying Trapeze, (documentary), himself, ABC, Feb 1971
Mouseterpiece Theater, host, himself, Disney Channel, 1983—1984
The Civil War, reading the diary of New Yorker, George Templeton Strong, 1990
Wings, "The Shrink," Dr. Grayson 1994
Voice, Baseball, PBS 1994
Married... with Children, 200 Episode Special Host "Best O' Bundy" 1995
ER, playing "John Truman Carter, Sr.," 1998 and 2001
Saturday Night Live, as himself, uncredited, 1999 and 2002 (In the March 13 Episode of Saturday Night Live Season 1, he is one of the audience cutaway shots (usually featured in the early seasons with comedic and fictitious non-sequitur captions as to whom the audience member was, or what they did). He is labelled as having "Roomed with Wendy Yoshimura".
A Nero Wolfe Mystery, playing various roles in 10 episodes, 2001—2002
The Simpsons, playing himself in the episode "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can", originally aired February 16, 2003
Just Shoot Me, playing himself in the show's A&E Biography of fictional character 'Nina Van Horn', 2003
Commercial appearances on television
Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, pitchman, himself, released by Oldsmobile in late 1968 for the 1969 model year
Intellivision, pitchman, himself, released by Mattel in 1979
Plimpton appears as a character in Philip Roth's novel, Exit Ghost
Plimpton is the subject of the song A Talk With George by folk-rock musician Jonathan Coulton
Aldrich, Nelson W. George, Being George: George Plimpton's Life as Told, Admired, Deplored, and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals--and a Few Unappreciative Observers New York. Publisher: Random House, Inc., 2009 ISBN 0-8129-7418-2.
Chase, Levi Badger A genealogy and historical notices of the family of Plimpton or Plympton in America : and of Plumpton in England. Publisher: Plimpton Mfg. Company 1884.
Swetz, Frank, J. 1987. Capitalism and Arithmetic. La Salle: Open Court.
The author describes his years of working with Plimpton in Paris.