Essay: George Plimpton: The Professional Amateur

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There is no such confusion in Manhattan, where Plimpton's parties and partygoings are assiduously chronicled by the columnists and where he conducts one of America's few literary salons in his East Side apartment. Among other things, he is editor of the Paris Review, a fine literary quarterly. Until his marriage to Freddy Espy 21 years ago, at the age of 41, Plimpton was probably the most sought after bachelor in the U.S.—the escort, at one time or another, of Jacqueline Kennedy, her sister Lee Radziwill, Ava Gardner, Jane Fonda, Jean Seberg and Candice Bergen. He has also been a long and close friend of the Kennedys'—"a kind of choric figure," in the words of one of his friends, to that family's tragic saga. In fact, so familiar is the Plimpton name, so ubiquitous the Plimpton presence, that there is something of a Plimpton backlash. Manhattan is the center of what amounts to a club of Plimpton haters, who simply cannot stand the thought of George gamely attempting some new and improbable feat.

What neither the Plimpton haters nor the Plimptonphiles realize is that he is something else as well. Behind his several masks and costumes lurks an excellent and greatly underrated writer. His primary problem is that almost nobody takes a book on sports seriously. The public, to be sure, has bought his books—Out of My League, Paper Lion and The Bogey Man have sold nearly 2,000,000 copies in both hard-cover and paperback—and the critics have generally been enthusiastic. Yet both readers and reviewers have inferentially relegated Plimpton to the special, segregated subcategory of journalism reserved for the sportswriter. And a sportswriter, even a very good sportswriter, is still, in most people's eyes, only a sportswriter.

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