George Plimpton Biography: George Being George
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Nelson Aldrich
Nelson W. Aldrich Jr.
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“This superb, exuberant oral biography of editor-author-actor Plimpton (1927–2003) is described by Aldrich as “a kind of literary party, George's last.”
Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review)

As the subtitle makes clear—“George Plimpton's Life as Told, Admired, Deplored, and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals—and a Few Unappreciative Observers”—this is modeled after the cut-and-paste technique employed in Edie, Plimpton and Jean Stein's book about actress-model Edie Sedgwick. In addition to Plimpton family members, the 200 voices that speak here include David Amram, Harold Bloom, Christopher Cerf, Jules Feiffer, Norman Mailer, Peter Matthiessen, William Styron, Gay Talese and Gore Vidal. The chronological coverage spans Plimpton's life, from his privileged childhood, education at Exeter and Harvard and life in the U.K. at King's College, Cambridge, to his books, movies and legendary parties. His five decades editing The Paris Review and the inner workings of that publication are detailed in depth. When one scans any page at random in this appealing assemblage of anecdotes, it becomes difficult to stop reading. Plimpton's colorful personality emerges in a high-definition prismatic portrait.”
Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review)

“With his editorial team, including Plimpton’s widow and ex-wife, Aldrich arranged for some 374 interviews with people who’d known Plimpton in various capacities. Family, classmates, lovers, staffers, axe-grinders (not too many), fans and fools—all offered memories, conclusions, regrets, appreciations. Aldrich employs a rough though never rigid chronology throughout these reminiscences, which vary in length from a few sentences to a page or two. Some of the contributors—Mary Lee Settle and Norman Mailer among them—died before the book’s publication date. Mailer offers some incisive observations, including a comic and touching exchange with Philip Roth about urination at Plimpton’s memorial service. We hear about Plimpton’s patrician accent; his tennis skills (considerable); his bicycling (always sans helmet); his failures in school (Exeter bounced him); his struggles to establish himself in the literary world; his seductiveness with donors to his review; his drinking and partying (including some attendance at orgies). His determination appears throughout. While researching his landmark 1966 book, Paper Lion, he endured physical punishment from the Detroit Lions but never missed a practice. He remained editor of the The Paris Review until his dying day. He continued to support his first wife when her second marriage disintegrated. Many people remember that he was a masterful toastmaster—the best in New York, admitted a grudging Mailer. There are also many amusing moments scattered about, as when someone observed him entering “Malcolm X” into his address book under “X.” The impressive contributors list reads like a literati’s dream: among many others, Chris Cerf, Robert Gottlieb, Philip Gourevitch, Hugh Hefner, P.J. O’Rourke, William Styron, Gore Vidal and Edmund White.
Kirkus

“Its sometimes pitiless honesty (the two wives, though loving, are especially blunt) balances the encomiums and charming anecdotes. Plimpton, a child of privilege, made it his business to be everywhere, to see and do everything.”
— “Briefly Noted,” The New Yorker
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“The oral biography—a medium in which Plimpton himself excelled, having edited gossipy tomes about Edie Sedgwick and Truman Capote—is an appropriate format to introduce the reader to Plimpton, a gifted confabulator who knew how to render conversation into text. Chronology is occasionally scrambled by Aldrich’s thematic grouping of quotes, but this excellent book keeps its momentum as it captures the hyperkinetic spirit of a literary celebrity and gregarious bon vivant. ‘The only unlikely thing he did, the only thing that seemed out of character, was dying,’ says Roy Blount Jr. of Plimpton’s legendary élan. ‘It didn’t seem like the sort of thing that he would do.’
— Megan Doll, Time Out New York
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“Blithely detached bystanders, beware — this book will keep you up at night with regrets for all the women unravished, assassins untackled, and jungles untrekked.”
Very Short List
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  “When one scans any page at random in this appealing assemblage of anecdotes, it becomes difficult to stop reading. Plimpton's colorful personality emerges in a high-definition prismatic portrait.”
Publishers Weekly

“I had this strong feeling it wasn't an affectation. It was an accent that might exist elsewhere; you just hadn't met any other other people who spoke that way, and you probably hadn't met them because you really weren't haute enough to be allowed into their presence.”
—Calvin Trillin
  John Wanye and George Plimpton in Rio Lobo
John Wayne and George in Rio Lobo

Book party at Seventy-second Street. From left: Steve Clark, a Batman, Molly McGrann, Dan Glover, George and Andy Berlin. Photograph by Ann Kidd.
Book party at Seventy-second Street. From left: Steve Clark, a Batman, Molly McGrann, Dan Glover, George, and Andy Bellin. Photograph by Ann Kidd.

First Issue of The Paris Review
First Issue of The Paris Review
 




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