George Plimpton was the founding editor of the Paris Review and continued editing it for five decades. He was the first to publish Jack Kerouac, Jay McInerney and Jonathan Franzen (and others whose name did not begin with J). He also, as the almost-finished documentary "Plimpton!" rattles off in a preview video (after the jump), pitched to Willie Mays at Yankee Stadium and wrote about it; played football with the Detroit Lions, hockey with the Boston Bruins, basketball with the Boston Celtics, and wrote about all of them; photographed Playboy models and wrote about it; played with the New York Philharmonic (the triangle was all they'd give him) and wrote about it. He acted in films, dated Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, performed at an amateur night at the Apollo Theater and was at the Ambassador Hotel when Bobby Kennedy was shot; he helped wrestle the gun from Sirhan Sirhan's hand.
He also, they say, threw really good parties.
Plimpton was a popular journalist, the kind of guy whose sports writing even my non-literary dad would read. "Paper Lion," his book about playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions, was popular enough to be made into the 1968 film starring Alan Alda.
Now a pair of filmmakers has put George Plimpton's life front and center with their feature documentary "Plimpton!" They've interviewed dozens of people and dug into archives and are pretty much done with the film. Their Kickstarter campaign is to raise funds to license all the archival film clips and images they want to use. The plan is to raise $25,000 to finish the movie; with 29 days left, they've got less than half to go.
All the things Plimpton did, and his likable, recognizable pop culture persona, may have come to obscure the skill with which he wrote. While Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion became known for pioneering a new kind of literary journalism that allowed the writer to be present in the text, adapting techniques from fiction to tell their stories -- Plimpton went a step further to be an immersive journalist. We see this all the time now, particularly in nonficiton books: Someone reads the dictionary, performs karaoke, teaches at prison and writes about it. But Plimpton was an early, exceptional practitioner.
Plimpton died in 2003 at the age of 76. With the help of Kickstarter donations, "Plimpton!" may be on its way soon.