Cocktails With George, Alex & The Wrestler Who Never WasMonday, January 15, 2007
My friend John Lekich suggested that I keep on the drinking theme by writing about our mutual experience with George Plimpton at the Wedgewood Hotel on November 1990. I threw the suggestion back and told him, "You write it."
When Alex suggested that I reminisce about our professional encounter with the late George Plimpton back in the early nineties, I was delighted to oblige. Alex and I have collaborated on many articles over the years. But the founder of the famed Paris Review – a legendary editor, writer and raconteur who launched his distinguished career by interviewing Dorothy Parker – is the only subject who ever suggested that we indulge in a cocktail before noon.
True to his impeccable Ivy League breeding, Plimpton offered us first crack at the little bottles in the hotel mini-bar before indulging in his personal choice of a gin and tonic. I recall a distinct thrill at raising a glass in the company of a man who was one of the guests at Truman Capote’s famed Black and White Ball back in the sixties.
As the originator of “participatory journalism” – a form of reportage that saw the young and gangly Plimpton partake in everything from boxing with Archie Moore to playing goal for the Boston Bruins – Alex and I were startled to discover that his most terrifying professional experience was playing the triangle under the demanding baton of Leonard Bernstein. At the time, George was toying with the idea of managing a wrestler who limited his ringside banter exclusively to Shakespearean text. As an example, he mimed an overhead body slam and roared: “I am the grass! I cover all!” When I suggested that he was still spry enough to actually play the role of cultivated wrester, his eyes lit up with excitement. “Do you really think I could do it?” he asked.
For the rest of our time together, George reclined on the bed and related intimate stories of his friendships with everyone from Hemingway to A.J. Liebling. He had that rare quality of being perfectly elegant and perfectly relaxed at the same time. When Alex suggested a portrait that involved Plimpton toying with the stem of his eyeglasses, his response proved that he was both a seasoned journalist and a true gentleman. “Of course,” he said. “I’ll do anything you’d like.”
A few years ago, I bumped into the publicist who shepherded him around town that day. “He couldn’t believe that you knew so much about who he really was,” she recalled. “You made him so very happy.” I went home, fixed myself a gin and tonic and thought of George.