Famed participatory journalist George Plimpton (1927–2003) was a writer, editor, amateur sportsman, actor, and friend to many. THIRTEEN’s American Masters series showcases his remarkable life in Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself, premiering nationally Friday, May 16, 9-10:30 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).
The documentary is both a chronicle of one of the last century’s most intriguing characters, as well as a cinematic adaption of his nuanced and funny literary style. Using Plimpton’s own narration, new interviews with friends, family and contemporaries, and extensive archival material, the film creates a compelling portrait of a one-of-a-kind person who lived fully, strangely and incredibly. Plimpton co-founded and worked as the editor of influential literary magazine The Paris Review for 50 years (1953-2003). The Paris Review and Plimpton’s widow Sarah Dudley Plimpton, granted filmmakers Tom Bean and Luke Poling full access to George’s private archives, including previously unseen material.
Aside from his work at The Paris Review, Plimpton wrote for Sports Illustrated; hung out with U.S. Presidents and was part of the Kennedys’ inner circle; played quarterback for the Detroit Lions; got Willie Mays to pop out in Yankee Stadium; photographed Playboy models; played goalie for the Boston Bruins; performed with the New York Philharmonic; boxed against light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore; acted alongside John Wayne, Warren Beatty and Matt Damon; and authored more than 15 books, including Out of My League (1961), Paper Lion (1966) and The Bogey Man (1967). Some of Plimpton’s DIY journalism stunts were turned into primetime network television films, including his circus flying trapeze act, African wildlife photography for Life magazine, and attempt at stand-up comedy.
Sharing these experiences and more, American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself is about football, literature, magazines, fireworks, hockey, movies, presidents, lawn chairs, geniuses, and the true tall tale that brought them all together. Featured interviews include Robert Kennedy, Jr.; Hugh Hefner; Gay Talese; Graydon Carter; Ken Burns; Ric Burns; James Lipton; The Paris Review co-founder and childhood friend Peter Matthiessen; Sports Illustrated Media Group editor and The Paris Review board member Terry McDonell; former The Paris Review editor and founder/editor of The New York Review of Books Robert Silvers; novelists James Salter and Jay McInerney; his widow Sarah; children Medora and Taylor; siblings Oakes and Sarah Gay; and first wife Freddy Plimpton.
“George’s life was about seeking out and trying new things, regardless of the outcome. And as an artist, his life was his greatest work of art,” said co-director, co-writer and co-producer Tom Bean. “We hope Plimpton! inspires audiences to find that adventurous spirit within themselves and the desire to live life to the fullest.”
“For the uninitiated, we hope our introduction makes new audiences fall in love with George Plimpton. For the people who knew and read him, we hope our movie brings him and his joie de vivre back for 90 minutes,” added co-director, co-writer and co-producer Luke Poling (Twelve).
“George Plimpton was a deft curator of the literary elite via The Paris Review, the cultural elite via his storied parties and, above all, the human experience,” said Stephen Segaller, executive-in-charge of American Masters and vice president of programming for WNET. “Who’d have thought a man nicknamed ‘Mr. Zero’ would also be called an ‘American Master’?”