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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > EASTSIDER GEORGE PLIMPTON
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Author, editor and adventurer


It was an unusual statement to come from a man who has made a career out of fearing nothing. "I'm scared to death every time I sit down at a typewriter," confessed George Plimpton, who, in his 20 years as America's foremost "participatory journalist," has played football with the Detroit Lions, fought the light heavyweight champion of the world, pitched to major league baseball players, raced cars internationally, and performed with the New York Philharmonic as a percussionist.

"Sometimes you can do it, and sometimes it's not there," continued Plimpton, leaning back in the desk chair at his Eastside apartment. "It's very hard to work alone. There's the television set, and all these books, and your son and daughter in the next room. Sometimes I have to get away. So I go to bars and I sit in a corner and write. You're trapped in there. There's nothing else to do but write."

As we sat talking, the telephone rang frequently, and Plimpton, apologizing for the interruption, spoke to the callers with widely varying degrees of enthusiasm, but was consistently polite, urbane and witty. I noticed a hint of an English accent in his voice — the result of his early education at St. Bernard's School on the Upper East Side, followed much later by four years of study in England. It is easy to imagine him stepping into a boxing ring like an English gentleman, calmly lacing on his gloves for a friendly bout.

Which is precisely what he did in 1959 when, for the purpose of one of his countless stories for Sports Illustrated, he took on Archie Moore, then king of the light heavyweight division, for a three-round exhibition match in New York. Since that time, Plimpton has never lost his interest in boxing. A close friend of Muhammad Ali's who has followed the champion around the world, he made Ali the chief character of his book Shadow Box, which came out in paperback this month from Berkley. As with most of Plimpton's works, the story is told with an abundance of humor.

Currently at work on three new books, Plimpton emphasized that he writes on many subjects outside of sports. A lifelong friend of the Kennedy family, he has co-authored an oral history volume titled American Journey: The Times of Robert F. Kennedy. He is an associate editor of Harper's magazine and a regular contributor to the International Food & Wine Review. His first love, in fact, seems to be not sports at all, but the Paris Review, a magazine for up-and-coming serious writers that he has edited since............
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