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William C. Altreuter
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Friday, September 26, 2003

Just the fact that there was a George Plimpton made the word a funnier, more intelligent place. Don't kid yourself that it was all a stunt, either: Plimpton wrote with more insight and wit about being a male American in the late 20th century than almost anyone. I think part of the secret was that he knew exactly how to treat subjects that most people either take too seriously, or don't take seriously enough. Paper Lion remains one of the two or three best books ever written about the NFL. Golf is easier, but The Bogey Man is hilarious, with its fantasy descriptions of the Japanese admirals that live in his head hollering into speaking tubes: "Keep your head down! Keep your wrists locked!" As I am writing this, there is a copy of Mad Ducks and Bears on the window sill behind me-- a good example of how Plimpton was able to use other people's voices to create his own unique voice.

Think about his interview with Ernest Hemingway for the Paris Review-- or the Paris Review itself, one of the coolest projects of the late twentieth century-- and it was all him.

I met him once, after a talk he gave at the Bay Shore Brightwaters Public Library. He was clever, and urbane, but approachable (what was I 16? But he took the time to talk to me). 76 is too young. I already miss him as though he were a friend. Who wouldn't want to be George Plimpton? A better athlete than he pretended to be, a skilled writer, a charming man who went places and did things, and made it all look easy.

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