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Biofile George Plimpton Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Occupation: Journalist, writer, editor, actor. Author of Open Net, Paper Lion, Out Of My League, among other titles.

DOB: March 18, 1927 (Passed in 2003) In: New York, N.Y.

Childhood Heroes: “Carl Hubbell. A left-handed pitcher with the Giants. He was a screwball pitcher. His arm was deformed. I used to carry my arm like he did so I could tell them I was a screwball pitcher.”

Nicknames: “GEE, GAP – my initials, Gapster, Kennedy – Muhammad Ali thought I looked like a Kennedy.”

Hobbies/Interests: “Bird watching – my grandfather was a botanist. I was always taught to watch nature. Fireworks nut. Always fascinated by fireworks. A great pastime. I wrote a book on fireworks.”

Favorite Movies: “Gunga Din, Bringing Up Baby, Destiny Rides Again.”

Favorite TV Shows: “The Honeymooners. David Letterman. Great fan of Letterman and before him Johnny Carson, Jack Paar and Steve Allen. MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour. All nature shows.”

Musical Tastes: “Piano concertos, Brahms, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, The Beatles, Grateful Dead – my son got me into them. I enjoy the concerts. Astonished by them.”

Favorite Books: “Mark Twain Huckleberry Finn. Hemingway’s short stories. JD Salinger Catcher In The Rye. Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island. A.J. Liebling. Charles Dickens. Thackery Vanity Fair. Paul Gallico Farewell To Sport.

First Job: “Riveter at an airplane factory building P-47s. The Thunderbolt. A fighter plane during the war. Called the flying milk bottle. Had a stubby nose and a tapered tail. Built in Farmingdale, Long Island.”

First Car: “1939 red and purple four-door Plymouth. A touring car with a canvas top. It was my dad’s.”

Favorite Meal: “Roast chicken, rice, string beans, ginger ale, a pie or ice cream for dessert.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Chocolate.”

Childhood Ambition: “A Major League player. I didn’t think that much about that. I had absolutely no idea. Still don’t. That’s why I’ve tried so many professions – boxer, hockey, football, baseball, basketball, journalist, editor.”

Biggest Sports Thrill: “Bobby Thomson’s home run in the playoff game vs. the Dodgers in 1950. I was studying at the University of Cambridge in England. I was a Giants fan. I remember I was playing bridge. When I heard, I toppled backward off my chair. My foot went through the table I was so excited.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “Playing in Yankee Stadium. Getting Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn out in a post-season game. It was The Willie Mays All-Stars vs. The Mickey Mantle All-Stars. Ashburn popped out to the catcher. Mays popped up to Billy Martin. I’m not going to tell you what happened after that [smiles].”

Favorite Athletes To Watch: “Charlie Ward – I’m fasincated by Ward. Incredible to watch him. Reggie Lewis. Barry Sanders – it’s wonderful to see a relatively small man do so well. Steffi Graf. Monica Seles. Martina Navratilova. George Foreman. Evander Holyfield. Jim Courier – I liked when he spoke French to the French and Spanish to the Spanish. And when he stayed in the Olympic village instead of some expensive, old-fashioned hotel. I liked that.”

Interesting Fact: “I’ve never eaten an olive or chewed a piece of gum. Warren Beatty knows I’ve never eaten an olive. He’s a great friend of mine. Whenever he calls, he always asks, ‘Is this the man who’s never eaten an olive?’ Gum? I never did it. Seemed unattractive to me.”

Most Treasured Possession: “A Boston Celtics watch. I played with the Celtics in 1969. That was a championship winning team. Once it got squished by a car wheel. I had it replaced. It loses about five minutes a day.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “Bill Clinton. David Dinkins. George Bush. Bobby Kennedy. Muhammad Ali – a man of conviction. Mario Cuomo. Tom Harkin of Iowa. My mother Pauline, she’s 92. My son. My daughter. Ted Williams. Short-order cooks – people who are enormously skillful. They can handle several different orders of eggs at the same time. Over-easy, scrambled. I have a tough time with one egg. They’ve got to deal with angry truckers who just woke up. That’s skill.”

Education: Harvard University. University of Cambridge.

(Note: This interview was conducted in 1996 at George Plimpton’s residence in New York City. It was first published at the now defunct ESPN Sportszone web site on Nov. 13, 1996.)

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