George Plimpton certainly had pedigree. His father was “a successful corporate lawyer who became the American ambassador to the United Nations,” the New York Times noted in his obituary. “The family traced its roots in this country to the Mayflower. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard and Cambridge.”
This pedigree no doubt accounted for his Plimpton’s distinguished speaking voice, which “came from a different era,” Plimpton’s son Taylor once wrote. “Old New England, old New York, tinged with a hint of King’s College King’s English. You heard it and it could only be him.”
Now the voice, style and the rest of Plimpton’s incredibly rich and varied life are all on display in a new documentary, “Plimpton!” which premiers today in Silver Spring, MD.
The great irony — and the great gift that Plimpton gave to everyone — was that he was so willing to shed “his usual blue blazer, oxford shirt, and tie” in order to engage in the participatory journalism for which he became so well known. As the New York Times noted, Plimpton “believed that it was not enough for writers of nonfiction to simply observe; they needed to immerse themselves in whatever they were covering to understand fully what was involved.”
An avid sportsman, Plimpton variously boxed Archie Moore, quarterbacked the Detroit Lions in a scrimmage, and played goalie for the Boston Bruins. These experiences produced the books “Shadow Box,” “Paper Lion” and “Open Net,” plus at least a dozen others, along with many magazine articles and over twenty film and TV appearances, in several of which he played up his blueblood image for laughs.
Plimpton even did commercials for Oldsmobile, Pop Secret (“leaves fewer unpopped keh-nehls“), and a video-game system called Intellivision.
But the best pairing of all — for us, at least — was in 1993 when Brooks Brothers asked him to write a six-page tribute in The Atlantic in celebration of the store’s 175th anniversary. For a visit to the Brooks flagship at 44th and Madison, Plimpton tried to outfit himself in Brooks from head to foot.
It was not too difficult, since I have been a patron for years, as was my father before me, and his father before him. I missed out only on the shoes. I have an unnaturally wide foot, a triple E, and their shoe department stops at a single E, shoes that would have caused a wince at every step if I could have squeezed into them. But the rest was all theirs – socks, underwear, tie, a white button-down shirt, and a slightly rumpled seersucker suit, which was appropriate because it was a hot summer day.
Now that’s participatory journalism at its most well-attired. — MATTHEW BENZ
Recently GQ said John Updike was in as a style icon while Jack Kerouac was all washed up and played out. And last week the magazine’s web site put up a slideshow. No new images for you guys perhaps, but maybe for the younger and/or less literate out there.
Remains to be seen if fashion followers take up his rumpled literary look, of course.
The image above, by the way, is from 1988. — CC
Perhaps because he’s a football player, Dink Stover has been at Yale for a hundred years. Hey, the real world is coarse and common, would you want to leave?
One hundred years ago this month Owen Johnson published his college novel “Stover At Yale,” which is long on novel but short on college. I attempted to read this some 15 years ago and didn’t get very far. No surprise I can’t find it in my bookcase.
Alexander Nazaryan of The New York Daily News did a fine write-up yesterday about the book’s anniversary, as well as its shortcomings (Yale and academic life figure little in the novel, the protagonist being interested solely in football and social advancement). The article also acknowledges the current phenomenon we refer to as Ivy Trendwatch. — CC
A sign of civilization in an age where the edgy, extreme and downright trashy are lauded daily, the April issue of GQ encourages readers to “kill their style icons,” and suggests trading Jack Kerouac for John Updike.
Kerouac went to Columbia, but was too bohemian to dress Ivy League. Updike, on the other hand, went to Harvard and it shows.
Here’s Ivy Style’s tribute post following the author’s death in 2009. — CC
“Entry E” is something of a pulp novel, telling a tale of Ivy League life in America that was considered startling on its release in 1958. But for all the adolescent angst and raucous action in this story, there is plenty of mid-century Ivy League style and quiet consideration of the “Ivy Man,” described in knowledgeable detail by the book’s author, Richard Frede, a Yale graduate.
Set in the residence hall Entry E at the fictitious Hayden University (an unconvincing alias for the real Entry E in Timothy Dwight College at Yale, where Frede resided during his time in New Haven), the novel follows Ed Bogard, an average student who becomes aware of an unsavory plan: A group of men in his entry are preparing to drug a visiting college girl over the weekend with grain alcohol and Benzedrine, rendering her defenceless to their advances. Will Bogard speak out, or will he be another example of America’s “silent generation”?
As Bogard wrestles with the typical challenge of discovering himself at college and finding his voice to speak out, there is the introduction of the “Slide Rule” and “Third Person,” imaginary entities that appear at times when Bogard feels most challenged, depressed or conflicted. But it is telling that the most interesting manifestation of his conscience, the Third Person, is a perfectly turned-out handsome man whom Bogard sees for the first time at a country club dance while at prep school:
In his mind Bogard stared at a handsome, patently omniscient paragon of a man; a man who had just stepped out of some mists Bogard had never before noticed in his mind a man dressed in a white dinner jacket and Bermuda shorts and a bow tie of the same brilliant yellow, orange, and red plaid; a man who grinned omnisciently back at Bogard and said, “The plaid of my ancestors, a warm and noble group, both emotional and adventurous, a trait which, I am afraid, you and your friends do not understand.” A man with a horrendously straight and cynical grin; a man who grinned omnisciently back at Bogard and patiently said once again, “Why don’t you go over and ask her for a date.”
Bogard doesn’t get the girl, and this love/hate relationship with the Third Person reaches its fever pitch upon enrolment at college, not least because this was Bogard’s chance to become just as well attired as his imaginary nemesis. (Continue)