THE DOCUMENTARY "Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself" on "American Masters"
WHEN|WHERE Friday night at 9 on WNET/13
WHAT IT'S ABOUT George Plimpton, who died in 2003, was one of the great characters of the 20th century. The founder of the Paris Review, his day job was writer for Sports Illustrated, where he famously wrote pieces as a participant in various sports -- quarterback for the Detroit Lions may have been his most famous mission. But it wasn't just sports -- Plimpton "participated" with the New York Philharmonic, too. The resulting books were huge bestsellers. This jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none (save writing) used the proceeds from his many adventures to save the Review, which survives to this day.
MY SAY The best "American Masters" are the ones that approach their subject with a sense of love as opposed to a sense of reverence. This portrait -- by Tom Bean and Luke Poling -- falls into the former category.
Because journalism is largely an ephemeral business, Plimpton's life's works have mostly receded into the past -- still admired, seldom read, and dusty monuments to a part of the craft that ended with Plimpton. That's too bad. He was a fine writer and he was definitely on to something, though what that something is is not entirely made clear here.
But like that famous line from the famous poem, it's still nice to know that "what will survive of us is love." And much love survives Plimpton.
How is this possible? He was obviously a ham, was careless with his public image, and would have been the first to admit that he was a dilettante. Tonight's film gets to the full answer: He was a gourmand for life, but especially for the lives of others. He loved it all, wanted to try it all ... and apparently did.
There are many observations about Plimpton, all attempts to cast light into the core of the man, but this comment by former Islanders coach Mike Milbury seems to get closest: "There wasn't anybody he didn't want to try to understand."
That may have been Plimpton's greatest accomplishment -- he ultimately did and the joy of his efforts still radiates.
BOTTOM LINE A hell of a lot of fun. George Plimpton would heartily approve.