From the Desk of Garrison Keillor
A prolific writer, Garrison Keillor is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. To the right, you find a selection of articles published since 1989, and a few unpublished pieces.

Remembering Plimpton
October 2003

A month has passed since my friend George Plimpton died, and I am still thinking about George. He was 76, fifteen years older, a vulnerable age, but as Roy Blount said, "I was astonished that George died. It was so unlike him." And it was deeply confusing, a few weeks after his death, to attend the 50th anniversary party in New York for The Paris Review, which George edited since its founding in Paris in 1953. It was George's party and he had arranged for the can-can dancers and the fireworks, and then there I was emceeing it. Billy Collins was there, and Alec Baldwin read Jack Kerouac, and Kurt Vonnegut made a toast, and at the end of it, the young Paris Review staff came to the stage for a standing O, and hundreds of George's pals were there, famous authors, movie stars, living legends, and Peter Duchin's orchestra, but the host himself was missing and that left a hole in the middle of the proceedings.

I am not like George Plimpton. I have the social skills of a marmot. He was Exeter, Harvard, Cambridge, and the Upper East Side, and I'm not, so we weren't born to be friends, and he had that odd fruity accent that sounded like he had a bandage around his tongue, but he was a man with beautiful manners and that goes a long way to smooth over life's little irregularities. Even if you weren't close to George, he made you think you were. He beamed at you from his great height under his thatch of white hair as if he were resuming a delightful conversation that had been interrupted six months ago and now here you were rejoined, thank God. He crashed a party at my apartment once and sat at the dining room table deep into the night jiggling a glass of Scotch and holding court and at first it irritated me to hear him rambling on about Hemingway at the bar at the Ritz and then, like everyone else, I got pulled into the story. George relished being an Old Guy of Letters who had known Hemingway and E.M. Forster and Ezra Pound and Frost and the other statuettes on the shelf and he was glad to reminisce about them and their lady friends and revels, and thus, subtly, he included you in the great club of writers that extends back across the centuries. He was a grand storyteller, East Side accent and all, and I remember thinking that night, "Nobody does this much anymore. There ought to be less lit.crit in college and more of this, what Hemingway smelled like and how he liked his eggs in the morning and what his conversation was about." I saw George last summer when he and John Updike and I did the Charlie Rose show, and afterward he walked me down Park Avenue and insisted on taking me up to the New York Racquet Club and showing me a tennis court there modeled after the one Henry VIII played on, with walls and a roof to play the ball off. He explained the arcane rules of court tennis to me, and then took me down to the library where he told about the book he'd found in which an Old Member had hidden his correspondence with his mistress. George relished the notion of passion among the staid and stately, an old financier describing a woman's breasts as "gleaming rosy-tipped orbs". He offered me a drink. "Okay," I said. Sitting there in the den of privilege, leather chairs and hushed footsteps and all, I felt as if I could see George at last despite all my Midwestern biases.

A Midwesterner can be awfully snooty toward a Harvard East Side guy and George was a gent whose social circle intersected with the Bushes' but he was generous in his soul and had gone off on a big adventure when he went to Paris at the age of 26, and that was his real true love, The Paris Review and the business of publishing fiction and poetry that not many people care to read. Literary quarterlies like the Review bestow friendship on writers, a great blessing, and only a writer knows how crucial this can be. In literature, as elsewhere, when you're famous you can write your own ticket and when you're nobody, it's hard to find anyone who will give you the time of day. George admired writers for their bravery. He was brave himself. He bestowed his attention on them, he was a tireless encourager, and generosity is what is next to godliness.

He went to Paris in 1953, a sunny time when America was admired as the savior of Europe and the exchange rate was good and you could rent a room for $15 a month and dine well for a dollar. And the authorities were tolerant of the extravagant gestures of the young. He and his friends Peter Matthiessen and Donald Hall and Robert Silvers were all there, hanging out in the Café de Tournon, writing, drinking vin ordinaire, looking for Hemingway, living proudly in tiny cold fifth-floor walk-ups, being artists. They were thousands of miles away from anyone they might meet on the street who would ask, "What are you doing these days?" like dogs sniffing your resume, expecting you to say, "I'm here for a few days and starting medical school in the fall," expecting you to have a reasonable plan for your life.

Jacqueline Bouvier spent her junior year of college in Paris and remembered meeting George then. "All the most brilliant and romantic young men were involved with the magazine and all the girls were vivid. We were discovering a city, discovering Europe, literature, and art sur place—slight expatriates all, determined that our lives would not be mundane .... I remember sitting with you in an airless hole of a nightclub on the Boulevard Raspail. You, rather pale in a black turtleneck sweater, told me how the blue notes of saxophones through smoke-filled haze ushered in the dawns for you, and how you would walk the gray Paris streets in the first light back to a strange bed."

I came away from the party thinking about what terrific parents the guy must have had. In Paris in 1953, George visited the Hotel Plaza Athenee from time to time to write letters on hotel stationery and assure the folks that he was fine, just fine, and then returned to the toolshed where he lived, sleeping on an army cot among a platoon of alley cats. The elder Plimptons smiled on his adventure and didn't bully him into taking up his cross and going down to Wall Street. And now his life was over, and here was a party with 800 people in attendance, most of whom felt really close to him, in addition to his readers who may feel even closer. His books Paper Lion and Out of My League are part of the permanent literature of sports. George was 26 years old right up into his seventies. You can't really mourn a man who got a life as good as that.



Past Articles
  • Phil Keillor Benefit for the Tenney Park Shelter (04/17/09)
  • Bill Holm, 1943–2009 (02/26/09)
  • Happy New Year, Friends (12/29/08)
  • Talk of the Stacks (11/17/08)
  • What Makes St. Paul So Great? (09/03/08)
  • GK On Historic Preservation (10/05/07)
  • Welcome to St. Paul (09/23/06)
  • "Homegrown Democrat," Chapters 1-4 (08/10/04)
  • Sing the National Anthem—and Try it in the Key of G (07/02/04)
  • Holiday Greetings from Garrison Keillor (12/23/03)
  • Remembering Plimpton (10/01/03)
  • Crankiness in Decline, Says the Old Guy (04/19/02)
  • A Governor Works in Mysterious Ways (10/19/01)
  • In Praise of Laziness (09/10/01)
  • I Just Needed a Valve Job (09/13/01)
  • A Eulogy for Chet Atkins (07/03/01)
  • A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra (04/01)
  • Exile on Main Street (10/02/00)
  • Walking Down the Canyon (07/31/00)
  • The Mysteries of Prom Night (05/15/00)
  • How I Write (12/04/99)
  • The Christmas of the Great Flu (12/99)
  • Let Jesse Be Jesse (10/10/99)
  • The Rice, the Bat, the Baby (09/06/99)
  • Faith at the Speed of Life (06/14/99)
  • The Republicans Were Right, But (02/15/99)
  • Minnesota's Excellent Ventura (11/16/98)
  • The Dangers of Christmas (04/06/98)
  • Gasgate (11/10/97)
  • Talk Radio (10/97)
  • The Seven Principles of a Successful Christmas (09/08/97)
  • The Seven Deadly Sins—Envy (04/97)
  • You Say Potato (04/04/96)
  • The Poetry Judge (02/96)
  • With All the Trimmings (11/27/95)
  • In Autumn We Get Older (11/06/95)
  • Minnesota's Sensible Plan (09/11/95)
  • The Art of the Embrace (02/95)
  • The Voters are Angry (08/94)
  • Word Play (05/18/90)
  • We Are Still Married (12/18/89)
  • Elevator Tales
  • A Graduation Speech


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