GEORGE PLIMPTON 1927 - 2003
Despite the many tributes to George Plimpton in the days following his death, it was rare for anyone to mention that in the early 1980s, Mr. Plimpton was the spokesman for the Intellivision video game system. That doesn't really surprise us; when recapping a life as full as Mr. Plimpton's, it's difficult to shoehorn in his brief time hawking video games.
But that's how we'll always remember him. Comparing Atari and Intellivision sports games. Showing off "our most exciting visual effect - total destruction of a planet!" Introducing new games to child actor Henry Thomas ("Hey, Mr. Intellivision!").
Mattel hired Mr. Plimpton because of his reputation for "participatory journalism." Who better to vouch for the realism of a sports video game than someone who had actually suited up and played for real?
But he brought more than his journalistic reputation to Intellivision. Since Mattel's policy was to keep the Intellivision programmers, The Blue Sky Rangers, anonymous, Mr. Plimpton became our public face. His persona became the persona of Intellivision: a mix of smug superiority with a healthy touch of self-deprecation.
We have to admit that pretty well described the Blue Sky Rangers back then, and, yeah, that pretty well describes us to this day.
Even though Mr. Plimpton's formal relationship with Intellivision ended in 1983, we still considered him as our ambassador, whether he was discussing literature on C-SPAN2 or appearing as a Simpsons cartoon character. And he always did us proud.
We were a little nervous when we spoke to him by phone shortly after the 1998 release of Intellivision Lives! Did he recall Intellivision fondly, or was that a period of his life he'd rather forget?
Actually, he told us, he had rather enjoyed his role as spokesman for Intellivision, although he said his father, a prominent lawyer and diplomat, was "appalled" that he had sunk to being a common huckster.
He remembered that Mattel had given him both an Atari 2600 and an Intellivision so that he could compare the games and honestly sign an affidavit that he found Intellivision to be superior. "And I did find it to be the better system," he told us. He paused, then added, "Of course, they were paying me, so I guess I did have somewhat of an incentive to find it better. Still, my children liked it, especially the Skiing game, I believe it was."
He seemed both amused and pleased that Intellivision was making a comeback and that fans - and the programmers - remembered his part in it.
After twenty years, we're still proud to have been represented by George Plimpton. (Imagine working for a company whose public face is Carrot Top...) He was intelligent, curious, and generous. He was a man of good humor, widely quoted as saying, "I have never been convinced there's anything inherently wrong in having fun."
We lucked out. Not only did we get a pitchman, we got a role model.
Thank you, Mr. Intellivision