The name of George Plimpton is probably familiar even to Americans who have not read his books, partly because of his unusual involvements in professional sports, and partly because his life story is one that could have been invented by Horatio Alger, last century's famous writer of books about boys who struck it rich.
Plimpton started out with several things going for him, of course. He was educated at Harvard, where he edited the Lampoon, and at Cambridge University. He became a highly respected literary figure as editor of the Paris Review. His family background was distinguished (his father is Francis T. Plimpton, a former ambassador and U.S. representative to the United Nations), and he was also blessed with wealth and good looks. Instead of opting for being a playboy and dilettante, however, he developed a prodigious appetite for hard work and experimentation. The results have been highly unusual.
Plimpton's first book was Out of My League, in which he described his experiences playing baseball with the All Stars, the first team to accept him as a temporary player and allow him to gain invaluable experience along with a good deal of physical punishment. Ernest Hemingway called this book, in which Plimpton told how he found himself pitching to Willie Mays in Yankee Stadium, "the dark side of the moon of Walter Mitty."
Plimpton next took up professional football, and persuaded the Detroit Lions to let him play long enough to enable him to write Paper Lion. About this book, the eminent critic Eliot Fremont-Smith said, "As this book reveals him, he is a man compounded of, among other things, endless curiosity, unshakable enthusiasm and nerve, and a deep respect for the world he enters. As a writer he is truthful without betraying anyone, modest but never falsely so, hilariously funny without once being arch. He makes his subject absolutely fascinating, football fan or no. How he fared is a tale to gladden the envious heart of any 'average weekend athlete,' or anyone else for that matter. One winces and laughs at the Paper Lion and then throughout this lovely book one begins to understand once more what it is all about."
Plimpton entered the world of professional golf to gather material for The Bogey Man, and since then has gone on to other exploits; his name is seldom out of the headlines for very has played tennis with Pancho Gonzalez, golf with Sam Snead and bridge with Oswald Jacoby as a partner. His three rounds with Archie Moore resulted in some torn nasal cartilage."
In many ways, then, George Plimpton is the epitome of the American Dream a kind of Jack Armstrong, the Ail-American Boy, come to life. That he had unusual opportunities to do so is beside the point when you give him his richly deserved credit for thinking of doing these things at all and the skill and courage he displayed in their execution. And perhaps most of all, one must thank him for demonstrating that the frequently maligned "American Dream" actually still exists.
Charlene Kane, the sixteen-year-old heroine of Girl Model for Sale, is another example of the young American who finds that dreams can come true (although, needless to say, her story is completely fictional). Charlene wants nothing so much as to be a successful fashion model. Like George Plimpton, she has a better-than-average opportunity because her mother, who is still well on the youthful side of forty, is an acknowledged winner in the fashion "game" already. Ironically, however, Charlene's mother turns out to be almost as much of a hindrance as a help. Aside from being able to introduce Charlene to some of the right people to get her started in her career, Sonja turns out to be an inherently destructive type and Charlene has to learn the painful lesson that it is better to go it alone, doing things her own way.
Charlene has other things going for her, too: things like brains, beauty and talent. And she needs all of them. For there are many people many cold, ruthless, self-centered men in the crassly commercial world she enters who think they can buy her outright. At first, in fact, they seem to succeed. It is only by remaining true to herself that Charlene is able to salvage any shred of dignity.
Yes, Charlene has dreams typically American dreams. In some ways they are very similar to the dreams of George Plimpton; in others, very different. And many of them turn to ashes in the course of her adventures. Her dreams of romance vanish, to be replaced by the reality of sordid sexual affairs. But you will have to read to the very last page of Girl Model for Sale to see which of her dreams remain untarnished and what triumphs she finally achieves. In doing so, you will be rewarded by a highly entertaining as well as an enlightening story.