Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Halitosis, and George Plimpton

Nicole Burdette's reminiscence, received this morning (posted here) took me back to my time at Paris Review with Plimpton.

There was a time when at the office on East 72nd Street all manner of diverse gossip swirled. Even, so I gathered, about me... patently false rumors I should add. At the time I found all this talk a little upsetting, but George made a concerted to effort to instruct me in an important life lesson, to teach me to ignore gossip... some of which, of course, he being a mischief-maker probably had a hand in unleashing. In his office upstairs he adopted a sage-like pose, leaned back in his chair, and offered this bit of wisdom: "James, halitosis is better than no breath at all. You know, just as long as they're talking about you, it’s all right." I could only shake my head.

One night, a week or so later, a work drink with a young woman in publicity from Random House turned, at her suggestion, into dinner, and then a sort of date. At one point, she put her fork down, stared at me intently and asked “Is it true you procure black transvestites for George Plimpton?" I burst out laughing. It was so absurd. But oddly I suddenly had a free feeling. I realized there came a time in life when attention began to be paid, even in a small way, and there really was little you could do to control what people said about you. It really was much better just to learn to let it slide off your back. The very life lesson George had tried to impart.

The next morning I went into George’s office to tell him I finally saw that, after all, he’d been right. Well, I told him the story of the night before, the dinner, and he hit the roof—“She said WHAT?!” Who is this?” I had to back out of his office saying, "Halitosis. George, remember halitosis!"

- James Linville

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