George Plimpton, Paris Review Founder, Pitches 1980s Video Games for the Mattel Intellivision

plimpton mattel

Space, choose Atari; sports, choose Intel­livi­sion. So went the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom of ear­ly-1980s home video gam­ing, where the Atari 2600 enjoyed an insur­mount­able advan­tage when it came to blast­ing alien invaders, but where the Mat­tel Intel­livi­sion — putting aside the sheer dis­com­fort of those wonky con­trollers — could sat­is­fy the elec­tron­ic sports­man like no oth­er con­sole.

For Mat­tel, win­ning over the jocks and the nerds at once would require a del­i­cate mar­ket­ing bal­ance, one attempt­ed by the hir­ing of George Plimp­ton, the man who per­son­al­ly pitched against the Nation­al League, sparred with Sug­ar Ray Robin­son, trained with the Detroit Lions, tend­ed goal amid the Boston Bru­ins, hit the PGA Tour in the hey­day of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nick­laus, and helped found the Paris Review. (The name did stand for “intel­li­gent tele­vi­sion,” after all.)

“Who bet­ter to vouch for the real­ism of a sports video game than some­one who had actu­al­ly suit­ed up and played for real?” asks “His per­sona became the per­sona of Intel­livi­sion: a mix of smug supe­ri­or­i­ty with a healthy touch of self-dep­re­ca­tion.” He starred, as “Mr. Intel­livi­sion,” in quite a few mem­o­rable tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials such as the one at the top of the post, where we see him sit down at his trusty type­writer to announce the small­er, cheap­er Intel­livi­sion II; the one just above, where he pre­sides over a direct com­par­i­son with Atari to reveal the Intel­livi­sion’s sport­ing advan­tage (Mat­tel had pro­vid­ed him both con­soles to play so he could hon­est­ly sign an affi­davit con­firm­ing his pref­er­ence); and spots like the one below, where he even trum­pets the supe­ri­or­i­ty of Intel­livi­sion space shoot­ers. Plimp­ton’s influ­ence on clas­sic gam­ing sur­vives him, most recent­ly in the online “retro” game George Plimp­ton’s Video Fal­con­ry. Some­one even cut togeth­er a fake 80s com­mer­cial for it, though they inex­plic­a­bly made it a game for the Cole­co­V­i­sion. Come on — nobody bought a Cole­co­V­i­sion for the sports games.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Run Vin­tage Video Games (From Pac-Man to E.T.) and Soft­ware in Your Web Brows­er, Thanks to

The Great Gats­by and Wait­ing for Godot: The Video Game Edi­tions

Fellini’s Fan­tas­tic TV Com­mer­cials

David Lynch’s Sur­re­al Com­mer­cials

Jean-Luc Godard’s After-Shave Com­mer­cial for Schick

Ing­mar Bergman’s Soap Com­mer­cials Wash Away the Exis­ten­tial Despair

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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