"Some men see things as they are and say Why? I dream of things that never were and say "Why not?"
Robert Francis Kennedy
There is a renewed interest in the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy since the movie “Bobby” came out. This movie is a semi-fictional account of the events surrounding the murder of RFK at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 6th, 1968. I say this movie is semi-fictional because it centers on the lives of 22 people who were supposedly at The Ambassador Hotel that night, but in reality these people never existed. It’s all Hollywood.
About five years ago, I had the author/journalist George Plimpton on my train. I recognized him from his frequent guest appearances on the afternoon talk show circuit in the 70’s and early 80’s. He was what they now call a “participatory journalist” and he always seemed to be pushing a book about his latest exploits on Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas. By the time I met him, he had been out of the public eye for several years, and I was a little surprised by how elderly and frail he looked.
Because I’m somewhat of a Kennedyphile, I remembered that Plimpton was a close friend of RFK, and that he was with him on the night he was assassinated. I was dying to ask him about that evening, but I was a bit intimidated by him. When he appeared with Merv, Mike or Johnny, he always seemed a bit regal. He spoke in the aristocratic accent of a Harvard or Cambridge man (which he was), and I didn’t want to be an insensitive boor and start yapping about his best friends murder. Maybe, I thought, I’d first engage him in small talk and then I’d work my way up to the RFK questions.
“Are you related to Martha Plimpton?” I asked.
“Eh?” He answered, now cupping his hand to his ear.
“The actress? MARTHA PLIMPTON?"
“ARE YOU RELATED TO THE ACTRESS MARTHA PLIMPTON?"
“Oh, yes, yes. Sorry, I’m a bit hard of hearing. Yes, she’s a distant cousin. I’ve never met her, but I did meet her mother once.”
I now realized that Plimpton was stone deaf, and a long conversation with him would be exhausting for both of us... so I went straight for the kill.
“I’ve read that you were present when Robert Kennedy was assassinated?”
“YOU WERE WITH SENATOR KENNEDY ON THE NIGHT HE WAS ASSASSINATED?”
“Oh, Oh, yes, yes. In fact that Sirhan fellow pushed right past me to get to Bobby.”
“It was dreadful…simply dreadful.”
I didn’t know what to say next. There was a bit of awkward silence between us, and I finally
decided to move on to the next passenger.
Plimpton died a year or two after our brief conversation, and I’m glad I got the chance to talk to him. It was kind of like being only two degrees of separation away from one of the biggest events of the 20th century.
Sometimes I have a neat job.