Farther into the room, Terry McDonell, Sports Illustrated group editor and the president of the Paris Review’s board, bragged about the literary magazine's endowment.
“The great irony is that from the year that George passed away, it’s gotten stronger and stronger and stronger,” McDonell said. He laughed when a man nearby in a Paris Review tie and suspenders asked if the endowment was a few million.
“It’s more than that,” said McDonell. “I don’t want to make us sound too rich.”
Standing near the door, New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als contemplated the mood on Tuesday night versus years past.
“Of course a magazine is shaped by its editor, and each editor is different,” Als said, explaining how this year stood out from Revels under Philip Gourevitch, who took over the magazine following Plimpton’s death in 2003 and edited the magazine before Stein.
“When Philip was hosting, it was more of a conversation with the audience,” he said. “This is much more about just honoring the writers.”
Gourevitch, who still writes for The New Yorker, was not feeling especially chatty this year. “I’m happy to be here tonight,” he said from his seat at dinner. “It’s good to be here as a guest.”
Gay Talese was sitting one chair away. “I knew George Plimpton in 1959,” he said. “I’m one of the oldest people in this room.”
“The Paris Review has reached a level beyond George Plimpton’s expectations,” Talese continued. “George, who is now somewhere in the literary heaven, would have been amazed because George couldn’t sell tickets like this. I don’t know how this happened. George knew how to have fun. He had a great eye for literary matters, but George didn’t have an eye for legal tender.”
Stein took the stage toward the end of the night.
“In just one year, our paid subscriptions have gone up 32 percent,” he said. “Last month alone we sold 1,000 new subscriptions. In the last six months, our Web traffic has gone up almost 500 percent. Our Web site has reached more than 1.5 million in these last six months. The New York Times has called it ‘the best party in town.’ They’re wrong of course, this is the best party in town.”
“But we’ll take it,” Stein said.
After dinner, Times executive editor Bill Keller made a quick move for the coat check and headed for the door with his wife, Emma.
“Our night was great,” he said. “We had a good time.”
Do the Kellers come every year?
“No, this was our first time,” chimed in Emma, with a big smile.
“We had a friend with a table,” Keller explained, ushering his wife away from a reporter. And, yes, Keller agreed, turning to the door: “It’s the best party in town.”