Friends say he was torn about whether to pursue a career in the arts or in politics. He attempted to split the difference by interning at the New Republic, writing pieces critical of Reagan administration and Republican hedging on apartheid. He graduated from Harvard in 1984, the year of the Los Angeles Olympics, which he attended with his stepfather, then general counsel of the International Olympic Committee. Seated upfront for the 100-meter dash, Blinken’s sister complained about being splashed with Carl Lewis’s sweat as the sprinter blazed past. “Shut up and bottle it,” his stepfather recalled Blinken saying.
In Paris, Blinken organized a film festival and his family hosted a gathering for Spike Lee, who, Judith recalled fondly, “kept calling me ‘sister.’ ”
Blinken, too, had filmmaking ambitions, even organizing a short film festival in Paris. “I talked him out of it,” Pisar said.
“Everyone age 21 wants to make films,” said Donald Blinken, adding that he and his second wife, Vera, “hoped that he would go on to law school.”
He did, attending Columbia and furthering his education in international affairs. In 1987, the same year Blinken worked as a summer associate at the prestigious Rogers & Wells law firm, Praeger published his Harvard senior thesis — “Ally vs. Ally: America, Europe and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis.” (“I’ve reserved the rights for the miniseries,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “But we haven’t discussed who’ll play the part of the pipeline.”) He also became active in Democratic politics, helping his father raise money for Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential run. The campaign’s finance director, Robert Farmer, recalled Blinken fondly as bright, but “not an outgoing young man.” He remembered Blinken bartending at fundraisers at his Brookline home.
From N.Y. to D.C.
The Clinton administration was in many ways an adult version of Dalton — a magnet for gifted, ambitious Democrats with sterling credentials and impressive connections.
In 1993, during Blinken’s stint at another white-shoe New York law firm, a friend of Pisar, “a significant individual and important journalist” whom Pisar declined to name, suggested that Blinken apply for an opening at the State Department.
Stephen Oxman, then the assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs who hired Blinken, recalled that a former colleague, Laurence Grafstein, brought Blinken to his attention. Oxman said he wanted the new perspective a “smart cosmopolitan” could bring to his team.