Dick Cavett?
October 1, 2007 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Dick Cavett had a nice little run on T.V. He became quite a celebrity based on his intellectual conversations with notable persons of the time.
posted by snsranch (43 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
In my book Dick Cavett stands 'head-and-shoulders' above any television interviewer. I recommend his DVD collections: Rock Icons, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Hollywood Greats and Comic Legends.
posted by ericb at 7:51 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the link to Janis Joplin's appearance. That's one of my all time favorite interviews, if I could have such a list, due to both of their personalities. Cavett was one of the few "squares" from those days who seemed to understand the other side of the cultural divide, if not quite participate in it. And his interviews were just outstanding.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:51 PM on October 1, 2007

He still is relevant. He's been writing a blog for the New York Times. The pace is leisurely as you might expect.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:59 PM on October 1, 2007

I checked in to reccomend the DVDs. Personal hero of mine.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:10 PM on October 1, 2007

You know, the other day as I was having lunch with Gore Vidal at that awful place Gay Talese INSISTED we try, I remarked that Dick Cavett had posted a significant amount of his interviews on the internet.

Then Anna Wintour threw up on the creme brulee, and the moment passed.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:13 PM on October 1, 2007

After he washed out of commercial TV, he had a half-hour interview show on PBS. Often for interesting guests he's schedule two episodes, which is to say they'd do one hour of interview and run it on two nights.

I remember one time that Ed Asner was the guest, and he showed up drunk as a skunk. He'd apparently been scheduled for two shows, but Cavett made a decision to cut it off after one. Which led to a strange moment at the end when Asner thought there was going to be another half hour of interview, and Cavett said there wouldn't be. (Without saying why, though it was obvious.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:13 PM on October 1, 2007

"intellectual" is a great noun, as well.
posted by longsleeves at 8:21 PM on October 1, 2007

Oh I love Dick Cavett! Was scared this was a he died post.
The best , last turtleneck and blazer with patches on the elbows type TV raconteur. Compare with David Frost, Mike Douglass..all great in their own right. Would like to see how these 3 would be posited on the old lowbrow to highbrow, despicable to sublime matrix. Upper right for all I say.
Who do you wanna be, Dick or Sly?
posted by celerystick at 8:25 PM on October 1, 2007

To answer the question in the title: Yes. Dick Cavett.

Thanks for the post.
posted by trip and a half at 8:30 PM on October 1, 2007

There's a nice appreciation of Cavett in Clive James's Cultural Amnesia, called The secret art of the talk-show host (link is to a version published by Slate).
posted by bmckenzie at 8:30 PM on October 1, 2007

His stepmom just passed away last month. Dorcas Cavett was an immensely popular teacher. Indeed, there's even a local elementary school named after her and her late husband.
posted by RavinDave at 8:31 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Even as I remember some of his work when I was a kid, in retrospect I'm not sure why he lost his mojo. He was always sharp, funny and an engaging interviewer.

When I compare him to successful dolts like Larry King and his ilk, I start to wonder about the American public.

Then it occurs to me that George Bush was re-elected and I stop wondering...
posted by ranchocalamari at 8:36 PM on October 1, 2007

The most vivid Cavett moment for me was when Robin Williams appeared on his show. This was very early on and no one knew who he was yet. Cavett had never really heard of him. At one point, they were improvising mock Shakespeare -- and, though obviously a bit shell-shocked by Williams's verbal acrobatics, Cavett acquitted himself quite well.
posted by RavinDave at 8:51 PM on October 1, 2007

Here's a pretty good interview Cavett did with Orson Welles.

I was also worried that this was an ode to a recently deceased one of a kind.

posted by rougy at 8:59 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

re: the Jansi Joplin interview - a "female rock star!?" - she seemed pissed but resigned about the sexism. Maybe not resigned, holding back for the Southern Comfort.
posted by stbalbach at 9:06 PM on October 1, 2007

I like these obit threads better without the dots.
posted by found missing at 9:08 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

He did have some lively guests. Then there was Jerome Rodale, publisher of Today’s Health Magazine, who actually died on the show.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:40 PM on October 1, 2007

I'm sure I'm going to get flamed for this. Too bad.

The reason Cavett didn't ultimately do well is that he didn't have the common touch. He always came across as faintly supercilious, a little bit too confident in his intelligence and education.

I don't think that was really deliberate on his part and I'm not sure to this day that he knows he comes across that way. But it meant that he mostly appealed to people like him: college educated liberals, especially those with Ivy League or the equivalent education. Like it or not, that isn't enough of an audience to stay on the air, even on PBS.

The majority of Americans react negatively to those who come across as arrogant. Even though Cavett is a short man, he comes across as looking down on others.

Muhummad Ali was on Cavett's show, and Cavett quite deliberately used the word "niggardly". (He said Ali wasn't niggardly.) I know what it means, and so do you, but Ali didn't, and he got upset because he thought Cavett was calling him a "nigger".

Ali is an amazing person and was pretty sharp before he got sick, but he is not a well educated man. Cavett was showing off. He could have said "you are generous" instead of "you are not niggardly". Any other reviewer would have tuned his conversation and vocabulary to the man he was interviewing, but Cavett wanted to show off.

So even though he was, in a sense, giving Ali a compliment when he said Ali was "not niggardly", on a different level he was insulting Ali, because I think Cavett knew Ali didn't know what that word meant.

I also think he was trying to prove something, though I'm not clear who he was trying to impress. Ali was heavyweight champion, obviously a physically dangerous man, and I think Cavett was trying to prove courage, or something like that.

Irrespective of what he was thinking, it was a very poor choice of words. Ali did not get violent, but he sure did get upset -- and I was, too. Cavett was acting like an ass.

That interview was when I began to dislike the man.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:52 PM on October 1, 2007

Thanks for the link to Cavett's blog, Ironmouth. Good stuff.
posted by rougy at 9:52 PM on October 1, 2007

I talked to him back in the early 1990s at the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival in Greenville MS. He was not backstage or in any VIP section, but hanging out with a group of black women (middle aged and large, if I remember correctly). It was an awfully funny little scene. That impressed me. (His late wife, Carrie Nye, hailed Greenwood MS, which is located about an hour away. Or so I found out later from the person who pointed the man out to me.)
posted by raysmj at 9:52 PM on October 1, 2007

How nice, a wonderful Dick Cavett post! Love his educated WASPY voice and wry humor. A recent interview by Charlie Rose with Dick Cavett. A fun article he wrote mourning the end of the Sopranos.

"I went to a Chinese-German restaurant. The food is great, but an hour later you're hungry for power."

Love every interview he ever did and there is a rich selection of them on Youtube. Audio with Marshall Mcluhan and it sounds like Truman Capote.

His Wikipedia entry.

not sure why he lost his mojo

He suffers from bouts of severe depression.
posted by nickyskye at 9:53 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

As for Cavett and Ali, I think he, Cavett, was constantly poking fun and ribbing Ali, all the way, it was very much part of Cavett's style to be mischievous with everybody. If you listen to his interview with McLuhan, Cavett is very naughty and I think his needling and verging on causing the audience to cringe was part of Cavett's gig as a homorist.
posted by nickyskye at 10:04 PM on October 1, 2007


posted by nickyskye at 10:05 PM on October 1, 2007

NickySkye, it's precisely that needling you mention that I suspect turns off the majority of Americans. It came across as one-upsmanship.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:12 PM on October 1, 2007

He always seemed to interject a human touch to his interviews and the guest seemed to emulate his openness. By revealing his vulnerabilities it took the edge off and the guest would open up knowing he wasn't out to score points at their expense. The interview with Robert Mitchum was great. Mitchem still was drinking rat pack style, but DC just politely questioned him about it and spoke of his own inability to really drink. He also talked about Mitchem's pot bust Both
laughing together with a wink, wink, nudge knowing that the bust was a set up for something that everone was doing in Hollywood. DC's question about Robert Mitchum and his sentence working on the chain gang for the crime of vagrancy and his subsequent escape were classic.
posted by Rancid Badger at 10:26 PM on October 1, 2007

Steven C. Den Beste writes "NickySkye, it's precisely that needling you mention that I suspect turns off the majority of Americans. It came across as one-upsmanship."

I really miss it. Most interviewers are terrified to appear intelligent. He was into the art of conversation. Charlie Rose has it. Most interviewers don't.

Speaking as an American, I'm not sure I trust statements claiming to speak for "most Americans." I don't think pandering to the lowest common denominator is something we should hold up like a trophy. It's something that the media encourages, but it's not the only way to communicate. Bill O'Reilly gets more viewers than Charlie Rose (just a guess), but most people in the US don't watch either one.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:33 PM on October 1, 2007

I love his naughty needling. :)
posted by nickyskye at 11:15 PM on October 1, 2007

Is there a link here to the Sly Stone interview? That one makes me laugh. And Bowie looks a little sniffly.
posted by pracowity at 12:07 AM on October 2, 2007

There's nothing wrong with intellectually jousting if your conversational partner is up to it. Cavett's schtick would have gone amazingly well with someone like Peter Ustinov, who would have given as good as he got. Watching the two of them be erudite together would have been a pleasure.

But doing that to someone like Muhammad Ali is unfair. It is just as unfair as if Cavett were to face Ali in the ring.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:25 AM on October 2, 2007

Where do you get this curious notion that Ali was some thick-witted schloob? Ali had exposure to plenty of Ivy Leaguers -- they all worked for him.
posted by RavinDave at 12:30 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

A valid criticism of Dick Cavett is that he's a bit of an elitist and loves to drop names. Big deal. (Newsflash: celebrity has larger than average ego. Oh, noes!) But he's not insufferable and snotty about it. He even plays along with the ribbing it evokes. Look at the episode of the Simpson's where they goofed on this:

At the Ace Awards, Dick Cavett stands at the podium.

Dick: Well, my time's almost up here, so, uh, I'd just like to say...I know Woody Allen.

[a couple of people clap halfheartedly]

Homer: And now the winner for the most promising new series on cable: "Old Starsky and Hutches".

[funky music starts]

Announcer: Accepting the award is the son of the guy who played Huggy Bear.

[after the show]

Dick: Let's walk and talk. I, uh, I have some wonderful stories about other famous people that include me in some way.

Homer: Er, can't, I gotta go distract bulls at a rodeo.

Dick: Hey, me too. We can go together.

Homer: Um...no, I'm going a different way than you, Dick.

Dick: Heh heh, your...churlish attitude reminds me of a time I was having dinner with Groucho and --

Homer: Look, you're going to be having dinner with Groucho tonight if you don't beat it!

-- Homer does the Ace Awards, "Homer the Clown"
posted by RavinDave at 12:44 AM on October 2, 2007

"Charlie Rose has it..."

Charlie Rose is no Dick Cavett, IMHO.
posted by wsg at 1:13 AM on October 2, 2007

A good friend of mine once said, "Dick Cavett wasn't smart enough to be a comedian, so he became an intellectual."
posted by Superfrankenstein at 1:26 AM on October 2, 2007

A valid criticism of Dick Cavett is that he's a bit of an elitist and loves to drop names. Big deal.

Yep. People watched his show to see him talk with the big names. If he threw a few more big names into the conversation, people got more of what they wanted.

And all celebrity chat shows embody elitism to some extent -- common people enthralled with uncommon people, the unfamous lapping up the smallest words of the famous -- so it would be strange to act as if any particular show host was terrible for being elitist. People are interviewed (and intently watched) because they are beautiful or rich or famous.
posted by pracowity at 1:27 AM on October 2, 2007

He faded out of TV because:
1. Americans don't like to be made to feel stupid (because they are)
2. Depression.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 5:44 AM on October 2, 2007

I don't think Cavett aims for "intellectual" so much as "elite sophisticate" -- compare him to William F. Buckley (who is without question the most annoying interviewer ever to have his own TV show) or to David Susskind, both of whom were far more in the "intellectual" vein.

But there's no doubt that the streak of anti-intellectualism in the American character is wide enough to turn people against anyone who dares to seem even remotely intelligent (a lesson David Letterman has apparently taken to heart all these years).

In case it's not clear, Henry C. Mabuse is referring to Cavett's chronic depression. Cavett lost his home to a fire a number of years ago, and along with some other personal setbacks, he's spent much of the last 10-15 years trying to cope with his depression.
posted by briank at 6:39 AM on October 2, 2007

In his autobiography he talks about being an undergraduate at Yale, and coming to New York to see Broadway shows he would try (usually successfully) to get back stage every time.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:44 AM on October 2, 2007

I was a regular watcher of Cavett. What I remember is that once he had Mikhail Baryshnikov on, who had put out some sort of vanity Hollywood movie project.

Cavett asked him if he was aware it was such a "star-spangled turkey." Baryshnikov was impassive and sort of shrugged.
posted by Danf at 8:50 AM on October 2, 2007

He had John G. Neihardt (the writer and poet, author of Black Elk Speaks) as a guest one night - that was supposed to be the first half of the program. It was so intense and powerful an interview that he stretched it to the entire program- and then had Neihardt on again the next night, to continue the interview. I sat transfixed through both.

There are very few his equal, and none better.
posted by drhydro at 10:09 AM on October 2, 2007

Long-time Cavett admirer here. Can't watch youtube, unfortunately, but loved the post. Thanks!
posted by Lynsey at 10:09 AM on October 2, 2007

Homer: And now the winner for the most promising new series on cable: "Old Starsky and Hutches".

Announcer: Accepting the award is the son of the guy who played Huggy Bear.

FYI Justin Fargas is doing fine.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:11 AM on October 2, 2007

Janis Joplin was hot... fundamentally, totally hot. Just needed some more sleep.
posted by greenskpr at 1:43 PM on October 2, 2007

Had a philosophy prof who basically was Cavett. Loved them both unabashedly.
posted by dreamsign at 12:02 AM on October 3, 2007

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