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Posts Tagged ‘Dick Cavett’

Assorted Hijinks: An Interview with Dick Cavett

November 13, 2014 | by

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Cavett on the cover of Brief Encounters.

Forty years ago, The Dick Cavett Show was a place where luminaries sparred (e.g., Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer), where reclusive stars lowered their guard (Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Laurence Olivier), and where musicians were actually interviewed about their music (David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon). Cavett’s show put an early spotlight on the Watergate scandal, even taping a special episode with the senators in the very chambers where the hearings were taking place. It’s hard to imagine today’s major-network late-night shows doing anything similar.

The Nebraska-born Cavett began in New York as a broke Yale grad attempting an acting career while working as a copy boy at Time magazine. One afternoon, with a Time envelope in hand, he bluffed his way into The Tonight Show studios and handed said envelope, filled with jokes, to Jack Paar, who was then the show’s host. Paar used some of the material that night; Cavett was hired, and booked talent for Paar, briefly, until a writing staff slot opened up. Later, he wrote for fellow Nesbaskan Johnny Carson before going out on his own, so to speak.

Cavett, at seventy-seven, keeps busy—for the past several years he’s moonlighted as a columnist for the New York Times, and earlier this year he starred in Hellman v. McCarthy, a play off Broadway at the Abingdon Theater Company that explores the legal fallout from a time in ’79 when Cavett had the novelist and critic Mary McCarthy on his show. McCarthy lambasted Lillian Hellman: “She really belongs to the past. As I said in an interview, she’s such a dishonest writer that even her ands and thes are lies.” Cavett plays himself in the play. “The funny thing is,” he told the Times when it debuted, “I was the second choice for the role.”

In July, Cavett made a popular video with Dave Hill and Malcolm Gladwell about the Amazon-Hachette dispute; he followed this with an op-ed in Time about the prevalence of depression in show business (“Robin Williams Won’t Be the Last Suicidal Star”). That same week, PBS aired a special, “Dick Cavett’s Watergate,” about his role in having publicized the scandal.

Finally, last week saw the publication of Cavett’s new memoir, Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks, with a foreword by Jimmy Fallon. To discuss the book, late-night television, and his writing process, I rang Cavett at his house in Montauk.

In Cavett, your book from 1974, you quite vehemently said you had no interest in being a cultural critic. But that’s an arguably accurate descriptor for you.

I would never think of that as a description of me. It has a nice sound, I like the alliteration, but other than that, it surprises me when I’m  called that. Honestly, I don’t think it would have ever occurred to me to think of myself as a writer/commentator/ cultural critic /columnist. Especially for The New York Times. I’ve had op-ed pieces in the Times over the years when I was pissed off about something. But I always felt alien to friends who knew exactly what they wanted to be. I’m still wondering.

Anyway, the Times offer came over the transom—or out of the blue. (Is it National Cliché Week?) and I took the dive. (Another one.) I’ve been told I write well, maybe thanks to two English teacher parents who wrote well, so I took the job. It’s not for the money, I assure you. Someone said, do you want to try a column for the Times? And I thought, Sure, I guess. How much. And they said two days a week. Most writers would have meant how much money, I guess. And I said, that seems easy enough, and it was—for about three weeks when I was doing two a week. Then I started to get desperate, because I felt I had said everything I would ever be able to say in a column of any kind. It’s always nice when someone remembers a line correctly from something you’ve written. In a Sarah Palin column, I said, “She seems to have no first language.” And this is much remembered to this very day, I find. Strange.

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The Inner Beethoven, and Other News

May 30, 2014 | by

Beethoven

Under gastrointestinal duress. Joseph Karl Stieler’s portrait of Beethoven, c. 1819.

  • Discovered on the walls of Angkor Wat: more than two hundred hidden paintings.
  • An intimate new biography of Beethoven: “Suchet also presents ongoing reports regarding Beethoven’s gastrointestinal issues, which run through the book like an idée fixe. These begin with a description of the stomach pains and diarrhea that Beethoven experienced before his first concert at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1794, followed by periodic updates on his irritable bowel syndrome, bad digestion, irregularity, acute constipation, colic, distended stomach, and more … one begins to wonder whether the book might have been more aptly titled The Inner Beethoven.”
  • On September 18, 1970, John Cassavetes, Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. They were all completely sozzled.
  • An attempt to categorize poetry in translation: “It seems impossible and so it is. But that is why we try, and every time we try we establish a small area of possibility. In fact if we are doing it well we are doing more than that: we are establishing an area of possibility that is itself a poem and the world is never poorer for a new good poem, which is like a new piece of knowledge of the world.”
  • Today in protein news: in praise of alpaca meat.

 

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Staff Picks: Genet’s Maids, Hockey, and Vivaldi

April 13, 2012 | by

I recently took out a subscription to National Geographic. I haven’t really looked at the magazine since childhood, and with the very first issue I received a couple months ago, I couldn’t believe I’d been away so long. NatGeo’s known for its photography for a reason: the imagery in these stunning, often unearthly shots seems tangible. My favorite so far is a portfolio by Phyllis Galembo of African and Haitian ritual costumes. These are a long way from your typical African masks. “Just putting one on,” says one art historian, “is a charged event.” —Nicole Rudick

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—the NHL postseason! Grantland's Katie Baker, making predictions for the opening series of the Stanley Cup playoffs, picks Tupac’s “Hit 'Em Up“ as the representative song for the first-round “hatefest“ between the Penguins and Flyers (which, for those unfamiliar with current hockey events, is a perfect fit). —Natalie Jacoby

Dinners for Beginners, written in 1937 and out now from Persephone, is “for people who know nothing about cooking. At the same time, it is intended for all those—whether they can cook or not—who appreciate good food and like to entertain their friends, but cannot afford to spend more than a strictly limited amount of money on housekeeping … The authors have tried to write a cookery book that EXPLAINS EVERYTHING. No knowledge is taken for granted. The beginner is not expected to know by the light of nature how to make gravy, sauces, or pastry; she is told when the lid of a saucepan or fireproof dish ought to be on when it should be off.” —Sadie Stein

This weekend I am checking out a new production of The Maids, Jean-Paul Sartre’s alleged “favorite play ever.” Loosely based on the Papin sisters, French servant girls who brutally murdered their employer in 1933, Maids was penned by notorious thief-turned-playwright Jean Genet. Get a taste of the sadomasochistic weirdness in this clip from the 1974 film adaptation. Running through Sunday. —Allison Bulger

Vivaldi’s “Spring” while reading The Clouds by William Carlos Williams. An unlikely pair, I admit, but it works: Williams’s images of the forever changing clouds marching across the sky, set to the whimsy and flux of Vivaldi’s classic, which captures so perfectly the feeling of this season—inherently a march of change. Try it. —Elizabeth Nelson

Hard as it might be to choose a favorite Dick Cavett interview, I always find myself returning to his talks with movie stars and directors. From the rambunctious episode with Peter Falk, Ben Gazarra, and John Cassavetes to erudite study with Jean-Luc Godard to the relaxed reminiscences of Katharine Hepburn, there's never a dull moment. —Josh Anderson

The Met’s production of La Traviata is live in HD this Saturday. I can’t wait! —S. S.

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A Week in Culture: Dan Chiasson, Poet, Part 2

December 2, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Chiasson’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


DAY TWO

7:00 A.M. I have an e-mail from a guy I met last summer in Paris, Thierry Corcelle, of the incomparable Librarie Thierry Corcelle, 29 rue de Conde, right near the Luxembourg Garden. Thierry has a new catalogue; I look through it on my computer, marveling at it. I could look at these things forever. What Thierry sells, essentially, are Joseph Cornell boxes that don’t know they are Joseph Cornell boxes: old magic sets, wooden puzzles, dioramas, circus sets, toy soldiers, tarot cards ... I went into serious debt this summer buying the following items:


12:00 P.M. I am actively scouting ideas for poems. I browse around in Robert Pogue Harrison’s great study of burial, The Dominion of the Dead. Harrison talks about a Jules Verne novel (From the Earth to the Moon) in which, one of the astronaut’s dogs dies on a space mission. They try to expel her into space, but she just bobs alongside them. I have to read that story.

8:00 P.M. My wife and I fire up the Dick Cavett. First we watch his interview with Orson Welles. Welles is playful, clearly adores Cavett, funny, totally of this planet in a way that I miss, later, when we watch the interview with Alfred Hitchcock, who is all “Hitchcock” persona. The Welles interview sets the agenda for the rest of the week. Tomorrow night I have to travel, but Thursday, it will be a double bill of The Lady from Shanghai and The Stranger.

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A Week in Culture: Dan Chiasson, Poet

December 1, 2010 | by

DAY ONE

6:15 A.M. Our children wake us up. Nobody wants anything read to them this morning. They are involved in some kind of acrimonious negotiation involving Lego heads (“That’s my head!” “It’s MY head!” “No, mine!” et cetera) so I go into the next room and start thinking about a class I am guest teaching today at BU. I’ve been reading (and writing) father-son poems, and I think, Why not just tell the students what’s on my mind: Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem for his son, “Three Things There Be.” The poem comes in several variants; I print them out and look at a brief discussion of the variants as well as the provocative “spoiled riddle” poems (poems that act like riddles but give their solutions away) on Slate, by Robert Pinsky.

I go to the Times website, and there is (fortuitously) this article on metaphor and the brain. I skim it for something I can say to the class. Neuroscience is very keen on poets and poetry these days: It turns out that when you call someone a cockroach, you activate the same part of your brain that can recall the picture of an actual cockroach

8:30 A.M. I head into Boston. It’s an hour drive this time of day. I get a four-shot latte at Karma Coffee, Route 20 in Sudbury (do yourself a favor). I am listening a lot to the Byrds’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo these days, especially “One Hundred Years from Now.” I have a problem that technology has solved. When I like a song, I listen to it over and over for weeks at a time. You used to have to keep rewinding the tape, and the tape would snap or come unraveled. Now, with iPods, it’s no problem.

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