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Talk Show – Dick Cavett

CavettDick Cavett was my favourite talk show host when I was young. Hands down. I read his first book, Cavett, years ago. He slipped out of my sight when I moved into rural mid-western Ontario without the benefit of cable and, therefore, PBS. Then I heard an interview on CBC radio with Mr. Cavett a couple of years ago. The same voice that had amused and charmed me in my youth worked its magic again. It took a while, but I eventually obtained this book, which is a compilation of his New York Times blog:

I was not disappointed. He’s not lost any of the intelligent wit that entertained me years ago. I was regaled with stories of John and Yoko, surprising friendships with Bill Buckley (after all Nixon had inquired of his henchmen, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, how he could “screw” Dick Cavett), and one-time employer, then late-night rival, Johnny Carson, and chess champion Bobby Fischer. There were perceptive quotes about “the vinyl Mitt Romney” during the 2008 campaign. He also quoted John McCain, “Referring to Mitt’s so readily adjustable convictions, McCain said, ‘We agree – you are the candidate of change.’” Oh yes, and Dick Cavett doesn’t spare himself in an account of a very uncomfortable encounter with Richard Nixon and daughter Julie.

Dick Cavett devotes a couple of chapters to Richard Burton and there is a very surprising story about John Wayne (you’ll have to read the book to find out, but I promise you’ll never view John Wayne the same again!). Both men were interviewed by Cavett at a time when they were in the midst of the illnesses that would lead to their death.

In a book entitled, Talk Show, he doesn’t leave out his account of the Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer showdown on The Dick Cavett Show on ABC and he also talks about the death of Rodale Press founder, J.I. Rodale, while he was taping the show.

Not all the pieces are about the famous. He writes about Buck, a typical beach bum youth from the early seventies whom he regularly encountered on a remote Long Island beach. He pegged him as a “dropout with a middling IQ.” Buck surprised him one day when he referred to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s appellation of fame as the “Bitch Goddess.” Cavett wonders how often our snap judgements of people are so far off the mark. To his great disappointment, he never saw Buck again. Cavett struggles with the thought that Buck may have OD’d on one of the substances of choice of the seventies and his own moral obligations to warn him.

Cavett also writes about his battle with depression. With gun control brought into the spotlight again after recent tragic events, it is worth reading Dick Cavett’s 2008 comments on gun control and depression in the chapter, “Smiling Through.” In “Smiling Through, Part 2” he writes, “Whatever wicked gods invented this torture should come down with it.”

The short chapters are packed with wonderful stories, observations and wit. Whether or not you remember Dick Cavett and that time, you will enjoy this book.


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