Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett is a legendary talk show host who spent three decades interviewing some of the most influential figures of the last century. Cavett got his break when he was hired as a comedy writer for Jack Paar, host of “The Tonight Show, in 1960.” Eight years later, he was offered his own program, “The Dick Cavett Show.” He has chronicled his most memorable moments in an opinion blog he writes for the New York Times, portions of which have just been published in a book. Cavett also discusses his struggle with depression and how testifying on behalf of John Lennon got him in trouble with the Nixon White House. Diane Rehm has a conversation with Dick Cavett.

Guests

  • Dick Cavett talk show host, online columnist for the New York Times and coauthor of "Cavett" and "Eye on Cavett.

Transcript

  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:07:07

    MS. DIANE REHMAnd Dick Cavett spent almost 25 years hosting his own show from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. He spoke to some of the legends of the time. He uses some of the recollections of that period is his New York Times online opinion column, which he's written since 2007. Some of those columns appear in his new book titled "Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary and Off-Screen Secrets." Dick Cavett joins us from his home in New York City and throughout the hour, we'll be happy to take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to drshow@wamu.org, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Dick Cavett, good morning to you.

  • 11:08:15

    MR. DICK CAVETTGood morning, Diane. And you failed to praise me for rising from a sickbed with a cold that would kill an ordinary man...

  • 11:08:26

    REHMWell, I thought I'd let you talk about that (laugh).

  • 11:08:27

    CAVETT...in order to do your show (laugh). Sometimes it's best not to, but how would you explain the cacophony and the medley of wheezes and sneezes that you're going to get and that your listeners are going to have to put up with and I...

  • 11:08:43

    REHMThey'll put up with pretty much anything as long as it's a good conversation, Dick Cavett. You know that as well as I.

  • 11:08:56

    CAVETTYes. And I know you don't like base flattery, but I have turned down accepting calls today from the White House, from Lady Gaga and the real Lady Gaga, Sarah Palin (laugh).

  • 11:09:13

    REHM(laugh) Who I understood was in Haiti over the weekend.

  • 11:09:20

    CAVETTWell, gosh, I hope she knows her way around there.

  • 11:09:25

    REHMI think she probably does. You know, I was very interested in your blog in yesterday's New York Times reflecting on your visit with Mr. and Mrs. John Lennon, Yoko Ono and John Lennon, before you actually had them on your program. Tell us about that.

  • 11:09:54

    CAVETTYou have the advantage of me, Diane, because I haven't read that (laugh). You send it off, it gets edited somewhat and then you see it, but I'll just take your word for it that it's palatable.

  • 11:10:07

    REHMIt did appear and it is indeed interesting and palatable.

  • 11:10:13

    CAVETTYes. That was considered, although they didn't have the term back then, the get of the year. I forgot what we called gets then. If you hooked Katherine Hepburn, I think it was called a hook, but I'm not sure. But getting them to do the show as -- when the article starts, possibly do the show, was unheard of and there as nobody -- one of the pleasures of getting them was, of course, the envy of the people who didn't get them.

  • 11:10:46

    CAVETTBut it was great to meet them. I wasn't sure it would be. I didn't have any preconceived notion. On a rainy day, I went over to the St. Regis Hotel into a cavernous suite and the Lennons were abed, but not in the censorable sense. But in fact, there on this bed that seemed to be half an acre big. Maybe they had it specially constructed. It was loaded with stuff, projects, sketch pads, cameras, strange objets d’art -- records. It looked like eight people's workplace.

  • 11:11:29

    CAVETTAnd John and I got off on the right foot. I knew he had sense of humor, although I hadn't seen it personally, and when he said to me, you know, the reason we wanted to do is you've got the only halfway intelligent show on television. And I said, well, are you sure you want to be on a halfway intelligent show? And we laughed and then we were off to a good relationship. He surprised me by putting me smack into a movie.

  • 11:12:03

    CAVETTHe hoisted a 16-millimeter movie camera to his shoulder and there were a couple of other people there and he said, stand next to the wall between these two and when the right one pretends to whisper a joke to you, then you turn and whisper it to the one next to him. And I did and this ended up in one of John's prize-winning movies. I don't know which one. I have never had the luck of seeing it, but I am in a Lennon movie and I don't tell you that, Diane, to make you feel jealous.

  • 11:12:35

    REHMDick Cavett, he was host of "The Dick Cavett Show," which aired on ABC from 1968 to 1975 and on public television from 1977 to 1982. He currently writes an online opinion column for The New York Times. His new book is titled "Talk Show: Confrontation, Pointed Commentary and Off-Screen Secrets." One of the on-screen, what shall I call it, confrontations that I observed yesterday, I had not seen it before, was when you had Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner on. I want our listeners to hear just a little tiny piece of this.

  • 11:13:37

    CAVETTI hope they can take it.

  • 11:15:10

    REHMThat was quite an encounter, Dick Cavett.

  • 11:15:14

    CAVETTYes. And of course, I don't need to identify that last quote from Shakespeare (laugh).

  • 11:15:21

    REHMNow...

  • 11:15:21

    CAVETTI have no -- Diane, I have no idea where that came from. The gods popped it into my head.

  • 11:15:27

    REHMSure.

  • 11:15:27

    CAVETTI needed to say something. I don't know if it comes from my Nebraska tribal memories from an unremembered work of art. I have no idea. And following that, he said, Cavett, Cavett, is that -- your word of honor, is that something you've just have canned for years and waiting to use? Your word of honor, is that something -- and I said, I should have to tell you a quote from Tolstoy? Well, this got, if possible, a laugh almost as big as the fold it five ways, which is always misquoted, but that program, who would have thought that watching a program with three authors would produce 90 minutes as exciting as most Gillette fights.

  • 11:16:21

    REHMDid you know at the time that you -- that Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, add to that mix, Janet Flanner, did you know that Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer did not get along well?

  • 11:16:43

    CAVETTNo. In fact, a behind the scenes secret, as in that thing on the cover of the book, was that Gore came into the green room and placed his hand on Norman's neck before the show and said, hello, old fellow or something. And in response, Mailer head-butted him and Gore said, you are absolutely crazy. And it was -- but I missed all that. I didn't go into the green room...

  • 11:17:16

    REHMRight.

  • 11:17:16

    REHM...and mingle with the guests before the show usually.

  • 11:17:18

    REHMRight.

  • 11:17:19

    CAVETTSo I should have know something from that. And then when Norman entered in his picturesque pugilistic walk with his fist held halfway up his torso, swinging them from left to right as he walked, that something was up. And he was there to gut Gore for a thing Gore had written about him in The New York Review of Books, which he took to be equating him with Charles Manson.

  • 11:17:46

    REHMWhoa.

  • 11:17:48

    CAVETTNow, what Gore had said was that, the violation, so to speak, of women in literature has a tradition going back to Henry Miller as creatures to be poked, to Norman Mailer with his odd violence and his novels and finally Charles Mason, what I call, Gore said, three-M, Man, Miller, Mailer, Manson.

  • 11:18:15

    REHMOh, my.

  • 11:18:16

    CAVETTSo that's -- that's the -- that'll give you idea.

  • 11:18:19

    REHMOh, sure. Well, one tiny last postscript to that, my husband's uncle, Lane Rehm, was Janet Flanner's first husband. Just to add...

  • 11:18:35

    CAVETTWow.

  • 11:18:37

    REHM...to your little compendium of facts. I thought you'd be interested.

  • 11:18:42

    CAVETTOh, I hope somebody asks me -- I hope a trivia expert asks me who Janet Flanner's first husband was.

  • 11:18:48

    REHMAnd I don't think she ever married again. Short break. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:03

    REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, Dick Cavett is with me. He's got a new book out and it's titled simply "Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary and Off-Screen Secrets." He's got a very bad cold, but because he is a pro and he knew that I would be totally dispirited if he did not show up, even by phone this morning, he is with us for the hour, not taking calls from anyone else during this entire time. You know, I was so amused to find that your book begins with all the misuses of the English language, especially by prominent people, that the word nuclear, pronounced nucular, drives you up the wall.

  • 11:21:11

    CAVETTYes, it did. Of course, that's the most famous one now because the man that the Supreme Court elected to presidency that time used it all the time. And I -- the main thing -- I think I saw Andy Rooney mention this, too, once on his show is that why didn't his wife, a literate woman and a librarian and admired woman, ever say, Dumbo, it's nuclear. I don't know if she called him affectionate names like Dumbo, but he's not the only one, of course. And...

  • 11:21:50

    REHMNo, of course not.

  • 11:21:52

    CAVETTWell, who else weighed in in the political scene?

  • 11:21:55

    REHMWell, you do hear...

  • 11:21:57

    CAVETTRumsfeld.

  • 11:21:57

    REHMYep.

  • 11:21:58

    CAVETTThat action wasn't violent, it was just mischievous. My aunt used to say mischievous and drive me up the wall. And does anybody know -- oh, there was a howling grammatical error in a Times article two days ago, but I shouldn't mention that because they're my employer.

  • 11:22:17

    REHMOh, please.

  • 11:22:18

    CAVETTAnd does anyone you know, Diane, know the difference between lay and lie these days?

  • 11:22:25

    REHMWell, you've got to point it out. When you hear it, you just say it, but I gather because your parents were both teachers, it became...

  • 11:22:36

    CAVETTOh, you know me too well.

  • 11:22:38

    CAVETT...it became very important to you to hear correct grammar. And it does to me, too. I think it is extraordinarily important, but, you know what I'm so impressed by is your extraordinary memory of details of these kinds of things that happened on your program. I mean, I get off one hour and I'm already on to the next and I've almost forgotten everything, but you seem to have this extraordinary memory.

  • 11:23:17

    CAVETTWell, let me tell you a story that almost contradicts that (laugh). One time -- every time a "Cavett Show" of any kind went off the air, my good friend from Nebraska would have me on his show. It was called "The Tonight Show" and Johnny Carson and he would usually do a joke like, if this next one doesn't work, it's Armed Forces radio for Richard (laugh). And during a commercial break, he said to me once, leaning over -- I was the only one sitting there, Richard, do you ever forget who you had on? And I said, well, oh yeah, there's so many after awhile. He said, no, no, I mean, that night. And Johnny was worried about his mind.

  • 11:24:03

    REHMWow.

  • 11:24:04

    CAVETTAnd I said, what happened? And he said, I went home and the doorman said, who'd you have on tonight, Mr. Carson? And I said, we had the usual four. We had, um, uh, um, oh, my God. And he said, it was 20 minutes later before I could come up with one of the four people.

  • 11:24:19

    REHMYeah, yeah.

  • 11:24:20

    CAVETTAnd he was worried and I wanted to make him feel better and I suddenly saw how. I said, oh, that reminds me. I came home once from the taping of a one-person show. Somebody yelled out, how'd the show go and they said, fine. They said, who was it? Uh, uh, um, oh, my God, they sat right there. Um, um, um -- 12 to 14 minutes later, Diane, I came up with the obscure name of my guest, Lucille Ball.

  • 11:24:49

    REHMOh, my gosh.

  • 11:24:51

    CAVETTNow, what do you make of that?

  • 11:24:52

    REHMWell...

  • 11:24:53

    CAVETTDoesn't that mean that the person who does the show is not the same person who goes home?

  • 11:24:58

    REHMWell, you know, that's an interesting point, especially in your case because you went through a period of depression when, in fact...

  • 11:25:12

    CAVETTAt least once.

  • 11:25:13

    REHM...you did feel totally separate from the person who was on the air.

  • 11:25:19

    CAVETTYes.

  • 11:25:20

    REHMCan you talk about that?

  • 11:25:22

    CAVETTWell, I think in all the cases, anyone who is on the air is not the same person precisely that they are at home. And as you know, there are horrendous examples of how far from the person they're supposed to be on the air are they really, but yeah, I haven't experienced great memory loss that I'm aware of. At the time, you have depression, though, you really -- it's all you can do to come up with yesterday or even earlier that day. And I just was thinking of poor Madoff's suicide and I have a personal connection with it and I just wish that he somehow had been able to get what he needed.

  • 11:26:13

    CAVETTBut when you're notoriously famous as he was it's hard to. And so many famous people or infamous people or people notoriously this or that, don't get the help that the average person can. The average person is also notorious for not getting help. And the only fun I've had out of depression, you might say, is when someone says, what you said on Larry King or what you said in People Magazine or whatever you said on somebody's show about depression save my dad's life and it's that silly notion about celebrity, I guess, in a way. If Dick Cavett can have this, than maybe I can, too, and it's all right and I should get help.

  • 11:27:12

    REHMDid you get...

  • 11:27:13

    CAVETTSave my daughter's -- I've had letters from people whose daughter's life was saved, but -- so I guess you do turn yourself in, it's nothing to be ashamed of.

  • 11:27:22

    REHMDid you manage...

  • 11:27:24

    CAVETTIt's still the stigma...

  • 11:27:25

    REHM...did you get -- did you manage to get a lot of help for yourself?

  • 11:27:31

    CAVETTI got a lot of help. Some of it lousy, some of it good. And finally, I would say probably lifesaving and it can be helped and it will end sometime. It might go a year, it might go two more days. There's a term, I guess, in psychiatry, self-limiting. If you can convince someone in it that yes, as hard as it is -- impossible as it is to believe, you will feel better one day. But the reason it's hard to convince them is that when you're in it, you think, nice of you to say that, but my brain is busted...

  • 11:28:17

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:28:17

    CAVETT...and it's never gonna be fixed.

  • 11:28:19

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:28:19

    CAVETTI can tell by how it feels.

  • 11:28:21

    REHMWell, you know, I have a little excerpt here of your singing with Ray Charles back in...

  • 11:28:34

    CAVETTMy God.

  • 11:28:34

    REHM...1972 singing "Am I Blue?" And...

  • 11:28:41

    CAVETTOh, how did you get that?

  • 11:28:42

    REHM...I'd like to hear it.

  • 11:30:37

    REHMIs that terrific or what?

  • 11:30:39

    CAVETTDiane, that's the first time I've laughed with this cold (laugh). That was one of the happiest moments of my life.

  • 11:30:47

    REHMReally.

  • 11:30:47

    CAVETTSitting there with the great Ray Charles...

  • 11:30:49

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:30:50

    CAVETT...and his amusement at my doing his phrasing of -- because I had played the record of that music 100 times, so I knew it, but...

  • 11:30:59

    REHMWell, it was just terrific to listen to it.

  • 11:31:04

    CAVETT(laugh) Yeah.

  • 11:31:05

    REHMWhat was it like for you to hear it now after all these years?

  • 11:31:10

    CAVETTIt was like longing for your youth and lost friends swallowed in the great (word?) of time. Interesting about Ray, as you might know, though very little publicity was given -- has been given, there are five boxes of DVDs of the old "Cavett Shows." People can go to Amazon if they don't believe me and one of them is all Ray Charles 'cause he did the show at least five times and that would be on there. Interesting part is that in the first of the five, you notice something that you don't notice in the other four. And then, when the movie came out, I realized what it was. He was still on drugs on the first show that he did with me...

  • 11:31:57

    REHMOh my, oh my.

  • 11:31:59

    CAVETT...and later not. But Ray survived that, unlike two other great beloved guests of mine, Jimmy Hendrix and Janice Joplin, both of whom OD'd within about eight days of each other after doing my show.

  • 11:32:17

    REHMI remember seeing clips of both of them...

  • 11:32:23

    CAVETTYeah, yeah.

  • 11:32:23

    REHM...doing your show and, you know, it's hard to watch. I mean, I know that at that time, it was totally acceptable for people to come on looking that way, behaving that way, smoking...

  • 11:32:43

    CAVETTYeah.

  • 11:32:43

    REHM...cigarette after cigarette, but I found myself taking -- it took my breath away to see that kind of celebrity on view.

  • 11:32:58

    CAVETTI know, yeah. And of course, it is shocking -- as with the Lennon shows. I think I pointed out in the article, they were nervous at the beginning.

  • 11:33:09

    REHMYes.

  • 11:33:10

    CAVETTThere was a lot riding on their appearance that I didn't realize, including the fact that John would afterwards ask me if I would come testify for him that the Nixon -- I'm sorry, not -- yes, Nixon.

  • 11:33:23

    REHMYes.

  • 11:33:24

    CAVETTI know it's Nixon, but I prefer (laugh) to call him affectionately The Great Unindicted Co-conspirator.

  • 11:33:30

    REHMRight.

  • 11:33:31

    CAVETTWanted him booted out of the country because his lick-spittle Haldeman -- you don't mind my using that Shakespeare word, do you?

  • 11:33:39

    REHMNo.

  • 11:33:40

    CAVETTLick-spittle, I mean, not Haldeman, had told him, this guy could sway an election, meaning John, in his opposition to the war and so on. So where was I going? Oh...

  • 11:33:54

    REHMWell...

  • 11:33:54

    CAVETT...so at the beginning, as you pointed out, it's shocking to see them kill half a pack of Viceroys in the first two or three segments of the show, until they settle down and we were all accustomed to being there and the audience had warmed them up because they loved John so. And Yoko is quite sweet and it was really a fun -- a love fest. But the smoking on camera -- and with Hendrix, I got a kick out of the fact that here sitting, there is this hippy in the eyes of those with a Republican tendency in my studio audience, all dressed in silks and pretty blue pants and a silk sash around his waist and so on. And probably a sissy in their eyes, which made it fun for me to say, do you miss being part of the 131st Airborne and being a paratrooper?

  • 11:34:57

    CAVETTAnd some of the folk that show shocked them and it's what their image of him was. They thought I was kidding. But do you remember a moment -- maybe you saw it, I think maybe on YouTube, where I say to him semiseriously, do you -- are you organized? Do you try to get up every morning and...

  • 11:35:19

    REHMYes, yes.

  • 11:35:20

    CAVETT...get work done? And he said, I try to get up every morning.

  • 11:35:22

    REHMExactly (laugh). But, you know, when I say that it was sort of almost shocking to watch. On radio, when I am sitting across from a guest or if I'm talking as I am with you on the telephone, I expect to hear something. With television, with both John Lennon and Yoko, with Janice Joplin, with Jimmy Hendrix, there are these long silences when all one is doing is looking at a human being who seems not quite with it.

  • 11:36:15

    CAVETTWell, surely you don't mean Sly Stone.

  • 11:36:20

    REHMNo, I'm not talking…

  • 11:36:23

    CAVETTI have a huge box of rock icons, one of the "Cavett Show" boxes and there is a notorious alleged interview with Sly Stone in which, from his part, no recognizable syllable of any language is uttered (laugh).

  • 11:36:45

    REHMAnd what did you do?

  • 11:36:47

    CAVETTIt got funny. I sat there in a sort of concussion most of the time and I don't remember really -- I didn't come up with anything as clever as Dave Letterman's, sorry you couldn't be here to have seen what's his name, but wish I had, but I had him back, that's the thing I did. Now, you might see that as self-destructive, but he was going through a phase of some sort on the first time. The second time, he was delightful and fun, entertaining.

  • 11:37:22

    REHMWell, see, I have the option, of course, when a guest is not particularly responsive, I can always say let's open the phones. We're going to take a short break here. And when we come back, we will do exactly that, open the phones.

  • 11:41:42

    REHMAnd of course, I hope I made Dick Cavett laugh once again this morning.

  • 11:41:48

    CAVETTI did without even coughing. Oh, Lord, I had forgotten that particular segment with Groucho and...

  • 11:41:55

    REHMWell, you know, somebody has written, Tom who's in Bethesda, Md. says, "Did Mr. Cavett ever get a complete video of his Groucho Marx interview? I understand his network erased them to save tape."

  • 11:42:15

    CAVETTOh, no. There was an erasure incident, but mercifully, we had nothing to do -- it wasn't with Groucho. And I can hardly complain about an incident or two since the idiots at NBC erased years of Johnny Carson in New York, years of it, to either reuse the tape or meltdown the silver out of it or something. In fact, a sad story, a friend of mine went to visit a friend of his, a functionary at NBC one day and the guy said, I'm really depressed. I hate my job. I just erased George S. Kaufman's first appearance with Jack Paar on "The Tonight Show."

  • 11:43:01

    REHMOh, wow.

  • 11:43:04

    CAVETTNow, wouldn't you have leant them your garage or something to put these things in?

  • 11:43:08

    REHMYep.

  • 11:43:08

    CAVETTGood God.

  • 11:43:09

    REHMYeah, really. Actually, you wrote for Groucho once.

  • 11:43:15

    CAVETTOnly in -- I can only claim I wrote for Groucho because when Johnny -- when Jack left "The Tonight Show," I stayed on through the summer and Johnny didn't take over 'til fall, really, so he was smart. So week after week, different people, as they say in the Midwest, different ones hosted "The Tonight Show." Some disastrously, some brilliantly and Groucho for two weeks. So I wrote -- I actually took jokes down to Groucho's desk and saw him use them on the air and it gave me a thrill each time.

  • 11:43:52

    REHMThat's terrific. Let's open the phones. Let's go to Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Good morning, Maureen.

  • 11:44:01

    MAUREENGood morning, Diane. Diane, thank you for having Dick Cavett on. Mr. Cavett, I watched you -- I'm 10 years younger than you are and I watched you when you started -- when the show began and as a child, I remember watching you and Paar. I had no clue that there was a thread, you know, but Jack Paar's show was so fascinating to me as a child. And then there you were and it had the same feel. And I thought, my goodness, I watched every day. And when it was taken off the air, I almost had a major depression because...

  • 11:44:38

    CAVETTOh, no (laugh).

  • 11:44:39

    MAUREEN...it was such a great show. I mean, I remember...

  • 11:44:41

    CAVETTI love hearing that because Jack was my idol and my obsession.

  • 11:44:47

    MAUREENYeah.

  • 11:44:47

    CAVETTAnd when I impulsively took a monologue to him and got hired, I could not believe that I was now inside the Jack Paar "Tonight Show," not watching it from the outside.

  • 11:44:59

    MAUREENWhat was wonderful was what you were talking about a minute ago, that discomfort where you wanna look away. That was also so important because it allowed people, even if there were cringe moments -- I could see you, too. I mean, it made you uncomfortable. I could see people learning that celebrity and the weight of it and not being ready for it at such young ages in some cases really threw people into tailspins And it was important for people to see that. And those (unintelligible)...

  • 11:45:32

    CAVETTThe thing that was -- well, the thing that drew you and me to Jack Paar so avidly was the fact that his -- the neurotic danger in Jack's personality, which was fascinating for television. The great Kenneth Tynan, British critic, said about Paar to me once, you know, I realized one day that when there are people on the screen and one of them is Jack, no matter who the other one is, you don't take your -- you can't take your eyes off Jack for fear you might miss a live nervous breakdown on your home screen (laugh).

  • 11:46:08

    REHMBut, you know, you write in the book, I mean, things that happen on the air in a studio. You write about a guest who died on your show.

  • 11:46:24

    CAVETTMercifully, only one.

  • 11:46:27

    REHMThat's...

  • 11:46:28

    CAVETTYes.

  • 11:46:28

    REHM...enough.

  • 11:46:30

    CAVETTAnd that's plenty.

  • 11:46:30

    REHMIf that happened to me, I don't know what in the world I would do. How did that happen?

  • 11:46:36

    CAVETTWell, I didn't know what in the world I would do, either.

  • 11:46:37

    REHMYeah, exactly.

  • 11:46:38

    CAVETTIn the same course, it makes it ironic is that who would the gods stick out to die on a show in front of the audience, except the health expert...

  • 11:46:47

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:46:48

    CAVETT...which is exactly what J. I. Rodale was, publisher of Prevention magazine and so on.

  • 11:46:55

    REHMAnd how did he die?

  • 11:46:58

    CAVETTHeart attack. Massive heart attack. He had been really funny. He'd been funny for 30 minutes. Brought out the next guest having made a mental note to have Rodale back and he croaked. I don't mean that in the crudely vulgar sense, slang. He made a croaking sound, kind of a, ack, ack...

  • 11:47:20

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:47:20

    CAVETT...and snoring.

  • 11:47:21

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:47:21

    CAVETTAnd then his body went sorta rigid and then he -- the next thing I knew, two interns had come up from the audience and had his chest and tried to unzip his pants, whatever you do to loosen the belt and pound on the chest, but he was apparently dead before he hit the floor.

  • 11:47:43

    REHMNow, tell me this, were the cameras still rolling?

  • 11:47:48

    CAVETTYes. So I have a live death on...

  • 11:47:51

    REHMOh, wow, wow.

  • 11:47:52

    CAVETT...tape. They cut a little sooner than they might have. I remember a vivid image of seeing a cameraman standing on his tippy-toes pointing the camera downward at the floor to get the picture of Rodale there before the director finally cut. And it took the audience quite awhile, the realization that this was not part of the show...

  • 11:48:20

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:48:21

    CAVETT...because what else would it be, you know, have people die with cameras and lights and makeup and band and...

  • 11:48:26

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:48:27

    CAVETT...music and laughing and clapping. It sort of moved like a wave toward the back of the house, the realization that something was very wrong.

  • 11:48:39

    REHMLet's go to...

  • 11:48:39

    CAVETTI didn't know how I could ever do another show.

  • 11:48:41

    REHMYeah, I';; bet.

  • 11:48:41

    CAVETTI called Johnny and said, what do I do? 'Cause it was in all the papers, of course. And then Johnny said, you just have to go out there and talk about it. I said, but what happens to the rest of the show? And he said, you know, you could go out and talk about it, go to commercial, bring Phyllis Diller out and the audience will laugh and you'll be rolling again and he was absolutely right.

  • 11:49:08

    REHMYou know, I had...

  • 11:49:10

    CAVETTThe next day, of course, not the same day (laugh).

  • 11:49:11

    REHMWell, I had a somewhat similar experience in that a few years after I took over the daily program, I was on the air when the Challenger blew up.

  • 11:49:30

    CAVETTOh, my God, yeah. Well, I was in the office, but not on the air (unintelligible).

  • 11:49:35

    REHMI was on the air and...

  • 11:49:38

    CAVETTWow. And how did you learn it? Did somebody hand you a note?

  • 11:49:42

    REHMYes, they brought in a note and said, Diane, the Challenger just blew up. And I remember saying, Oh, my God, the Challenger just blew up. And I'll never forget that, so I really can understand your difficulty thinking, what am I gonna say?

  • 11:50:10

    CAVETTYeah, have a shattering experience like that. It's interesting in that when I first met Ms. -- oh, not first met. When I went to see Katherine Hepburn at her house about whether or not she'd come on the show, she sort of plopped down on the rug with her -- those long legs spread out (laugh) as is she was gonna play jacks and said, I wanna know everything about the man who died on your show. And she's interested in medicine. She always had a bag of pills for people in movies she was working with and (unintelligible).

  • 11:50:42

    REHMWell, her father was a doctor.

  • 11:50:44

    CAVETTYeah, her dad was a...

  • 11:50:45

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:50:45

    CAVETT...doctor and she liked medicine. And I said, why do you suppose I stopped myself saying, is there a doctor in the, pause, audience? And she said, well, you know, doctor in the house would get a laugh and she was right.

  • 11:51:07

    REHMYou know, I was interested in how many times or how frequently you had to go and convince someone to come on your program rather than have them simply come on because they wanted to. Was it a question of trust? What was it?

  • 11:51:33

    CAVETTI don't know, but I remember being stunned learning that Fred Astaire had sort of hoped someone would invite him on...

  • 11:51:40

    CAVETT...a show. And of course, he did come on and do two memorable shows, in each of which, we had to get special permission to do a slightly longer segment so he could do his complete Gershwin medley...

  • 11:51:54

    REHMOh, my goodness.

  • 11:51:55

    CAVETT...on the first one...

  • 11:51:55

    REHMOh, my goodness.

  • 11:51:56

    CAVETT...and his complete Cole Porter medley, I think it was, on the second one.

  • 11:52:00

    REHMAll right. Let's take a call from Phoenix, Ariz. Good morning, Maureen.

  • 11:52:06

    MAUREENGood morning everyone. Can you hear me okay? 'Cause I'm parked...

  • 11:52:09

    CAVETTYeah.

  • 11:52:09

    MAUREEN...with my cell phone and...

  • 11:52:11

    REHMCertainly can. Go right ahead.

  • 11:52:12

    MAUREENOkay. Thank you. Diane, I first heard your show when we moved out here from New York in 1996. I don't remember listening to it back east, but it has been the best thing since cream cheese. I love your show.

  • 11:52:27

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:52:29

    MAUREENNow, Mr. Cavett, I just want to ask, among 1,000 questions swirling in my head, but I love your show.

  • 11:52:36

    CAVETTJust ask 30 of them.

  • 11:52:39

    MAUREENYeah, thank God, you're in good company (laugh). I loved your show. I thought it was just incredible and I have never known of any celebrity that had such a rapier sharp wit as you do. I just -- you know, I love it and...

  • 11:52:54

    CAVETTDid you ever hear of Groucho Marx?

  • 11:52:57

    MAUREENWell, compared to be a right, but...

  • 11:52:59

    CAVETTYeah, I know, I know, I know.

  • 11:53:00

    MAUREENHow do you -- how do you react when people come up to you and just say, oh, you're so funny, you're so funny? I really think there's a big difference between being witty, between having a wit and just being funny. I don't feel like many people get my sense of humor. I'm out here in Arizona and I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, honk if you're living a life of quiet desperation. I never get any honks. You know, I just think that's (word?).

  • 11:53:28

    CAVETTWell, I don't know what to tell you, except that, yeah, you're right to make a distinction between wit and just plain humor, not that one is worse or less than the other. But wit is a rare thing. There have been about -- can you hear me trying not to cough?

  • 11:53:48

    REHM(laugh) Go ahead.

  • 11:53:50

    CAVETTThere have been about four or five great wits in my lifetime. I came a little late for Oscar Wilde. George S. Kaufman, Groucho's god, Groucho, Fred Allen, Oscar Levant and I've left somebody out.

  • 11:54:18

    REHMYou'll think of it later.

  • 11:54:19

    CAVETTMaybe not. Fred Allen said about Milton Berle's huge success in television in a letter to Groucho, Milton is the moron's messiah.

  • 11:54:34

    REHMThe moron's messiah. Wow.

  • 11:54:38

    CAVETTIsn't that wonderful.

  • 11:54:40

    REHMWhoa, I should say. Have you coughed now? Are you okay?

  • 11:54:45

    CAVETTI strangled awhile, coughed a little bit...

  • 11:54:48

    REHMOkay.

  • 11:54:49

    CAVETT...and fell to the floor quaking, but I'm gonna carry on for you, Diane.

  • 11:54:53

    REHMGood. You've only got about three more minutes. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Birmingham, Mich., finally to Elaine. You're on the air.

  • 11:55:07

    ELAINEHi, Diane.

  • 11:55:07

    CAVETTHello, hello.

  • 11:55:08

    ELAINEI love your show.

  • 11:55:09

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:55:10

    CAVETTThank you.

  • 11:55:10

    ELAINEHello, Mr. Cavett. I...

  • 11:55:12

    CAVETTHi.

  • 11:55:12

    ELAINE...I loved your ABC show, but I also loved your show on PBS and I wondered -- I once tried to Google it and see if I could find it. It had these -- such interesting guests. I remember Agnes de Mille and also you had a wonderful magician, a magician from South America. I remember...

  • 11:55:31

    CAVETTOkay. Let me save time for you. For the magician, Slydini, Google Conjuring Slydini and you will have never seen a greater magician.

  • 11:55:44

    REHMOh, how marvelous.

  • 11:55:45

    CAVETTThis is just a fact, not an opinion.

  • 11:55:46

    REHMOkay. Okay.

  • 11:55:47

    CAVETTI studied with Slydini.

  • 11:55:49

    REHMDid you?

  • 11:55:49

    CAVETTWhat I'm telling you is that the videos that went with a lot of my columns are still there along with the columns. In the book, the ones that have videos, and that includes Slydini and Paul Newman and Bobby Fisher and the great four shows I did with Richard Burton, the links are there in the book for you to go to them.

  • 11:56:12

    REHMTerrific. What a...

  • 11:56:13

    CAVETTA clever person will just Google Dick Cavett, Richard Burton, but...

  • 11:56:18

    REHMDick, do you...

  • 11:56:18

    CAVETT...and I know you're that (laugh).

  • 11:56:19

    REHMDo you miss doing a nightly show?

  • 11:56:24

    CAVETTThere are times when I do. I certainly didn't miss it on Thursday nights when I did two 90 minute shows in a row.

  • 11:56:32

    REHMWow.

  • 11:56:33

    CAVETTAnd in the last 15 minutes of the second one, I had soaked up so much heat from the light and had used so much brain energy that I didn't know to whom I was speaking, what I was saying or where I was.

  • 11:56:48

    REHMWell, I'll tell you what...

  • 11:56:49

    CAVETTI faked it through.

  • 11:56:51

    REHM...I am going to long remember where I was the day I talked with Dick Cavett about his new book. It's titled "Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary and Off-Screen Secrets." Next time you're in town, come see me.

  • 11:57:15

    CAVETTOh, I hope you will quit just because you finally talked to me (laugh).

  • 11:57:18

    REHMI promise you I won't.

  • 11:57:21

    CAVETTOkay, Diane.

  • 11:57:21

    REHMThanks for joining us. Take care of yourself.

  • 11:57:24

    CAVETTYou're super.

  • 11:57:25

    REHMThank you. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Friday News Roundup – International

Friday, Dec 19 2014World leaders react to a historic shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba. Pakistan buries victims of a school massacre by the Taliban. And U.S. officials say North Korea is behind the hacking of Sony Pictures. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.

The Future Of U.S.-Cuban Relations

Thursday, Dec 18 2014Cuba releases American contractor Alan Gross after five years' imprisonment on espionage charges. The U.S. releases several Cubans in exchange. Details on the prisoner swap and the future of U.S.-Cuban relations.