A 2016 Grammy nominee for Best Spoken Word Album
Dick Cavett is back, sharing his reflections and reminiscences about Hollywood legends, American cultural icons, and the absurdities of everyday life
In Brief Encounters, the legendary talk show host Dick Cavett introduces us to the fascinating characters who have crossed his path, from James Gandolfini and John Lennon to Mel Brooks and Nora Ephron, enhancing our appreciation of their talent, their personalities, and their place in the pantheon. We tag along as Cavett spends an afternoon with Stan Laurel at his modest apartment in Los Angeles, spars with Muhammad Ali at his training camp, and comes to know a young Steve Jobswho woos him to be Apple's first celebrity pitchman. He also offers piquant commentary on contemporary politics, the indignities of travel, the nature of comedy writing, and the utter improbability of being alive at all.
On his talk show, Cavett welcomed the leading figures from film, music, theater, literature, comedy, sports, and politics, and engaged them in conversation that made viewers feel that the discussion was taking place in their own living rooms. Jimmy Fallon, the new host of The Tonight Show, has called him "a legend and an inspiration" and has written a foreword that makes clear the debt that today's talk show hosts owe to Dick Cavett. Brief Encounters opens the door on how Cavett's mind works and what it is like to live in his world.
To spend a few minutes, or an hour, or even a whole evening with Dick Cavett is an experience not to be missed, and now there's no reason to deny yourself. Settle in, and enjoy the conversation!
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About the Author
Dick Cavett was the host of The Dick Cavett Show on ABC and PBS, and he also hosted talk shows on the USA, HBO, and CNBC cable networks. He appears frequently on Imus in the Morning, HuffPostLive, and other interview programs, and he was nominated for his most recent Emmy Award in 2012. He is the author of Talk Show and the coauthor of Cavett and Eye on Cavett, and he writes an online opinion column for The New York Times. He lives in New York City and Montauk, New York.
Read an Excerpt
Dreams, Let Up on Us!
Will Shakespeare told us, in that line always misquoted with the word “of”—even by Bogey in The Maltese Falcon—that “we are such stuff as dreams are made on.” If they’re in fact what we’re made on, it’s a mixed blessing.
We know that much of Freud’s work has been repudiated and disparaged by the psychiatric world. Particularly his dream symbolism. But I’ve seen dream analysis work. When “in treatment”—that lovely euphemism for getting your head shrunk—with the brilliant Dr. Willard Gaylin, I would come in with a mishmash of a dream and, feature by crazy feature, he would elucidate it. It was—and can we now retire this word for at least a decade, young people?—awesome.
Some people claim they never dream. There are times when I wish I were one of them.
There are two types of dream that rate, for me at least, the word “nightmare.” The buggers are the Actor’s Dream and the Exam Dream. If you’ve never endured either of these, count yourself lucky. Maybe I’m getting your share.
The question I can never find an answer to is the one that makes dreams so mysterious. When you watch a movie or read a story you don’t know what’s coming next. You’re surprised by what happens as it unfolds. You know that someone wrote the book or made the movie.
But who in hell is the author of the dream? How can it be anyone but you? But how can it be you if it’s all new to you, if you don’t know what’s coming? Do you write the dream, then hide it from yourself, forget it, and then “sit out front” and watch it? Everything in it is a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant. And, unlike a book or film, you can’t fast-forward to see how it comes out. So where does it come from? And who “wrote” it?
(I apologize if I’ve led you to think I have the answers.)
What shows you the dream and at the same time blinds you to its source? The mechanism has to be ingeniously complex to pull this stunt off. But it seems that the complexity of the human brain is too, well, complex for that same brain to understand.
A nice puzzle.
I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who hasn’t had the Exam Dream. (Do people who haven’t been to school get this dream, or are they immune to the torture?)
There you are in the classroom, trying desperately to get a peek at someone else’s paper, but they’ve just turned the page as you writhe in the realization that you forgot to study.
Why, this far from one’s education, does one (or at least I) still get the damned dream?
Once I awoke in a sweat from it, walked around a little to shake it off, calmed down, and went back to sleep, only to be blindsided that same night by the Actor’s Dream.
Every actor gets it, even people who have only been in the school play. You’re backstage, about to go on, and desperately trying to find a copy of the play to get at least your first line or two, but no one has a script. How did you get to opening night and fail to learn a single line?
You’re plagued with “How did I do this to myself?” and “Am I even wearing the right costume?” and “Do I go out there and try to ad-lib a part I don’t know, maybe getting a few lines right by chance?” and “In a moment I’ll step out there and make an ass of myself, let down and embarrass my fellow actors, and probably be fired on the spot as they give people’s money back.” It goes on and on and won’t let up on you.
The merciful release at the much-too-late-in-coming realization “Oh, thank God, it’s a dream!” leaves you limp.
Freud, “the Viennese quack” (Nabokov), is said to have pointed out that the mental agony of an excruciating dream is always far worse than the real situation would be.
Logic tells you that in waking real life you probably wouldn’t get into the situation you lie there suffering and blaming yourself for. The rich variety of hateful anxiety dreams can be about anything: not having studied; having lost your passport in an unfamiliar land; getting hopelessly lost in the woods; being late for and unable to find your own wedding; having let your pet get lost; and the myriad other sleeping torture plots the mind is heir to.
The psychic pain is acute. And even if these things did happen, awful as they would be, why must the psychic pain be ten times more excruciating in the dream than it would be in real life?
Who does this to us? Who or what is the sadistic force operating on us here? It’s hard to admit, but doesn’t it have to be ourselves?
Then why are we doing it to ourselves? What did we do to deserve it? And does it all stand for something about us that’s so awful it has to be disguised as something else in the dream?
Please have your answers to these questions on my desk by Friday. Neatness and clarity of presentation will count, and five points will be taken off for spelling.
Time for a laugh here. I just remembered that the great Robert Benchley wrote, somewhere, a piece about that aspect of dreams that’s common to most of them—that nothing is quite itself as you know it. “It’s my house but it’s not my house. It’s my gray suit but it has wheels on it.”
Should you deem this subject worthy of a return visit, I’ll expose the specific anxiety dreams I collected for a time from some famous people: Laurence Olivier, Rudolf Nureyev, others. (Or you can just tell me to shut up about it.)
APRIL 30, 2010
Copyright © 2014 by Richard A. Cavett
Foreword © 2014 by Jimmy Fallon
Table of ContentsForeword by Jimmy Fallon xiii
Dreams, Let Up on Us! 1
The Windows of the Soul Need Cleaning 4
Art Did the Darndest Things... to Your Jokes 8
A. Godfrey: A Man for a Long, Long Season 11
More of Our Man Godfrey 15
Real Americans, Please Stand Up 19
Dear Fellow Improbable... 23
Further Improbables 27
The Titan and the Pfc. 31
Match Him? Not Likely 36
I Wrote It, Must I Also Hustle It? 39
Lennon's Return 42
A Bittersweet Christmas Story 45
Sauce for the Goose? Take a Gander 49
The Wrath of Grapes 53
How Do You Open for a Mind-Reading Horse? 57
My Life as a Juvenile Delinquent 62
My Liz: The Fantasy 67
In Defense of Offense 71
The Week That Was 75
The First Shall Be Lastor, Anyway, Second 79
Waiting (and Waiting) in the Wings 83
I Owe William Jennings Bryan an Apology 87
Sorry, W.J.B., to Bring This Up Again 93
Flying? Increasingly for the Birds 97
The Great Melvino, or Our Mr. Brooks 101
Tough Sell 106
Up Against the Wall 109
Last Nude Column (for Now, at Least) 113
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Nutty 116
Marlene on the Phone 120
Should News Come with a Warning Label? 125
Schooling Santorum 128
Road to Ruin 132
Groucho Lives! (In Two Places) 137
They Dressed Like Groucho 142
Pyramid Power, Over Me 148
You Gave Away Your Babies? 154
Vamping with Nora 158
Comedy Pain and Comedy Pleasure 162
The Fine Mess Maker at Home 167
Can You Stand Some More Stan? 173
How Are the Mighty Fallen, or Where's My Friend? 177
Ali, Round Two 181
Back When I Was Packing 186
More on Guns, with Readers 190
And the Oscar Doesn't Go to the Oscars 194
Tonight, Tonight, Its World Is Full of Blight 198
With Winters Gone, Can We Be Far Behind? 203
Missing: Jonathan Winters. Badly. 207
Hel-LO! You're... Who Again? 214
Good Night, Sweet Soprano 225
As Comics Say, "These Kids Today! I Tell Ya!" 230
More Sex, Anyone? 235
Tough Way to Lose a Friend 239
Cavett on Booze, Again 244
Only in My Dreams? 249