A collection of work previously published as a part of Cavett’s New York Times online opinion column, these articles could easily fall under the heading of musings were they not so varied in content, topic, theme, and style. Some are biography, like Cavett’s account of a prank pulled when he was in high school (“I Owe William Jennings Bryan an Apology”). Others are pieces on such celebrities as Stan Laurel, Muhammad Ali, and John Lennon, told as only Cavett, both as a journalist and a celebrity himself, can. Still others are commentary, told with wit, such as “Should News Come with a Warning Label?” Given Cavett’s background hosting talk shows and doing TV interviews, it comes as no surprise that what holds these varied vignettes together is his conversational style. In fact, in many of these short works (some no more than five pages), like “Can You Stand Some More Stan?” about Stan Laurel, he seems to be carrying on a discussion with Laurel’s fans and detractors alike. Cavett’s showing off of his chops from the golden age of late night TV, focusing on people like Groucho Marx, Marlene Dietrich, Jonathan Winters, Tony Curtis, and Mel Brooks, gives everyone a chance to remember or to be introduced to these influential Hollywood and comedy stars. (Nov.)
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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 Jobs—who 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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A welcome sequel to Talk Show, Dick Cavett covers a lot of ground in a collection of erudite and witty pieces...Brief Encounters is very good and very funny, at times pointed, but always engaging.” —The Chicago Tribune
“[Brief Encounters] looks back on Dick Cavett's time with some of the biggest names of the 20th century. A touching essay about the late James Gandolfini, a fond remembrance of an afternoon at Stan Laurel's small Los Angeles apartment, sparring with Muhammed Ali, and being talked into signing on as Apple's first celebrity pitchman by a young Steve Jobs are all here, as are Cavett's warm memories of John Lennon.” —Esquire.com
“Brief Encounters includes numerous observations about contemporary culture and politics neither Democrats nor Republicans are spared … as well as moving recollections of and tributes to stars no longer with us, from Stan Laurel to James Gandolfini.” —USA Today
“[Cavett's] book is at its best when summoning memories of long-gone entertainment figures such as Stan Laurel and Groucho Marx…Cavett never abandons his wit…With his pithy prose style and compact paragraphs, Cavett has a sure feel for the art of column-writing.” —Columbus Dispatch
“Great, pithy stories and recollections... In his signature charming prose, Cavett introduces readers to the fascinating characters that have crossed his path.” —Examiner.com (Named a Best Celebrity Book of the Year)
“The book is a delightful peek behind the curtain at celebrities, complex characters, and the nuances of everyday lifeall told with his singular wit and style.” —Publishers Weekly
“The very model of a quick-witted interviewer, Cavett … still works the crowd effectively…. [Cavett] remembers working as a gag writer for famed comedians and recalls the Broadway badinage and smart repartee that marked the well-regarded Dick Cavett Show.” —Kirkus Reviews
“In the late 1960s to mid-1970s the Dick Cavett Show was a late-night TV destination. [Cavett] was known as a literate, erudite interviewer who loved wordplay, but who didn't take any guff from his guests… Most notable are his anecdotal stories about such people as Groucho Marx, Nora Ephron, and Muhammad Ali.” —Library Journal
“The best bathroom reading ever written! Each story takes just the right amount of time.” —Mel Brooks
Great, pithy stories and recollections... In his signature charming prose, Cavett introduces readers to the fascinating characters that have crossed his path.
[Cavett's] book is at its best when summoning memories of long-gone entertainment figures such as Stan Laurel and Groucho Marx…Cavett never abandons his wit…With his pithy prose style and compact paragraphs, Cavett has a sure feel for the art of column-writing.
Cavett may not be a household name these days but in the late 1960s to mid-1970s the Dick Cavett Show was a late-night TV destination. He was known as a literate, erudite interviewer who loved wordplay, but who didn't take any guff from his guests, as the now famous show in 1971 with Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal demonstrates. Mailer, drunk, belligerent, and trading insults with Vidal, finally said to Cavett, "Why don't you look at your question sheet and ask your question?" to which Cavett responded, "Why don't you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don't shine?" The author wrote about his life in Cavett (1974) and his career in Talk Show (2011). Currently Cavett writes an online opinion column for the New York Times and here he reprises some of those with varying success. Most notable are his anecdotal stories about such people as Groucho Marx, Nora Ephron, and Muhammad Ali; his stints on the game show $25,000 Pyramid; and what it was like writing jokes for comedians. Jimmy Fallon writes a thoughtful and admiring foreword. VERDICT Baby boomers, Cavett fans, and those interested in the history of television will enjoy this book.—Rosellen Brewer, Sno-Isle Libs., Marysville, WA
TV's once-reigning, smarty-pants talk show host presents his thoughts on some problems, performers and a few civilians he's known. The very model of a quick-witted interviewer, Cavett follows Talk Show: Confrontations, Points of Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets (2010) with more of his New York Times online columns. The author remembers working as a gag writer for famed comedians and recalls the Broadway badinage and smart repartee that marked the well-regarded Dick Cavett Show. There's much ado about Groucho, Carson and the Burtons, Jonathan Winters, Mel Brooks and Stan Laurel, not forgetting the great Fat Jack Leonard. The author's standard description of the truly talented is "great." Often with good reason, Cavett liberally applies the encomium to renowned folk like Dietrich, Tracy, Kaufman, the portrayer of "Uncle Junior," his own agent and Yale's famed a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs. The author uses the jester's shtick of a muttered one-liner wrapped in parentheses. Then there's the overly frequent mention of Cavett's alma mater—Yale, of course, a fact readers won't be allowed to forget, even as the text may wander off topic while the author digs into his archives and ruminates. Revelations include a rare adventure with booze and a monumental hangover. Cavett also confesses, as a lad in Nebraska, to a bit of mischievous rascality and a healthy interest in sex. More shocking: He was a fan of Nancy Drew. Naturally, the author on the small screen was more winning than Cavett is on the printed page. Though not exactly the great Alistair Cooke or Garrison Keillor, this light entertainment will please the many Cavett and Yale fans. Lifelong fan Jimmy Fallon provides the foreword. A skilled second banana still works the crowd effectively.
Read an Excerpt
Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks
By Dick Cavett, Jimmy Fallon
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Dick Cavett
All rights reserved.
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
Excerpted from Brief Encounters by Dick Cavett, Jimmy Fallon. Copyright © 2015 Dick Cavett. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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