An Emmy Award winner and talk show host pioneer, Dick Cavett is back with his fourth book, Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks (Holt/Times, Nov.). Drawn from his online opinion pieces in the New York Times, the book is a delightful peek behind the curtain at celebrities, complex characters, and the nuances of everyday life—all told with his singular wit and style. Jimmy Fallon, who wrote the foreword, calls Cavett “a legend and an inspiration.” Cavett talks to Show Daily about the continued fascination with celebrity culture and responding to fan mail, good and bad.
Cavett is a speaker at the APA Author Tea, 4–5 p.m., in Room 1E10/1E11.
Brief Encounters is culled from your series of New York Times pieces. Why did you feel the time was right to compile them in another book?
I suppose because I realized to my total astonishment that I had actually written enough to do a second book. People had enjoyed the first collection... called Talk Show, so much, the words “second book” popped into my mind. I could not marshal a strong argument against it.
Since your book contains a good amount of biographical material, is there something about yourself that might surprise readers?
I’m not sure I’m the one to answer this question, not knowing which readers have which capacity for surprise. Or what they already know about me. I’d prefer to think the reader might well be surprised by reactions in himself. If I tried this sort of cowardly answer in front of an audience, I think I’d be wise to duck. There might be someone out front with the other Hillary Clinton shoe.
What sort of “fan mail” do you get about the Times columns? Do readers tell you the specific sorts of things they like or don’t like?
They seem to enjoy learning about things and people I’ve had the good fortune to meet and to hear about, and some quite dramatic happenings I’ve experienced for which they would have no other source. As in, “Your column on James Gandolfini’s death. It made me weep.” Or, “Thanks millions for taking us along to your meeting with Stan Laurel.”
The angry reader letters always include, “And all my friends agree.” And/ or “Good-bye forever, Mr. Cavett.” For that one, I send a printed “thank you” card. On the back, “And don’t let the door bat you in the a...” etc.
Brief Encounters is filled with insider stories of such big personalities as Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, and the Burtons, Liz and Dick. Any thoughts as to why people remain intrigued by celebrity?
I think my father may have been one of the rare people who gave not a tinker’s damn about celebrities. Perhaps he was not unique, and there are a few more. I can’t explain it except to say that some celebrities are infinitely fascinating and entertaining. Most are not. If you just love celebrity no matter who has it, it is irrefutable proof that you’re certifiably a dimwit. (I was such a dimwit for seven and possibly eight years.)