Along the way, Open End switched to its more Susskind-y title, and Susskind had Dick Cavett on. Though he hasn’t maintained a consistent television presence since the nineties, he’s drawn attention lately for his NYT blog and remains a beacon of wit, depth, and urbanity to which us Gen-Y interviewers compulsively look. (In fact, Jesse Thorn talked to him on The Sound of Young America
JESSE THORN: I don’t know a lot about pommel horse.
DICK CAVETT: What?
just the other week.) But won’t you take a trip back to 1974 with me and behold this prime piece of interviewer-on-interviewer action?
(I plan, if I make more appearances in the visual media, to wear Cavett-style turtlenecks as an inside joke. I tried to do it in high school, but no one understood.)
Now square this interviewer-on-interviewer circle by fast-forwarding to 2011, when Cavett drops by Charlie Rose to talk about the bookified version of his blog. I do hope Charlie makes good on that promise to let Cavett host, though I somehow can’t stop being haunted by Cavett’s response: “You must be my best friend! The position is open.” I found similarly revealing insights in a 1972 New Yorker profile, especially this quote about his concept of the interviewer’s role:
The interviewer's role should not necessarily just be questions. I don't know where I got obsessed with the idea that interviewing is simply asking questions. It's so much nicer when it's more of a dialogue, it's so much easier when you have that breakthrough — something that resembles actual speech without the pressure of the lights or the camera. It isn't necessarily just the penetrating question.
And really especially this quote about his early inclination toward celebrity:
I thought, "If I ever become famous, I'll talk to everybody who wants to talk to me, I'll be nice to people, I'll drop in at little houses on side streets where they don't expect me and dazzle and thrill them, and that'll be the fun of being famous. I'll stop in at drugstores and sit at counters and give the people a look at me and a little something to talk about."
If anyone else has ever drilled down closer to the core of the drive to become well-known, to cultivate as large an audience as possible — as least as I personally experience it — I don’t want to know about it.
And now Clive James, who wrote a chapter on Cavett in his book Cultural Amnesia, one of the few volumes on my must-own-not-borrow list:
There will be no Dick Cavett of the future. We should count ourselves lucky that there was one in the past. I count myself blessed that I knew him when he was still a small but seductive part of the American landscape. Eventually that landscape seemed to change its mind about wanting to include him, but it is possible that he had the idea first.