Veteran talk-show titan turns comic columnist.
Cavett (co-author: Eye on Cavett, 1983, etc.) began an online column for the New York Times in 2007, musing on current events and reminiscing about his many celebrity encounters. This slim volume collects a number of these pieces for a diverting, if slight, reading experience. All of the familiar Cavett tics are in evidence: idyllic recollections of his Nebraska boyhood, accounts of his adventures at Yale, cavils against poor grammar and the coarsening of popular culture and endless anecdotes celebrating the wit and wisdom of show-business luminaries like Richard Burton, John Wayne, William F. Buckley and, inevitably, Groucho Marx—though the reader can’t escape the impression that it is Cavett’s own way with a one-liner that is nearest to the author’s heart. This general air of self-regard is a familiar complaint about Cavett, and not unearned, but fans will find it consistent with his low-key, cozy charm. It is impossible to read his first-person prose without hearing that distinctive, sonorously buzzing voice—and, at this point in his long career, the name-dropping and “ain’t I clever” mien are part and parcel of the author’s appeal. The quality of the pieces is hit-or-miss, a perhaps unavoidable result of the column-a-week grind. The Andy Rooney–esque grouchiness over commonly mispronounced words and reflexive jabs at George W. Bush are tired tropes, but his remarkable memory abounds with surprising and touching insights into such icons as Katherine Hepburn and Richard Nixon. The highlight of the book is Cavett’s copious reconstruction of the famous installment of his late-night program in which he presided over, and became involved in, a surreally escalating contretemps between authors Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, which occasioned one of the funniest ad-libs in the author’s career, and, indeed, in the history of television itself. No wonder he likes to tell it.
Uneven but breezy, incisive and amusing—nice to have you back, Dick.