On his own “The Dick Cavett Show,” talk show icon Dick Cavett traded stories and witticisms with everyone from Grouch Marx to John Lennon. He’s now a featured columnist for The New York Times. Dick talks about being a little kid with an over-sized voice, and then he puts those pipes to use with killer impersonations of Hepburn and Hitchcock. There’s etiquette advice somewhere in there, too.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And Dick, welcome.
Dick Cavett: Thanks. Did you happen to pick Marx and Lenin by accident?
Rico Gagliano: It was, we assure you, just a mistake.
Brendan Francis Newnam: It was subconscious.
Dick Cavett: That was very clever.
Brendan Francis Newnam: There’s people listening to public radio who are thinking the same thing.
Rico Gagliano: That’s perfect for this audience either way.
Brendan Francis Newnam: They kind of look the same with the glasses. So this isn’t your first time on the radio, Dick. In addition to being on our show once before, I read that in 8th grade you hosted a live Saturday morning radio show. Is that true?
Dick Cavett: Oh, you.Storytime Playhouse, and Over The Rainbow was the theme. And I cast myself playing the witch, the sea captain and, let’s say, the hunchback in a 15 minute adaptation of a Dickens novel or something.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow. So this is a local show for students?
Dick Cavett: A local show. The junior league of New York sent the scripts actually from New York City.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow, and you were in Nebraska?
Dick Cavett: I was in Nebraska, knew I’d probably never get out of there, but someday I hoped by God I would get to New York City.
Rico Gagliano: And it worked out.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Did you wear little suits? I’m picturing you…
Rico Gagliano: Smoking cigarettes.
Dick Cavett: No. I think I might have wore a t-shirt and jeans.
Brendan Francis Newnam: But already you were the point person to be the master of ceremonies?
Dick Cavett: I’m not exactly sure how I got that. I started off as an actor on it. Then they said, I got so sick as a kid of hearing “where’d a little fellow like you get such a big voice?”
They actually sometimes went and said, “a little thing like you.” Once, showing the width that would someday distinguish me, I said to an old sod who said that in the library, I said “where did a big voice like you get such a little thing?”
Rico Gagliano: They were like, “give that kid a show!” Amazing. Well you went on to interview some of the biggest starts of many decades.
Dick Cavett: By the way, any time you want to hear me do some of the guest I’ve had on, there’s an audio book of my book Talk Show out and people said they love it because every time I mention somebody, I do there voice.
Rico Gagliano: Nice.
Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re tempting us here.
Dick Cavett: Want to hear Hitchcock?
Rico Gagliano: Sure.
Dick Cavett: He said this to me during a commercial break. “Grace Kelly is the most promiscuous woman I have ever known.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh my goodness.
Dick Cavett: Queue the music.
Rico Gagliano: I want you, kind of, to answer our listeners questions as Alfred Hitchcock.
Dick Cavett: Well it makes your voice hoarse, otherwise I would. The way to do it is put the tip of your tongue on your back upper left tooth and talk. Like you’re trying to get something out of your tooth.
Rico Gagliano: You’re right.
Brendan Francis Newnam: We have a question here from Jamie.
Dick Cavett: Now cut that out.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Via Facebook.
Dick Cavett: Do we have to do these horrible questions?
Rico Gagliano: Yes. They’re not horrible, we promise.
Speak into the Handset, Nephew!
Rico Gagliano:Jamie via Facebook, she asks: “What is the most polite way to tell your boss that the guy in the cubicle next to me always uses his speakerphone? It’s really very distracting. Oh, and they guy is his nephew. The bosses nephew.”
Dick Cavett: Oh, that is tough because that would drive you absolutely up the cheap cubicle walls.
Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s only half a wall though.
Dick Cavett: Yeah, you could see the bugger if you look up over. I guess I would probably say to the boss, as gently as I could, “You’re nephew, is it?”
Rico Gagliano: Yes.
Dick Cavett: “Is such a polite fellow that he allows me to hear all of his phone conversations. Both sides of them. I guess I’m lucky. It’s entertaining. It’s better than getting my work done, you could say.”
Rico Gagliano: It’s lowering my productivity which makes me feel mellow. That’s great.
Dick Cavett: That’s good too. So I wouldn’t want anything much to change.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And I just thought I’d tell you that. I feel like I’m part of your family now, boss.
Rico Gagliano: A little reverse psychology is what you’re saying?
Dick Cavett: You took the word out of my mouth.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, well there you go Jamie.
Dick Cavett: Do we have to do any more questions?
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, sorry.
Exit, Stage Left or Stay Right There?
Rico Gagliano: Here’s JR in Los Angeles.
JR writes, “Is it okay to leave during a live theatrical performance you are not enjoying? I feel,” says JR, “like it is a total slap in the face to the actors or the orchestra and other real life people that you’re watching, versus say a film where you’re not sharing their presence. But I’m a non-confrontation person on the other hand. To leave or not to leave?”
Dick Cavett: I think it is awful for the actors who are probably doing their best.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Probably.
Dick Cavett: But then you and the audience are doing your best too and you don’t deserve to be bored stiff.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Can they see you? I mean it’s dark. You were an actor…
Dick Cavett: I would die rather than drop a name, but I went to a play this past year. James Gandolfini was in it.
Went back to see him afterwards and he said, “I saw you all through the first act.” I was sitting in the front row and the light spill, as we call it in the theater. I was as well lighted as Gandolfini and the other actors were.
Rico Gagliano: Also starring Dick Cavett.
Dick Cavett: Yeah, people got an extra…
Brendan Francis Newnam: So that’s a good strategy for JR. Maybe to get a seat in the back where it’s dark.
Dick Cavett:Sit near the back, or sit with a friend and start talking to the friend in full voice. Chattering about things like, “is John McCain getting even weirder?” And “that Cardinal Mahoney certainly won’t be the next Pope,” to annoy people around you.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, I like this. Get kicked out.
Dick Cavett: Yeah. So it’s not on your head so to speak.
Rico Gagliano: So, wait a minute, the polite thing to do is talk loudly about weird things?
Brendan Francis Newnam: And get thrown out and that way…
Dick Cavett: So you don’t have to feel guilty one bit. Oh, Miss Hepburn. Katharine Hepburn. Stratford, Connecticut, summer of ’57, Merchant of Venice. She’s starring as Portia. I’m an extra on stage.
She made her entrance sliding down from upstage on a piece of scenery in a beautiful costume and, as she opened her mouth to speak, “Ah Nerissa, my little body is aweary of,” BANG! A flash bulb.
Rico Gagliano: From the audience?
Dick Cavett: Yeah.
Rico Gagliano: And?
Dick Cavett: Miss Hepburn stopped and raised her right hand and said, “we’ll pause now,” and looking at an individual in the fifth row, “while one selfish woman gets all the God [censored] pictures she wants.” I promise you it was more dramatic than anything in the play.
Rico Gagliano: So JR, talk annoyingly and get thrown out but do not take a picture, whatever you do. Dick Cavett, that’s all the time we have. Thank you for telling our audience how to behave.
Dick Cavett: When do we go on the air?