Before watching the DVD of The Dick Cavett Show – Hollywood Greats I had never seen any of Cavett’s work as an interviewer (unless you count his appearance in ‘Forrest Gump’). But I kept reading almost universally good things about his early 1970s show – that it was a high watermark in American TV interview shows, that Cavett was a sophisticated interviewer, that the interviews were far more substantial than you would see from the typical film star today, etc…
After watching this DVD, do these assertions hold up? Yes and No.
On the positive side the format of these shows are very appealing if you want to get a substantial overview of the person being interviewed. Most of the shows have one person being interviewed one-on-one for an hour or so without having to push a film or book (although Hepburn and Capra are exceptions to a degree) – they can just talk about themselves and their career and the results are usually entertaining and enlightening.
On the downside, there’s Cavett himself. Considering his lofty reputation as the gold standard of TV celebrity interviewers, I was generally unimpressed by him. He’s capable of being urbane and witty (as he generally displays in the present-day intros to these shows) and the interviewees clearly respect and like him, but I found him a generally irritating presence.
Partly because his fawning ‘gee whiz I can’t believe I’m interviewing this great film star’ demeanour becomes tiresome pretty quickly. And also because his line of questioning tended to be repetitive, frivolous and constantly going on about ‘small change’ topics when there were so many richer topics to explore. On top of that, his opening monologue is pretty lame.
Despite that, these are highly worth watching not only because of their historical value for any film fan, but they are usually entertaining. For the most part, these film personalities come across as far more intelligent and interesting than in interviews I watch and read with film types today. During her interview, Bette Davis talks about how the meaning of the word ‘precocious’ has been misconstrued over the years and it’s a positive attribute instead of a negative one. How many interviews with actors today would you hear talk like that?
After the jump, I’ll give my thoughts and observations on each of the interviews in this DVD: