Q: Better how?
A: I would probably be what the British call “spicier.” Dreadful term. Willing to be nastier than anyone expected me to be. “I couldn’t believe that you said that, Mr. Cavett!”
Q: You do come off as very gracioushave you ever been in a fight?
A: I had G. Gordon Liddy on the show, and I said how charming I thought it was that he taught secretaries how to kill people with a pencil. I said, “Will you show me how?” and we went backstage and he showed me how to put the pencil in through the chin so that it would enter the soft part of the brain and it wouldn’t be blocked. I said, “I’ll trade you something for that, but you’ve got to stand and turn your back for just a moment.”
Q: And he actually did it?
A: G. Gordon Liddy is standing there, and I said, “Now, don’t move when I get this on you.” I’d learned this neck hold that had been barred from judo for about 50 years because it killed too many people. I don’t know why it was ever legal. Now I’ve got G. Gordon Liddy this way, in the deadliest hold I’ve ever heard of. And I thought, what if I just put a little more pressure . . . He turned to me as I released him and said, “That’s very interesting, and I thank you for it.”
Q: You’ve talked openly about your depression and how well electroshock treatment worked for you.
A: It worked for me very well, but then it wore off. I had to go again, and again it worked very well. Depressionit falls into that small category of things like combat that if you haven’t been in it, you can say you can imagine it all you like. But it’s truly different. I remember saying to a psychoanalyst from the couch, “I just wish you could have this for a minute, because I know you’d be stunned at what it actually is like.”
Q: This has been a difficult year for you, too.
A: Yeah, it’s been a year since my wife died...It is hard. Especially when you were married to such a witty woman. Jesus. I remember we were in the back seat of Marlon Brando’s Bentley, driven by his Chinese girlfriend of the day, on our way to a Japanese restaurant, and we come across a corpse of an animalI think it was a possumand Brando got out and went into the headlights to where it was. He picked it up, held it by its tail, and looked very sad. Then he laid it along one arm and stared at it that way for some time . . . until a voice from the back seat of the car said, “Cut!!!”
Q: You used to find celebrities genuinely compelling. Now I read that you don’t even recognize celebrities. What happened?
A: It isn’t that the talent dried up in the land or anything. But I feel sorry for Dave Letterman sometimes when he has to sit through the 13th, to use an ancient expression, starlet that night. The appearance is that he knows what it’s gonna be: “I’m very excited about my new film, and I’m excited about the director, and I’m excited about . . . ” and show a clip that goes nowhere and “She’s a lovely lady” and then good-bye.