There is a fascinating documentary on HBO right now. “Ali and Cavett: The tale of the tapes.”
It is based on the appearances of Muhammad Ali on the Dick Cavett Show. You know who Ali was… “The Greatest.” Dick Cavett might require some thinking. He was ABC’s answer to Johnny Carson. Now, understand this… no one could touch Carson. You could make the argument that Johnny was “The Greatest” in terms of appointment television. America turned into The Tonight Show every night. No other show mattered.
Yet, there was Dick Cavett. He was the thinking person’s Carson. Esoteric, witty, urbane, Cavett was the show authors appeared on for an entire show. Truman Capote. Norman Mailer. John Lennon, an entire show. Katherine Hepburn, an entire show. That was Dick Cavett’s show. A little niche show.
Along the way, Dick Cavett and Muhammad Ali forged a friendship. The boxer was on the show many times. Boxing was not the only topic. Race relations. Politics. Religion. Vietnam. Whatever the topic, Cavett allowed Ali to speak his mind.
This documentary reminds you what an important figure Muhammad Ali was. It was a rough time in America. He was polarizing… until he wasn’t. He was smart. Really smart. Funny. Really funny. Cavett knew it and let him go.
I find myself sometimes missing that era. I was a kid in Paris, Texas. Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett opened up another world for me. Smart, funny people. Talking about important things. Talking. Disagreeing, maybe, but talking. Opinions mattered. You listened to the other person. Maybe you didn’t change your mind, but you listened. Yeah, I miss those days.