Blast From the Past: Cavett Interviews Updike and Cheever

Dick Cavett has a blog on the NYT site. He’s posted video of a 1981 interview with John Cheever and John Updike. Several things strike one about this interview.

First, note how spare the set is. There are no pictures of New York behind the host or guests, no band, just cheesy-looking carpet and walls. The lighting is better at Gitmo. It looks like the set of a local show in Hastings, NE circa 1975 or maybe the Joni Ballion show in Omaha at the same time (on which I once appeared in that year!).

Second, John Cheever’s accent is meso-Atlantic. Could anyone today get away with such an affect and accent? If you listen to audio or watch old video from the 1930s and 40s it’s interesting to hear to what degree American elites once sounded quasi-English. The last cat to have such an affect was Bill Buckley. Does anyone speak like that any more? Today our politicians are more likely to sound like they are from the South or Southwest. This isn’t a criticism. It’s just an observation.

Third, I have certain fondness for Cavett person and persona—if not for his politics. He’s amusing and he’s from Nebraska. We both graduated from good old Lincoln High. Like Nebraskans who’ve left home, he can’t decide if he wants to hide his roots or to reveal them, so he does both.

This show was broadcast from a public television station in NYC in ’81 the year before Cheever died. Updike died earlier this year.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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