|Logo for Dick Cavett's Vietnam, a 2015 special.|
|Warren Beatty in 1972, looking very similar to how he looked when he appeared on The Dick Cavett Show on November 1, 1972.|
Dick Cavett’s Vietnam is an hour-long TV special that aired on PBS earlier this year. It’s made up of clips from Cavett’s talk show, which originally aired on ABC from 1968 to 1974. Cavett was well known for his erudite wit and his intelligent questions. During his run on ABC, Cavett featured many different guests who were both for and against American involvement in Vietnam. Unfortunately, on Dick Cavett’s Vietnam, we simply don’t see enough of the actual shows. Dick Cavett’s Vietnam tries to pack way too much into its brief running time, as it traces America’s entire involvement in Vietnam, going back to the early 1950’s, when we were supporting the French government when Vietnam was still a French colony. The material on the show is good, but the backstory of the war takes up way too much time.
Dick Cavett’s Vietnam also relies much too heavily on two talking heads, Fredrik Logevall and Timothy Naftali. Logevall and Naftali are both smart and articulate, but there’s just too much of them and not enough clips from Cavett’s show. (You can watch Dick Cavett's Vietnam here.)
One of the best, and most articulate, guests that Dick Cavett’s Vietnam features is Warren Beatty. Since I’m a big fan of Warren Beatty’s, I thought it was worth chronicling his appearance in this documentary. Beatty appeared on the November 1, 1972 episode of The Dick Cavett Show. Beatty wasn’t on the show to promote a movie, but rather to promote Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. Beatty was one of the key celebrity supporters of McGovern, and he helped organize many fundraising concerts to benefit the campaign. Beatty’s appearance on The Dick Cavett Show is one of his rare appearances on a television talk show. Beatty is in his full 1970’s glory, looking much like he did in The Parallax View, with a full head of thick, long, dark hair, a brown jacket, and a white shirt with an open collar.
Beatty has a reputation for being a difficult person to interview, and despite his obvious intelligence, he sometimes seems tongue-tied when speaking publicly. None of that is in evidence on the Cavett show. Beatty is sharp and extremely articulate in the clips we see from the show, and it’s very clear that he’s passionate about politics.
Cavett asked Beatty the question, “What about the people who say, what business do you actors have going out and influencing people?”
Beatty’s response was: “The fact that they would ask that question is the essence of the problem in the country right now, because it assumes what I call a kind of a mythology of expertise, that certain people are experts on politics, and certain people aren’t. And I guess what’s really gone wrong in the country and naturally, you have to talk about the war over the past ten years, we’ve all left it up to the experts. We all left it up to McNamara, or to Johnson. You know, we can’t blame what’s happened on Johnson, on Nixon, on the leaders. We have to blame it on ourselves….I think we’re all at fault in the country and that I think the problem now in the country is an indifference, and I think that indifference is the result of the fact that we have been lied to by our leaders for eight years, and we’ve lied to each other.”
Beatty was correct. Vietnam was one of the first times that Americans realized they were being lied to by their own government, and they realized it as the war was still going on.
In the next clip we see of Beatty, he says: “And for all of our adult lives we’ve been told, ‘Well, those people know things, and if you knew what the President knew, then you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.’ Well, we finally found out that we were right. Our instincts were right. We shouldn’t have been killing those people, we shouldn’t have been bombing those people and it’s up to people like you and me and the rest of us to say what we think and not be ashamed of what we think and not defer to experts. There are no experts, I think, when you’re talking about questions of compassion and humanity.”
Beatty’s summation of his feelings hits the nail on the head, in my opinion, and his appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1972 shows what a smart, passionate, and committed man he is.