Memory Inspired by NPR Show

Driving back from a weekend shoot in DC yesterday, I was listening to NPR.  The subject of the show was learning poems by memory and what effect that had on the “memorizer “.  I love listening to NPR.  The hosts seem so cultured and civilized… reminds me of my old college days, surrounded by people dedicated to improving their minds.  Listeners were invited to call in to the show and recite poems they had committed to memory.  The show was both entertaining and emotional.  Many of the callers reflected on the effect that certain poems had on their lives, or  poetry and how it was linked with memorable moments in their lives.  The host quoted a line from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism explaining why poetry connected so strongly with so many people.
“True Wit is Nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d;
Something whose truth convinced at sight we find,
That give us back the image of our mind.”
My thought on hearing this fragment was that Pope had stated the nature of all art, to create something that both rings true and also refines and gives detail to the vague images that swirl through our shared universal consciousness.  Art…you know it when you see it.

These thoughts led me to remember a shoot I once had with Dick Cavett.  Some of you are old enough to remember his TV show in NY and the many amazing moments it was responsible for generating.  His show was urbane, compelling and full of surprises.  Remember Cavett’s interview with Marlon Brando and Brando’s post show attack on Ron Galella (the first paparazzi star)?  Brando got tired of Galella tailing he and Cavett as they walked the streets of NY, so he whirled around and punched Galella flush in the nose.  Subsequently Galella would follow Brando wearing a football helmet.  Once Cavett convinced Katherine Hepburn to come to his studio just to get a feel for it because she was considering an unheard or rare interview.  She surprised him by deciding on the spot to do the show which forced Cavett to pull off a fantastic spur on the moment interview with just a skeleton crew. And then there was the time that Cavett substituted for Johnny Carson one night and interviewed my 60’s idol, Jimi Hendrix.  I still remember one exchange between them.

Cavett – “Jimi, you are a Sagittarius, aren’t you?”
Jimi – “Constantly…”
Very cool.

So what does poetry have to do with my shoot with Dick Cavett?  In our shoot as we developed a rapport and because I knew that Cavett took pride in his intellectual abilities and education, I challenged him to play a game wherein each person would recite the first line of a poem and the other had to complete the second line.  It was my attempt to keep him involved and connected during the shoot.  I lead off with T.S. Elliott “Let us go then, you and I…”  and he took it from there “When the evening is spread out against the sky, like a patient etherized upon a table.”  He countered with Archibald MacLeish “Quite unexpectedly as Vaserot, the armless ambidextrian…” and I bobbed and weaved with ” was lighting a match between his great and second toe…”
And on and on it went.  It was great fun, made the shoot fly by, and I’m sure my English professors would have been pleased.  
The end result was this shot, of which I am very proud, because he came in wearing the leather jacket but his manager wanted him to wear a sports coat.  I thought the leather jacket looked great, so I suggested that we shoot some in that.  It wasn’t in the original plan, but it was the shot he ended up using, even when he did the Broadway production of “Rocky Horror”.   
Dick Cavett and poetry, forever connected in my mind.

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