Remembering Bobby Fischer – on the Dick Cavett Show

2/10/2008 – "Among this year’s worst news, for me, was the death of Bobby Fischer," writes one of America's great talk show hosts, Dick Cavett. "Towering genius, riches, international fame and a far from normal childhood might be too heady a mix for anyone to handle. For him they proved fatal. I’m still sad about his death. In our three encounters, I became quite fond of him." Eulogy and video.

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Was It Only a Game?

By Dick Cavett

Among this year’s worst news, for me, was the death of Bobby Fischer. Telling a friend this, I got, “Are you out of your bloody mind? He was a Nazi-praising raving lunatic and anti-Semite. Death is too good for him.” He did, indeed, become all that. But none of it describes the man I knew.

Towering genius, riches, international fame and a far from normal childhood might be too heady a mix for anyone to handle. For him they proved fatal. I’m still sad about his death. In our three encounters on my late-night show, I became quite fond of him.

In his New York Times eulogy Cavett writes: "Until the advent of Bobby Fischer, my image of a young chess genius was not flattering. I pictured a sort of wizened and unpopular youth, small of frame, reclusive, short, with messy hair, untended acne, thick glasses and shirt sticking out in back. And also perhaps, as the great V. Nabokov wrote in describing somewhat genderless piano prodigies with eye trouble, obscure ailments, 'and something vaguely misshapen about their eunuchoid hindquarters.'

Getting Fischer on my show that first time, before the big match, was considered a major catch at the time. If anyone in the audience shared my image of what a chess genius probably looked like, Bobby’s entrance erased it. Here was no Nabakovian homunculus. There appeared, somewhat disconcerted, a tall and handsome lad with football-player shoulders, impeccably suited, a little awkward of carriage and unsure how to negotiate the unfamiliarity of the set, the bright lights, the wearing of make-up, the band music, the hand-shaking and the thundering ovation – all at the same time. I had hoped to avoid the cliché 'gangling,' but Bobby gangled. He sort of lurched into his chair."

Cavett: "And there were the eyes. Cameras fail to convey the effect of his eyes when they were looking at you. A bit of Svengali perhaps, but vulnerable. And only the slightest hint of a sort of theatrical menace, the menace that so disconcerted his opponents. Looking out over the audience, I could clearly see entranced women gazing at him as if willing to offer their hearts – and perhaps more – to the hunky chess master."

The host of the show, Richard Cavett, was born in 1936 and known for his conversational style and in-depth discussion of issues. Like the other great an American talk show host, Johnny Carson, Cavett appeared on national US television for five consecutive decades – from the 1960s through the 2000s. Rene Chun, who is writing a book about Fischer, wrote to Cavett: "I was struck by the warmth [this interview] transmits to the viewer. Both of you look like you are having a fabulous time. Fischer is clearly comfortable with you."

It is very worthwhile to read Dick Cavett's excellent piece and watch the video of Fischer's appearance on the 1971 show. It is available without subscription rituals at the New York Times link given below.

Links

  • Cavett on Fischer (with video)

  • Robert Hübner on World Champion Fischer
    Former world champion candidate Dr. Robert Hübner thoroughly examines Fischer’s biggest and best known publication, “My Sixty Memorable Games”. This ChessBase monography includes reports on Fischer’s most important chess matches, including contemporary material. The CD contains a database with all of Fischer's games, with an introductory text to the most important matches and tournaments. About half of the games, 462 in all, are annotated, many very extensively. The Fischer CD also contains many pictures and 330 MB of historical film footage.

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