A Mephistophelean Bargain (To Envy Them You Have To Be Nuts!)


I expected a different conclusion to a column written by long-time Hollywood insider Dick Cavett. Unless your my age or older you probably don’t know Mr. Cavett.  He is best known as the fore-runner to today’s afternoon talk show hosts.  As a boy I remember watching his afternoon talk show from time to time. He has been around Hollywood for decades. So when I saw that he recently wrote a column for the New York Times on his experience with the deceased actress Elizabeth Taylor, I thought for sure he would paint a picture for all to envy. And as I read his column I was not disappointed. He began with typical adoration of words for Ms. Taylor. It was if she lived a “magical” life. One to die for! Oh, to be Elizabeth! Then, I was taken by surprise when I read these words from the last paragraphs of his column:

“…you can be sure that legions envied them their fabulous, in the true sense of the word, lives. Think how many folks would say they’d trade their own dreary lives in an instant to have been one of Those Two (Liz and Richard). The glamour, the celebrity, the adoring (and often life-and-limb-threatening) throngs, the caviar and champagne, the travel, the passel of dogs and children hauled along, the sex, the yachts, the mansions and castles and whole floors of hotels, the walnut-sized diamonds and rubies ….

But before making that somewhat Mephistophelean bargain, I would caution those who’d readily shed their own drab existence to be Liz or Dick to think twice…We’re also talking about two greatly gifted people, of course. Also about two drunks, constant smokers, spouse-dumpers and pill-takers, reckless with their health and, often, with their careers; with Richard — who at one point could put away three bottles of vodka a day — dead in his fifties. I feel lucky to have crossed paths with them. She was wonderful and he was wonderful. “To envy them you have to be nuts.” (My Liz: The Fantasy)

The word “Mephistophelean” jumped out at me. I didn’t know where it came from or for sure what it meant. Apparently it comes from the legend of Dr. Faust, who you might recall, sells his soul to the devil for the pleasures of the world. The representative of the devil in that legend is named Mephistophelean. In other words, a “bargain” of that nature means making a deal with the devil. So, I salute you Mr. Cavett, for writing what everyone should know, but don’t say or write. The peddlers of worldly goods and fame create a world full of vice, envy and greed. It’s nice to have someone be candid by calling a “Mephistophelean bargain” no bargain at all. A deal of that nature carries a heavy price. A price that none of us should be fooled into paying.


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