Family & Companions
Dick Cavett was often referred to as "the thinking man's talk show host," for the intelligent and sophisticated interview style he displayed on the Emmy Award-winning series "The Dick Cavett Show" (ABC, 1968-1972). Cavett's witty conversations with a wide array of guests captured viewers' attention and made his show a formidable competitor against late night Goliath "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-1992). Throughout its run, "The Dick Cavett Show" delivered some of the most memorable moments ever seen on the small screen - from Katherine Hepburn's mid-interview walkout, to multiple appearances from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, to a heated debate about the Vietnam War. While interviewing every household name from the worlds of entertainment, politics, and media, Cavett remained a distinguished and fascinated host, admirable traits that helped turn the former stand-up comedian and writer into a television legend.
Richard Alva Cavett was born on Nov. 19, 1936 in Gibbon, NE. His parents were both educators, which likely explained why the future star excelled in academics and sports growing up. Cavett was elected president of the student council at Lincoln High School in Lincoln and won the gold medal at the state's gymnastics championship. He was enamored with magic as a young man, performing magic shows at the Lincoln Country Club - where he worked as a caddy by day - for $35 a night. In 1952, Cavett won the Best New Performer award at the International Brotherhood of Magicians convention in St. Louis, MO. One of the performers he met around that time was an Iowa-born magician and comedian named Johnny Carson, who later rose to prominence as the host of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." Cavett went on to attend Yale University, where he majored in English then changed it to drama during his senior year. He spent his college years directing and starring in radio shows for the campus station, as well as the theater department productions. He often traveled to New York City in hopes of finding work in media.
While working at TIME magazine as a copy boy, Cavett visited NBC studios and reportedly handed material he had written to Jack Paar, then the host of "The Jack Paar Tonight Show" (NBC, 1957-1962). Paar supposedly worked in Cavett's jokes during his monologue, and within weeks, offered him a job as a talent coordinator on his show. One of Cavett's most famous lines that he wrote for Paar was, "Here they are, Jayne Mansfield," an introduction for the buxom actress. Following Paar's exit from his show, Cavett continued working on "The Tonight Show," with the charismatic Carson taking over the host's seat, and then quit to write for the ill-fated "The Jerry Lewis Show" (ABC, 1963). Upon the suggestion of filmmaker Woody Allen - whom he befriended while working as talent coordinator for Paar - Cavett began performing his own material at various comedy clubs across New York City, San Francisco and Chicago. He also began appearing onscreen, from minor acting roles on "The Phil Silvers Show" (CBS, 1955-59) and "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961), to doing stand-up comedy on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS, 1948-1971).
Cavett made his debut in 1968 as the host of ABC's "The Dick Cavett Show," which was originally titled "This Morning." The daytime talk series featured interviews with newsmakers, from author Gore Vidal to boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Cavett was a natural onscreen, engaging his interviewees in witty and sophisticated conversations. The show moved to the nighttime slot the following year, going head-to-head with Carson. Some called this time period as the beginning of the "talk show wars," with two incredibly charming and talented hosts battling for supremacy. Cavett's serious conversational tone differed from Carson, who took on a more playful, counterpunching approach with guests. Cavett's show typically featured only one guest, often with top entertainers and headliners from all walks of life. His show also embraced the avant-garde, whether it was an interview with artist Salvador Dali or several appearances by rock power couple John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The August 1969 episode, dubbed "The Woodstock Show," featured musical guests like Jefferson Airplane and Joni Mitchell, who visited the show directly after performing at the historic concert.
"The Dick Cavett Show" provided some of the most talked-about moments in television history. Rocker Jimi Hendrix reportedly smoked a marijuana cigarette during his appearance, Marlon Brando brought representatives from various Indian tribes as a protest for the plight of Native Americans, while future U.S. senator John Kerry had a heated discussion with fellow veteran John O'Neill about the Vietnam War. Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn made a two-part appearance on the show after she got up and left the studio mid-way through her interview. The actress finished her interview the following evening, but it was later revealed that Cavett and Hepburn staged the entire stunt. One of the show's most infamous moments, however, never made it on air. Publisher and organic farming advocate J.I. Rodale, founder of Rodale Inc., died of a heart attack during a 1971 taping of "The Dick Cavett Show." Cavett realized Rodale was unconscious and reportedly asked if there was a doctor in the audience. The episode never aired, but the details were revealed in his 1974 autobiography, Cavett. Even though his show trailed in the ratings behind Carson's, Cavett stayed on air for several years and won an Emmy for "Outstanding Variety Series - Talk" in 1972.
Cavett remained in the public eye for many years following the original show's bow in 1975, with several reincarnations of "The Dick Cavett Show" (including a CBS variety show spin-off in 1975) that aired throughout the next two decades. Aside from his numerous hosting duties, television appearances, and film acting roles, Cavett maintained a low-key private life. It was not until 1992 when he revealed to People magazine that he battled clinical depression all his life, an illness he first experienced in college. One of his biggest episodes occurred in 1980 while onboard a Concorde plane about to take off. Cavett was eventually removed from the plane and taken to a New York City hospital, where he reportedly underwent electroshock therapy. He returned to television in the late 1980s as a frequent guest or panelist on syndicated game shows, including "The $20,000 Pyramid" (1973-1992) and "The New Hollywood Squares" (1986-89). Footage from his talk show of a Lennon/Ono interview was used in the Oscar-winning film "Forrest Gump" (1994), about a Southern-born simpleton (Tom Hanks) who coincidentally takes part in several historic moments. In 1997, Cavett narrated the biographical drama "Elvis Meets Nixon," about the music icon's visit to the White House and chance meeting with the President.
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Worked as copyboy for TIME magazine
Was staff writer for Jack Paar and "The Tonight Show" (NBC)
Wrote for "The Jerry Lewis Show" (ABC)
Published autobiography, "Cavett"
Returned to network TV as star of the CBS talk show "Dick Cavett Show"
Hosted "Live From Lincoln Center" and "Great Performances" specials for PBS
Appeared for first time in a feature film (playing himself), "Annie Hall"
Made Broadway acting debut, "Otherwise Engaged"
Published second memoir, "Eye on Cavett"
Began hosting "College Bowl" for The Disney Channel
Played character other than himself in feature film for first time, "Beetlejuice"
Succeeded Tom Aldredge as the Narrator in the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical "Into the Woods"
Performed "Love Letters" on the NY stage
Narrated "Elvis Meets Nixon" (Showtime)
Served as narrator of the Broadway revival of "The Rocky Horror Show"