Combining a fascination with show business, a concern for contemporary issues, and a comedian's timing, Cavett has hosted his own highly acclaimed, and often controversial, talk shows on both network and public television. Along the way, he earned three Emmy Awards.
Cavett's approach to interviewing has inspired a wide variety of praise. Time magazine's cover story on him spoke of his "acute mind--free associating, Perelmanesque, almost surrealistic," while Life's cover story observed that Cavett makes "tube-watching in the wee hours an intellectually respectable vice." When journalists describe Dick Cavett, they use phrases like "civilized wit," "demon curiosity," and "an informed and daring questioner."
Dick Cavett began his career in television in 1960. Cavett, then working as a copy boy at Time, accosted Tonight Show host Jack Paar, presenting Paar with a collection of jokes he had written for the star's opening monologue. Paar ended up using some of the gags, and Cavett soon landed a full-time job writing for The Tonight Show.
Cavett went on to write comedy for Groucho Marx, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and others. With the encouragement of Woody Allen, he started performing his own work in 1964. He gained prominence through appearances at Kelly's in Chicago, and was soon appearing regularly as a guest performer on the television shows of his former employers, Carson and Griffin.
In 1968, ABC signed Cavett as the host of a morning talk show. This critically acclaimed program eventually led ABC to give him his own late night show. In addition to fascinating, and often controversial guests, the show delved into the issues of the day, such as Vietnam, Watergate, alcoholism, pornography and youth gangs. The Dick Cavett Show ran on ABC until 1975, and as a daily half hour program on public television until 1982.
Born in Gibbon, Nebraska in 1936, Cavett grew up in Lincoln and won local fame as a teenage magician. In 1954, he earned a scholarship to Yale University, where he majored in English and Drama.
Cavett debuted on Broadway in 1977, playing the lead role in Otherwise Engaged, and returned in 1988 to act as narrator in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. Between and since, he has starred in various plays at the Williamstown Theatre Festival; has made numerous guest appearances on Hotel, Cheers, and several daytime dramas; and has--in collaboration with Christopher Porterfield--written two books: Cavett and Eye on Cavett.
Note: This bio appeared in the October 4, 1997 program of our "Mood and Mental Health" Forum
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