Dick Cavett – an interviewer extraordinaire

My guess is many people are not familiar with the work of Dick Cavett. He is known for his conversational and engaging interviews with a who’s who list of entertainers, writers, directors, musicians, athletes and even politicians. He is known for giving the interviewee room to talk.

He had nightly show on ABC for about six years. While it was tough to compete with Johnny Carson, Cavett would get into deep conversations with folks like John Lennon, Muhammed Ali, George Burns, Katherine Hepburn, Gore Vidal, Colleen Dewhurst, James Earl Jones, et al, which drew an audience.

I remember two memorable moments from that show. His show was the first time I ever saw Janis Joplin live on TV. She gave so much of herself into the song, she would be out of breath as she answered Cavett’s questions.

The other is when he had Governor Lester Maddox, the racist governor of Georgia, on his show. During the interview, Maddox felt insulted by the questions and proceeded to walk off the set. Cavett was left there speechless. To be frank, it appeared Maddox planned to leave when the questions got tough. Yet, to his credit, Maddox accepted an invitation to return for a future show and did so.

There is a television channel on my cable called Decades. It plays reruns of thirty and sixty minute interview segments from various vintages of Cavett’s shows. It is fascinating to hear George Burns tell why he had a cigar, which gave himself a distraction. If the crowd laughed at his joke, he took a puff. If they did not, he kept talking. On another, I watched Catherine Deneuve, the beautiful French actress and model. She was quite thoughtful and deliberate as she responded to Cavett’s questions.

Seeing these icons years ago explain their craft or opinions is spellbinding. It is like finding an old album or CD that you misplaced. If you are channel surfing and come across Cavett’s show, give it thirty minutes. You won’t regret it.

13 thoughts on “Dick Cavett – an interviewer extraordinaire

  1. The good ol’ days! I didn’t watch a lot of television even back in the day, but I did see some of Cavett’s show from time to time, and I remember him as an excellent host, as you mention, giving the interviewee space and not, as so many today do, jumping in with commentary or secondary questions. Thanks for reminding me … I don’t have cable or satellite any more, but I might just have to see if I can find a couple somewhere on the ‘net. Is he still alive, I wonder? Perhaps we could talk him into interviewing a few politicians … 😀

  2. Note to Readers: Thinking of Dick Cavett reminds me of another interviewer named Mike Douglas. Douglas had a daily afternoon talk show based in Philadelphia. He would have a co-host for the week during which they would interview friends, family, influences and colleagues of the co-star. Like Cavett, he would have folks like John and Yoko Lennon, Sly and the Family Stone, and a parade of other stars. Once Lennon appeared he gave the show even more cache. Plus, with a whole week, the guest hosts had a chance to showcase their cause and interests.

  3. Dear Keith,
    Our ages are showing. I used to be an avid follower of Dick Cavett. His shows were frequently what my water cooler conversations consisted of with my college friends. I’ll definitely look for the replays of his TV interviews.

    Hugs, Gronda

  4. Note to Readers: I watched a Dick Cavett interview tonight with Billy Joel. Asking good questions and letting him talk, my wife and I learned that Joel was an amateur fighter (pretty good) but hates fighting today, dreams of music which he tries to wake up and say something into a recorder, says it is not unusual to forget lyrics in concerts, and he is an avid reader even though he did not graduate high school because he performed until 3 am to help his mom with bills.

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