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.