Memorable Episodes And Lesser-Known Facts About The Dick Cavett Show

The Dick Cavett Show was the title of several talk shows on various television networks. The show was hosted by comedy writer and author Dick Cavett and ran from 1968 to 1986. Although the show competed against a number of other popular talk shows at the time, it was described as a “talk show for people who didn’t like talk shows.” This was because Cavett had a wide variety of progressive guests such as contemporary rock and roll groups, and was known for putting people with opposing ideas in the same room. Take a look back at some of the show’s most memorable episodes and things you might not know about the program.

John Kerry Vs. John O’Neill

John Kerry and John O'Neill
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1971, Cavett devoted an entire episode to a debate between 26-year-old John Kerry and 25-year-old John O’Neill. Kerry was the face behind the Vietnam Veterans Against The War and O’Neill had been recruited by the Nixon administration to denounce the antiwar movement.

What made this conversation so impactful was the battling of the opposing two young minds and how relevant the conversation became over 30 years later. By 2004, O’Neill was the spokesman for the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, who led attacks against Kerry’s war record during the 2004 presidential race.

George Harrison Gave His Opinion On Several Topics

George Harrison on the show
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

While John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared on The Dick Cavett show on three separate occasions, former Beatles member George Harrison only made one appearance but made the most of it.

With impressively long hair and beard, Harrison complained about American television having far too many commercials and how “the Lennon’s” first appearance on the show was nothing but self-promotion. Nevertheless, Harrison made sure to note that he just saw Lennon at the premiere of his sitar documentary Raga.

The Infamous Spat Between Writers

Writers on the show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show

One of the aspects of The Dick Cavett Show that was so intriguing to viewers was how it provided a platform for artists and academics of the same profession to debate and hash out feuds openly. This is precisely what happened when writers Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, and Janet Flanner was brought onto the show in 1971.

Prior to the episode, Gore Vidal had written an essay in which he compares Mailer to Charles Manson. Upon hearing that Vidal was going to be on the show, Mailer invited himself on, but not before head-butting Vidal in the green room before going on air. It was during this episode that Cavett famously told Mailer to “fold it up five ways and stick it where the sun don’t shine.”

Cavett Was Disappointed With Marlon Brando

Brando and Cavett
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

On June 12, 1971, The Dick Cavett Show featured renowned actor Marlon Brando along with some other guests. Yet, Cavett was rather disappointed with the show. Brando was fresh off of his comeback films The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris, which was what Cavett was hoping to discuss during the program.

Instead, Brando insisted that they discuss the situation involving Native Americans. Although Cavett tried to prod Brando with some questions about his films, Brando was having none of it.

Katherine Hepburn’s Interview Marked The End Of An Era

Katherine Hepburn on the show
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

By the start of 1973, ABC started cutting back on the number of episodes of The Dick Cavett Show that aired. At one point, the show had multiple episodes each week, and by 1973, they had been limited to once a month. Eventually, the show appeared less and less until it became a “special event” under ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment umbrella on late-night television.

Yet, it was during this time that Cavett had his iconic career-spanning interview with Katherine Hepburn. This was the last interview he had with anybody of real note while the show had some form of regular programming.

Janis Joplin And Cavett Formed An Unexpected Bond

Janis and Cavett
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show

In 1970 alone, Janis Joplin appeared on The Dick Cavett Show on three different occasions. Although the two had little in common, they had undeniable chemistry and seemed to enjoy each other’s company. In one episode, Joplin asks Cavett if she would accompany her to her upcoming high school reunion in Texas.

Cavett responded saying, “I don’t think I have many friends in your high school class.” Janis retorted, “I don’t, either. That’s why I’m going.” This clip was included in the 1975 documentary, Janis.

The Episode With Mel Brooks, Rex Reed, Mark Frechette, and Daria Helprin Was A Whirlwind

Cavett and Brooks
YouTube/ The Dick Cavett Show
YouTube/ The Dick Cavett Show

On April 6, 1970, viewers got an interesting glimpse into what the film industry was like during that time. The episode begins with Rex Reed’s commentary on the Academy Awards, while directly insulting the Hollywood bigshots.

Mel Brooks then takes over with his hysterical detailed account about what it was like to film The Twelve Chairs in Yugoslavia, just before the unscheduled appearance of Mark Frechette and Daria Helprin, the stars of Zabriskie Point. At that point, Frechette seems to be speaking gibberish until he’s clearly touchy when asked about his and Helprin’s living situation int he Fort Hill Community. It was quite the episode.

Dick Cavett Helped Discover Woody Allen

Woody Allen on the show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show

In a sense, Dick Cavett helped discover Woody Allen when Allen was performing stand-up and Cavett was working for a talent coordinator for the Jack Parr Tonight Show. Over the years, Allen made several appearances on The Dick Cavett Show, and the two seemed to have formed a bond with each other.

He even once appeared on one of the earliest episodes of Cavett’s new PBS series in 1977, just a few years before Allen refused to show up to the Academy Awards the night he won Best Picture and Best Director for Annie Hall.

Christine Jorgenson Walks Off The Show

Picture of Christine Jorgensen
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

On March 27, 1968, Dick Cavett had Christina Jorgenson as a guest on the show. Jorgenson was the first widely-known person to have a sexual reassignment surgery transitioning from male to female.

However, she ended up walking off of the show after Cavett asked about the current situation regarding her romantic life with her wife. Because she was the only scheduled guest, this resulted in Cavett spending the remainder of the program explaining that he never meant to offend her.

Cavett Had Ray Charles On Numerous Times

Cavett and Charles
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show

Ray Charles’ appearances on The Dick Cavett Show were some of the most famous, in regards to Cavett using his program to showcase musicians. At times, Charles would even motion for Cavett to sing along with him, which he did, of course.

Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to sing live with Ray Charles? Ironically, this would become a running joke for the rest of the show, with other musical guests following Charles’ lead and asking Cavett to sing along. Maybe he could have had a career in music if television didn’t work out.

Cavett Infuriates A Georgia Governor

Maddox and Cavett
YouTubeThe Dick Cavett Show
YouTubeThe Dick Cavett Show

In December 1970, Georgia governor Lester Maddox walked off the show during a conversation with Cavett regarding segregation. Cavett referred to the people that voted Maddox into office as “bigots,” leading Maddox to demand an apology. Cavett did apologize, however, only to the Georgians that did vote for Maddox, who might not have been bigots.

Although Cavett tried to coax Maddox back onto the show, he had a feeling that it might have been a publicity stunt. The news caught wind of what had happened and reported on it before the episode aired that night, which greatly increased viewership.

The “Woodstock Show” Explained The Concert To The World

Cavett with Woodstock musicians
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show

On August 16, 1969, Dick Cavett welcomed the musicians Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby onto the show. The episode became known as the “Woodstock Show” because the guests and most of the audience members had just returned from the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival.

Some of the songs that were performed included “We Can Be Together,” “Volunteers,” and “Somebody to Love,” all while the musicians were clearly uncomfortable being a part of such a commercialized program. Surprisingly, the episode belongs to Joni Mitchell, who didn’t play at Woodstock because her manager wanted her fresh when she appeared on the show.

The Show Opened Up With A Bang

Portrait of Cavett
Bachrach/Getty Images
Bachrach/Getty Images

The first premiere broadcast of Cavett’s morning show, This Morning, took place on March 4, 1968, and it did not disappoint. His first guest was Buckminster Fuller, an engineer, designer, and futurist, who made some rather brash comments.

On top of discussing how politicians will eventually become irrelevant through technological advancements, he also commented that a woman is a baby factory and that all men had to do was “press the right button.” Patricia Neal then came on and described her extensive rehabilitation from a near-fatal stroke in 1965.

He Informed The Audience About The Death Of A Former President

Portrait of Dick Cavett
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

During the taping of a show on January 22, 1973, Cavett was informed by one of his crew members former President Lyndon B. Johnson had died. Upon hearing the news, he felt it was only right to inform the audience, which is what he did.

During the episode, he had guests Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Oriana Fallaci, and John Foreman. Foreman had just been introduced when the announcement had been made, so he had barely any time to talk as the discussion quickly turned about Johnson.

A Death On The Show

J.I. Rodale outside
Pinterest
Pinterest

During a taping on June 7, 1971, publisher J.I. Rodale, an advocate of organic farming, died of a heart attack. At the time, Cavett was speaking with journalist Pete Hamill when Rodale began to make a “snoring” noise.

However, Cavett’s reaction to Rodale has been highly debated. Cavett claims that both he and Hamill immediately realized that something was wrong, whereas others state that Cavett asked, “Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?” Nobody in the audience knew anything was wrong until Cavett seriously addressed the audience, asking if anyone was a doctor.

Angela Davis Refused To Participate

Angela Davis giving a speech
Schulz/Keystone/Getty Images
Schulz/Keystone/Getty Images

Angela Davis, an activist that was associated with the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 70s, canceled her scheduled appearance on the show for June 27, 1972. The purpose of the episode was to continue the ongoing debate over the SST Supersonic Transport System.

ABC had intended to invite either William F. Buckley, Jr. or William Rusher of the conservative National Review to have both sides of the discussion. This resulted in Davis declining to be part of the conversation.

Chad Everett Said All The Wrong Things

Everette and Lila on the show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show

During the taping of an episode on March 31, 1972, had on guests Chad Everett, best known for his work on the television drama Medical Center, and feminist actress and comedian Lily Tomlin.

Their interaction became a highly-publicized argument that came to a head when Cavett asked what animals Everett owned. Everett responded saying, “I have three horses and three dogs and a wife,” referring to his wife as “the most beautiful animal I own.” Tomlin then proceeded to stand up and walk off the stage.

A Discussion Of “The Star-Spangled Banner” With Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix and Cavett
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show

On July 7, 1969, iconic guitarist, singer-songwriter Jimi Hendrix made a rare television appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. During the interview, Cavett brought up Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, mentioning that it could be described as “unorthodox.”

Hendrix was quick to respond that the song was “not unorthodox” and that what he had played was beautiful. The crowd’s reaction showed that they agreed, leading Cavett to blush. Hendrix also went on to explain he had more of a chance of changing the world than politics ever would. Of course, he played a few tunes as well.

Judy Collins Describes Her Experience Being Censored By ABC

Judy Collins and Cavett
Gary Gershoff/WireImage
Gary Gershoff/WireImage

Singer Judy Collins made an appearance on the show on February 4, 1970. There, she described her experiences as a defense witness at the Chicago Seven trial, in which several of her comments were censored by the ABC legal department. Upon hearing about the censoring, Collins wrote a protest letter to the Federal Communications Commission claiming that the censorship had been a violation of her free speech rights.

Her protest was quickly denied, with the FCC claiming that a television network could delete or edit remarks to uphold their own standards. The interview between Collins and Cavett proved to be eye-opening for many viewers.

Salvador Dali Did Not Disappoint

Dali with an anteater
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show
YouTube/The Dick Cavett Show

During the March 6, 1970 taping, Cavett had quite a diverse group of guests, including Surrealist artists Salvador Dali, silent film star Lillian Garish, and baseball icon Satchel Paige. In a very Dali-esque fashion, Dali came onto the show with an anteater on a leash which he proceeded to hand off to a confused Garish.

Cavett then asked Dali why he arrived at his lecture in an open limousine filled with heads of cauliflower. Dali then presumed to note the similarity to the cauliflower head to the “mathematical problem discovered by Michelangelo rhinoceros horn.”