Turner Classic Movies
Cavett, Dick - Interview
Written by Diana Saenger   

dick_cavett-250.jpgDick Cavett is a legend among television forerunners from the 1960s to the present as a guest on many television broadcasts and as host of his own show. The Dick Cavett Show aired during the 60s and 70s, and was a cornucopia of entertainment. His conversations with celebrities were iconic with stars such as Groucho Marx, Lucille Ball, Mae West, John Wayne; singers Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and more, and also prominent news makers to which Cavett would often spare with and usually always come out the victor of the conversation.

Born Richard Alva "Dick" Cavett  Nov. 19, 1936 in Nebraska, Cavett's  parents were school teachers in Lincoln. He struck out for stardom doing a morning radio show in eighth grade. He also like gymnastics and did well with the sport in high school. He attended Yale University and spent a lot of time back stage of theatrical productions. He made an art of unorthodox meetings with stars which came in handy later on when he actually went into show business.

Carrie Fisher

Most recently Cavett is the Hollywood legend chosen to host San Diego County's Harrah's Rincon Casino & Resort's The Hollywood Legends Series. In the first series on Feb. 12, 2011 Cavett faces the challenge of mother and daughter with Hollywood's beloved Debbie Reynolds and her equally talented daughter Carrie Fisher. I was very delighted to interview Cavett about this series.

[Carrie Fisher grew up in iconic Hollywood as daughter of Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. She's been acting since the 70s and is best remembered as Princess Leia in the first Star Wars trilogy. Fisher has also worked as a screenwriter and has written several books, most recently the New York Times bestselling Postcards from the Edge.]

When I inquired if he knew what he was going to ask the legendary actresses Cavett replied, "No, it won't be planned before I come on. And I can always harken back to the invaluable advice Jack Parr gave me when I started doing television, €˜hey kid don't do interviews' make it a conversation."

Cavett stepped thought the Hollywood spotlight when he got a job on The Tonight Show with the Jack Parr working as a booker for talent. He wrote jokes which Parr often used on the show." He had a full writing staff, and he either couldn't afford another one or because some of them were older, diplomatically he couldn't make me a writer right away. So I posed as an actual interviewer of some of the people who came in and on the side I slipped Jack jokes. I hope the statue of limitations at the Guild has run out," Cavett said with a laugh.

When Johnny Carson took over hosting duties at The Tonight Show, Cavett stayed on sharpening his Hollywood-hungry teeth and anything he could learn from Carson. He continued to write jokes for Carson, met lots of celebrities and eventually Cavett had his show. He had - and still has - an amazing talent to converse with his guests (or interviewers) in what went beyond an interview style. Through the years stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Groucho Marx, and Marlon Brando became known in undiscovered arenas thanks to Cavett's skills.

Debbie Reynolds

I was curious how Cavett intended to set the tone for his evening with Reynolds and Fisher. "I just do what I do, and since the guest are known quantities that shouldn't be hard to do," he said. "I've had Debbie on my show, and we've done an evening before. They are both highly intelligent and entertaining women. The only way I could go wrong is if they failed to raise the curtain or if the seats don't face the stage," said Cavett with his usual humor.

[From The Unsinkable Molly Brown to Singin' In The Rain Reynolds was a classic actress fans couldn't get enough of. Her career has spanned six decades but her talent is always fresh. In an interview with Donald O'Connor about Singin' In The Rain he said about Reynolds, "Debbie was a remarkable girl. The way she picked up on everything and worked strong, she's a consummate pro. Debbie was just perfect for that part."]

What's the one thing an interviewer should do or not do when interviewing celebrities I asked Cavett. "Don't point out how much better they looked years ago, which I inadvertently did so year ago, but I've blanked on who it was. It's interesting how people age differently. I'm always having this happen - they will introduce someone who did something special in the Johnson administration and I'll say, oh I had him on. Then I expect a vigorous man in his 40s and out comes this doddering old man. I have no realistic sense of a passage of time. I expect my friends' children to still be 8."

You've survived a lot of interviews and heated debates. "Yes. I was plugging my book Talk Show on something and while talking I looked down and I had a copy of my DVD of Hollywood Greats and as I read along the names Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Groucho, Fred Astaire,   Robert Mitchum, Lucille Ball, Marlon Brando and Orson Wells, I thought they all had something in common. I'm the only one still alive, except Kirk Douglas. And that leads to the thought who are their counterparts today?

I often wonder that myself. "Some things were better in the past," Cavett said. "I remember walking with Woody Allen in Central Park, which we do occasionally, and one day he said, €˜Cavett, can you think of anything that's getting better?' I was stuck for an answer, maybe some French wine!"

I've interviewed more than 300 A-list Hollywood talents and I know the worst question to ask an interviewer because I get asked it all the time. But it's the legendary Dick Cavett, so I had to ask, and he said it before I could get the words out, Who's your favorite interview? After a delightful trip down classic Hollywood he finally said, "Groucho. He was so funny and really wanted to be a writer rather than a successful performer."

There were two celebrity icons that slipped through the loop of Cavett's show. "Cary grant and Frank Sinatra," Cavett said. "I was relatively close to it and may have blown it myself. I was happy enough to be doing shows with so many great people and never really pressed them. I did call Cary Grant and he was really fun over the phone, (Cavett pantomime's Grant's voice sounding just like Grant) saying, €˜Oh Kate was so great, and they'll find out how dumb I am.' I tired to reassure him but it never happened. I wrote Sinatra a letter and saw him a few times. When I was told to call him I got a goon in New Jersey on the other end saying (this time Cavett mimics a gangsters voice), "I don't know who you are but Frank doesn't do s*** like this. So I claimed to have the wrong number and hung up."

Cavett continues to make appearances on stage and TV and promote his new, Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets. He will interview Reynolds and Fisher in Harrah's indoor concert Pavilion at 8 p.m. at 777 Harrah's Rincon Way, Valley Center, CA.  

The Harrah's series will continue with Academy-Award winning and popular actress Shirley MacLaine on March 5, and two-time Academy-Award winner and humanitarian, Jane Fonda on April 9.  Harrah's will be announcing additional shows in the near future.  Tickets for the Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher show are now available and can be purchased via Ticketmaster for $55 for general admission reserved seating and $125 for preferred seating.  Spaces are limited.  For more information, please call (760) 751-3100 or visit Harrah's online at

Dick Cavett was one of the most entertaining interviews I've done, and I have no doubt he will bring his warm humor and wry intelligence to the Harrah's stage for all to enjoy.  

Photo: Dick Cavett         Credit: courtesy

Photo: Debbie Reynolds   Credit: courtesy

Photo: Carrie Fisher             Credit: courtesy




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