Do you remember Dick Cavett? To this day he’s considered one of the greatest talk show hosts to have ever existed. He interviewed a vast variety of guests throughout the ’70s, and somehow managed to get them talking like they never had before. Here’s 40 of the most memorable moments of his show. If you saw any of these live, you saw little bits of history without even knowing it.
40. Salvador Dalí brings his anteater
If you had Salvador Dalí on your show, things were inevitably going to be weird, since he might just take the crown for strangest artist of his era. When he appeared on Cavett’s show in 1971, he brought along a pet anteater, which he ended up throwing so that it landed in silent film actress Lillian Gish’s lap. The anteater’s thoughts on this are sadly unrecorded.
39. Cavett interviews John and Yoko
Back in September 1971 Cavett interviewed John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and a part of music history was made when they debuted their new song “Imagine.” So famous was this particular interview that it made an appearance in the movie Forrest Gump, with Tom Hanks’ Gump edited in over Yoko Ono.
38. Roy Dotrice takes off his makeup
Roy Dotrice made his career by pretending to be an old man, namely the character of John Aubrey in the play Brief Lives. After that, he personified other characters who were many years older than him. Come 1974 he went on The Dick Cavett Show in full “ancient guy” makeup and gave audiences a crash course in prosthetics as he took it off piece by piece.
37. Cavett slams English food
Dick Cavett apparently didn’t like English cuisine, not in the slightest. While interviewing chef Julia Child in 1980 he mused, “Maybe people in any country are indifferent to food. Certainly 90 percent of the English must be from the evidence.” Then he added, “There are some marvelous restaurants in England, but in general the glop that they ingest is truly phenomenal.” Ouch.
36. John Cleese throws furniture
Famous British comedian John Cleese appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in 1995 to talk about his new book. And well, he also ended up hurling some drinks around before outright throwing a coffee table. Cavett took it all in stride, indicating that it was a preplanned bit, but it still came off as kind of awkward.
35. Chuck Norris discusses his stunt injuries
In the days before he was an Internet meme, Chuck Norris was a guest on The Dick Cavett Show. During his May 1993 interview, he detailed to Cavett and the audience just how many injuries he’d sustained during the course of his career. However, the conversation was tinged with sadness since actor Brandon Lee had died during a stunt gone wrong only two months prior.
34. Sophia Loren flirts with Cavett
Cavett was never usually lost for words on his show, but he briefly was when famous beauty Sophia Loren flirted with him during a 1979 episode. Loren told him, “You have everything… You have charm; you have elegance; you have grace; you talk beautifully; you have a nice mind; you have a nice brain; you have a nice sense of humor.” Enough to make anyone blush.
33. Cavett interviews Bobby Fischer
In 1972 chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer appeared on the show and gave a lesson in chess. Cavett remembered that one guest for years to come, since Fischer suffered major mental health problems later on in life. He told the website Big Think in 2010 that he “got along great with” Fischer and regretted that he “just lost touch with him.”
32. Julie Andrews sings
Julie Andrews had the most amazing voice, and she got a chance to show it off on The Dick Cavett Show. During a 1971 episode, she sung “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from the Broadway show My Fair Lady without even standing or warming her voice up first. It was indeed loverly.
31. Stephen King discusses being “warped”
In 1990 a group of horror writers got together on The Dick Cavett Show. These were Stephen King, George Romero, Peter Straub and Ira Levin. Why did King in particular write horror? Well, he said, he was “warped as a child.” But maybe scarier than that to younger folks is the fact that he was casually smoking a cigarette throughout the interview.
30. Dennis Hopper remembers threatening James Dean
Dennis Hopper had a strange relationship with his Rebel Without a Cause and Giant co-star James Dean. He absolutely idolized him. When speaking to Dick Cavett in 1994 he recollected that at one point Dean “wouldn’t talk to” him so he “grabbed him and threw him into a car” before threatening him into sharing acting tips. That’s one way to do it.
29. George Harrison roasts John Lennon
Not long after John Lennon made an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, George Harrison did. And despite his claims that they still saw each other, he didn’t seem very impressed with the other Beatle. He implied that Lennon was a sellout and recited the lyrics to his bandmate’s “new Christmas record” as “We wish you merry Christmas, war is over, get yours now.”
28. Lily Tomlin walks out
It probably goes without saying that the ’70s could be a pretty sexist era, but women were prepared to fight back. In one 1972 episode, feminist comedian Lily Tomlin was pitted against actor Chad Everett, a throwback to an even earlier era who referred to his wife as “property” and “the most beautiful animal I own.” Tomlin made her feelings clear by simply walking out.
27. James Earl Jones lets something slip
James Earl Jones is, of course, the voice of Darth Vader. He appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in April 1995, and the host asked him if he’d ever used his famous Vader voice in public “just for fun.” Jones admitted that once while driving he’d done the voice over a CB radio and “freaked a lot of people out.”
26. Raquel Welch talks about being mobbed
At the height of her fame, Raquel Welch actually feared for her safety sometimes. On a 1970 episode she told Cavett about mobbed at the Myra Breckinridge premiere, saying, “In a manner of speaking, I suppose it was like Vietnam revisited.” But she also set the record straight that her fans “weren’t responsible for the broken windows and things like that.”
25. Katharine Hepburn discusses her childhood
Cavett’s interview with movie legend Katharine Hepburn in 1973 proved to be a big moment for both of them. Hepburn usually refused to give interviews, and it was only on a complete whim that she decided to talk to Cavett. The discussion of Hepburn’s life got pleasingly in-depth, and she even admitted that as a youngster that she’d spent time “breaking into houses.” An unfazed Cavett replied, “You too? I love breaking into houses.”
24. Cavett breaks some important news
For the January 22, 1973, episode of the show Cavett had Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, John Foreman and Oriana Fallaci on as guests. He’d just introduced Foreman when he learned some news from the offscreen crew members: former U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson was dead. He calmly informed the audience about it and switched the discussion to that topic.
23. Cavett meets Kermit
Can you imagine a better talk show guest than Kermit the Frog? Well, Cavett met “him” and Jim Henson during one memorable 1971 episode of The Dick Cavett Show. Accompanying them were Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Grover, among others. The episode remains a must-see for fans of the Muppets.
22. Jimi Hendrix speaks about the national anthem
In 1969 Jimi Hendrix played “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock. This drew comment because during a turbulent time for America, Hendrix sang the song with anger. Then a month later he appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. When Cavett suggested his rendition was “unorthodox,” Hendrix disagreed and pointedly told him, “All I did was play it. I’m American, so I played it.”
21. Cavett interviews Orson Welles
In what’s considered one of the best interviews he ever did, Cavett interviewed the legend that was Orson Welles back in 1970. Decades later in 2010 Cavett remembered the event to the website Big Think and called Welles “the dream talk show guest.” He also remembered getting a letter from a woman which read, “Thank you, thank you, Mr. Cavett, for bringing Orson Welles back to his American audience.”
20. Ian McKellen discusses coming out
Back in 1992, several years before he was Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, Ian McKellen went on The Dick Cavett Show and discussed what it was like to come out as a gay man. In many ways the interview hasn’t aged well at all, but it’s fascinating to see a younger McKellen speak confidently and frankly about his life.
19. Steven Spielberg talks the Raiders of the Lost Ark snakes
If you’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark you know it involves quite a lot of snakes. And yes they were real, and yes they were dangerous. In this 1981 Dick Cavett Show interview, a young, beardless Steven Spielberg casually discusses how he threw real snakes at actors to make them scream.
18. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier pick Cavett up
When both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were on the show at the same time, Cavett did briefly worry that they might fight each other right in front of the cameras. But something else happened. Ali said to Frazier, “Let’s pretend we’re friends, and both of us get him!,” so both boxers picked Cavett up and dangled him.
17. Robin Williams does a variety of accents
Robin Williams appeared on The Dick Cavett Show back in 1979 and did an impressive variety of accents for the audience. During a lull in the madness, Cavett told his guest, “Robin, I’m very pleased to have you here; I know this is not your usual sort of gig.” Williams responded in his normal voice, “No, I haven’t done any talk shows. Probably won’t do any more either.”
16. Anthony Hopkins discusses Hannibal Lecter
If you’ve watched Silence of the Lambs a lot, you may have noticed one unsettling detail. Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter barely blinks at all for the entire movie. And in a 1992 interview with Dick Cavett the veteran actor explained that he borrowed that trait from a London “madman” who he found “pretty scary.”
15. David Attenborough appears on the show
It’s strange to think there was once a time when people didn’t know who David Attenborough was. But when the naturalist appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in 1981 to talk about gorillas, Cavett introduced him first as the brother of Richard Attenborough. He even told the audience, “If you tuned in tonight thinking you were going to see one of your favorite British actors, you’re in for a surprise.”
14. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore discuss sex education
In one 1971 episode of his show, Dick Cavett decided to ask Peter Cook and Dudley Moore how they felt about sex education in schools, a hot-button topic at the time. Needless to say, it was a subject that the two comedians delighted in. The audience found the whole thing hilarious, and clearly so did Cavett himself.
13. Jeff Goldblum is called “gangly”
In 1992 Jeff Goldblum appeared on The Dick Cavett show and ended up discussing his physique with the talk show host. According to Cavett, the media tended to call Goldblum “gangly.” Goldblum asked, “Does gangly mean awkward in some way?” These days, thanks in no small part to Jurassic Park which would release the following year, he’s considered a sex symbol for geeks everywhere
12. Jerry Lewis wears fake teeth
Iconic comedian Jerry Lewis popped up on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. True to form, he decided to wear some fake teeth for the cameras, which surprised and then cracked up Cavett and the audience. Cavett actually knew Lewis personally at this point, since he’d been a writer for his ’60s variety show.
11. Paul Simon does a ball maze
Paul Simon had a secret talent: he was really, really good at ball mazes. While on The Dick Cavett Show in 1972 he proudly announced, “This is a game I have inordinate skill at. It has no value whatsoever,” before showing off to Cavett what he could do. His record time was apparently 38 seconds.
10. Paul Newman talks about his wife
Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward had one of the sweetest, longest-lasting love stories in Hollywood. That’s evident from Newman’s 1970 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett showed him a clip in which Woodward remembered thinking of her future husband, “He isn’t really very talented, but he’s got a pretty face, so maybe he’ll make it.” Newman’s response was “That’s a classy lady.”
9. Cavett plays a prank on Chevy Chase
Cavett definitely wasn’t above playing pranks on people. During one 1978 episode of his show he hid Chevy Chase’s chair, so he had to kneel instead of sit. As the audience giggled in the background, he quipped, “I thought it would be funny, you see.” Chase responded, “That makes one of us.” Was he joking or not?
8. Women debate Hugh Hefner
In 1970 Dick Cavett hosted a debate. On one side was Hugh Hefner, creator of Playboy magazine, and on the other were feminists named Susan Brownmiller and Sally Kempton. The discussion: whether or not Playboy models were objectified. Generally it’s considered that the women won the debate, especially since Brownmiller later won recognition for her anti-sexism work.
7. Gene Wilder talks about his wife’s death
Gene Wilder was married Gilda Radner before her death from ovarian cancer at the age of just 42. If not for an early misdiagnosis, Wilder always believed, she might have lived. In 1991, two years after her passing, Wilder spoke about the tragedy to Cavett. He mused, “If I start to talk about the whys and why nots, I’ll get into not legal problems, but I’ll get into emotional problems… I don’t want to get sad or angry.”
6. Lester Maddox storms off
In 1970 a pro-segregation Georgia governor called Lester Maddox showed up for a debate on the show. Unsurprisingly, Cavett called the people who had voted for Maddox “bigots.” Maddox demanded an apology and Cavett gave only, “If I called any of your admirers bigots… who aren’t bigots… I apologize.” Maddox stormed away. The incident inspired Randy Newman to write his 1974 song “Rednecks.”
5. Alfred Hitchcock introduces the show
Legendary movie director Alfred Hitchcock was obviously famous for many things, and among them was his “silhouette” introduction to the program Alfred Hitchcock Presents. So when he appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, he did the same thing, with Cavett himself joining in. Audiences loved it, and they loved his interview too.
4. Guests discuss the assassination of Robert Kennedy
The 1968 assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy shocked the whole of America. Afterwards, Dick Cavett assembled some guests to discuss gun violence on his show. The participants were psychiatrist David Abrahamsen, NAACP director Roy Wilkins, journalist David Schoenbrun and actor Robert Vaughn, who happened to be a friend of the Kennedy family. Everybody said their piece.
3. Janis Joplin’s last TV interview
Janis Joplin appeared a few times on The Dick Cavett Show and seemed to get along very well with Cavett himself. They were an unlikely pair, but Joplin seemed comfortable with Cavett, even though she never liked interviews. But sadly, the August 3, 1970, episode of the show marked her last TV appearance. She passed away just two months later.
2. Cavett trains with Muhammad Ali
In January 1974 Cavett spent a little time training up with Muhammad Ali. Good-natured insults were thrown, and fun, clear to the audience, was had by all. In fact Cavett always considered Ali to be not just a show guest but a close friend, and TV historians have been fascinated by that relationship. There was even a documentary about it in 2018 called Ali & Cavett, The Tale of the Tapes.
1. Groucho Marx cracks Cavett up
One of Cavett’s best interviews took place in June 1969, when he spoke to the legendary Groucho Marx and was left bursting with laughter. In 2010 the website Big Think asked Cavett, “Who was your favorite guest?,” and he responded, “I should say that Groucho meant the most to me.” Turned out that when he was a kid, he just missed out on meeting Groucho at a Hollywood market. Luckily, he got to make up for it.