The son of Nebraska schoolteachers, Dick Cavett excelled athletically and scholastically in high school, receiving a scholarship to Yale. Endowed with a deep, resonant voice (which emanated somewhat incongruously from a 5'7" frame), Cavett switched his major from English to Drama in his senior year, thereby winning an RCA scholarship. Upon arriving in New York, he tried and failed to get a job at RCA's broadcast subsidiary NBC, but managed to land a leading role (and a 100-dollar salary) in an Army Signal Corps film after which Cavett took a variety of odd jobs, ranging from store detective to label-typist for a Wall Street firm. While working as a copy boy at Time magazine, he impulsively wrote a two-page monologue for TV talk host Jack Paar, then passed his notes along to a bemused Paar at NBC's Radio City headquarters. Thus began Cavett's career as a comedy writer, not only for Paar but for his Tonight Show successor, Johnny Carson. Encouraged by such showbiz friends as Woody Allen and Groucho Marx, Cavett became a standup comedian. His success in this field led to an offer from ABC to host a daytime talk show in 1968. The following year, he was emceeing a nightly TV chatfest, in direct competition with his old boss Johnny Carson. Adopting a more erudite, intellectual tone that was the norm in late-night network television of the era, Cavett interviewed such luminaries as Orson Welles, Katharine Hepburn, Noël Coward, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, and Lillian Hellman. A darling of the critics and cognoscenti (not to mention the Emmy Awards committee), Cavett's ratings were low and he was canceled in 1974. Amidst several other projects, he went on to host a daily PBS interview series, which ran from 1977 to 1981, and helmed similar programs on the USA and CNBC cable services into the 1990s. Having never completely abandoned acting, he occasionally appeared in dramatic roles on TV and Broadway, served as a commercial spokesman for a variety of products, and was seen in a handful of films. Cast as "himself," he made fleeting appearances in Annie Hall (1977), Health (1979), Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (1987), and Forrest Gump (1994), and was afforded a rare character part as a snooty intellectual in Beetlejuice (1988). Since 1964, Dick Cavett has been married to actress Carrie Nye.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- After college, worked as a copy boy for Time magazine.
- Unsuccessfully applied to work as an NBC page, but later became a talent coordinator for NBC talk show host Jack Paar.
- Went on to write for Paar and Johnny Carson, as well as Merv Griffin and Jerry Lewis.
- Made his stand-up comedy debut at New York's Bitter End in 1964, and later performed on the Tonight Show, the Merv Griffin Show and the Ed Sullivan Show.
- Has hosted several different talk shows---all titled the Dick Cavett Show---on ABC, CBS and PBS, among others.
- The Dorcas C. and Alva B. Cavett Elementary School in Lincoln, NE, is named for his father and stepmother, both teachers, as was his mother, Erabel.