Dick Cavett

Today is the birthday of Dick Cavett (born 1936). Even as a child I appreciated his dry, understated wit, and marveled at his ability to talk to ANYBODY, from authors like Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal to rock stars like John Lennon and Janis Joplin.

While still in high school the Nebraska native began performing as a professional magician, where he met for the first time fellow Nebraska conjurer  Johnny Carson, and actually won the Best New Performer award at the 1952 convention of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. He studied drama at Yale and then moved to New York.

He then broke into television in the most amazing way possible. Hearing that Tonight Show host Jack Paar was in need of some jokes, he wrote some, then put them in an envelope bearing the stamp of Time Magazine (where he then worked as a copyboy) and simply handed them to Paar in the NBC lobby. His fortune was made. (It didn’t hurt a bit that his style of humor matched Paar’s perfectly.) From there he went on to a staff job at the Tonight Show, where he worked under both Paar and Carson before beginning his own legendary career as host in 1968.

So many of Cavett’s interviews are so enthralling I sometimes find myself surfing them for hours on Youtube. Since the new Hitchcock movie is coming out this Friday, this one seemed most timely:

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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