March 4, 1968: The Premiere of "This Morning"
In the first broadcast of his 90-minute morning show, Cavett had as his first guest, engineer/designer/futurist Buckminster Fuller. The two discussed how politicians would eventually become obsolete through technological advances, while the wide-ranging discussion also included a comment from Fuller that a woman is a baby factory and that a man's role is to simply press the right button. Later on in the program, Cavett chatted with actress Patricia Neal, who discussed her long rehabilitation from a near-fatal stroke in 1965.
March 27, 1968: Christine Jorgensen Walks Off the Show
During an interview with Christine Jorgensen, the first widely known person to have a sex reassignment surgery-In this case male-to-female, she walked off the show when she felt offended when Cavett asked her about the status of her romantic life with her "wife"; because she was the only scheduled guest, Cavett spent the rest of that show talking about how he had not meant to offend her.
August 19, 1969: The Woodstock Show
On Tuesday, August 19, 1969, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, and David Crosby and Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), all appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. It is now often referred to as "The Woodstock Show", as many of the performers, and Cavett's audience, came directly from the concert for the taping the afternoon before the show aired. Stephen Stills pointed out the mud from the concert venue still on his pantleg. Jefferson Airplane's performance "We Can Be Together" marked the first time the word "fuck" was uttered on live television. Joni Mitchell sang "Chelsea Morning", "Willy", and "For Free". Grace Slick kept calling Dick Cavett "Jim" and briefly talked about her school days at Finch College. Stephen Stills performed "4 + 20". Joni Mitchell sang "The Fiddle and the Drum" a cappella. Jefferson Airplane (with David Crosby) then launched into "Somebody to Love". The credits rolled as everybody, aside from Mitchell, partook in an instrumental jam as the audience danced.
Jimi Hendrix was scheduled to join the others but was unable to appear at the afternoon taping that occurred only a few hours after he performed at the late-running festival. Joni Mitchell's manager, apparently fearing a similar situation that may have prevented her from appearing on The Dick Cavett Show, did not allow her to perform at Woodstock. He considered the Cavett Show too important for her career for her to risk missing the taping.
Mitchell wrote the song "Woodstock" based on descriptions by Graham Nash and from the images she saw on television, as she could not be there in person. The most famous version of the song is by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, who recorded it for their Déjà Vu album (1970). It appears in the film Woodstock during the closing credits. Mitchell recorded it for Ladies of the Canyon (1970).
September 5, 1969: Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx remarked about the musical Hair, which had just opened and was notorious for its ground-breaking use of explicit nudity: "I was going to go, but I saw myself in the mirror one morning, and I figured, why waste five and a half dollars?"
September 9, 1969: Jimi Hendrix
In an interview with Jimi Hendrix, Cavett spoke about Hendrix's performance of the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, and called the style "unorthodox". Jimi commented that the song was "not unorthodox" and that what he played was beautiful. The audience clapped, and Dick blushed.
February 4, 1970: Judy Collins
During an interview with singer Judy Collins, which discussed her experiences as a defense witness at the Chicago Seven trial, several of her comments were censored at the direction of the ABC legal department. Collins wrote a protest letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), claiming a violation of her free speech rights and the network license granted to ABC by the FCC. Her protest was denied, with the FCC ruling that a television network could, at its discretion, delete or edit remarks on its programs. Elton Rule, president of ABC Television, noted that in the network's judgement, "her remarks ... were not within the bounds of fair comment."
February 19, 1970: Noel Coward, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Tammy Grimes, and Brian Bedford
To honor Noël Coward on the occasion of his being knighted, Cavett interviewed not only "The Master" himself, but also his close friends, The Lunts. Tammy Grimes and Brian Bedford, who were appearing on Broadway at the time in a revival of Coward's classic play, Private Lives, performed a medley of Sir Noel's most popular songs. At one point during the interview, Cavett asked Coward, "What is the word for when one has terrific, prolific qualities?" Without missing a beat, Coward answered in a deadpan manner, "Talent", which sent Cavett and the audience into convulsions of laughter.
March 6, 1970: Salvador Dalí, Lillian Gish, and Satchel Paige
Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí appeared on the show with silent screen star Lillian Gish and baseball legend Satchel Paige. Dalí carried an anteater on a leash in with him when he came on stage, and he tossed it in Gish's lap, much to her consternation.
Cavett asked Dalí why he had once arrived to give a lecture at the Sorbonne in an open limousine filled with heads of cauliflower. Dalí responded with a barely-coherent discourse regarding the similarity of the cauliflower head to the "mathematical problem discovered by Michelangelo in the rhinoceros' horn".
Cavett interrupted him by waving his hands in Dalí's face, exclaiming "Boogie boogie boogie!" (imitating Groucho Marx in the film A Night at the Opera). The audience broke up, and Dalí appeared at a loss.
April 6, 1970: Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin
Actors Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin appeared together on the show with movie producer Mel Brooks and movie critic Rex Reed. Their interview went extremely poorly from the outset with Frechette giving abrupt non-conversational answers, and Halprin staying silent. Cavett apparently believed they lived in a commune, when they in fact were followers of cult leader Mel Lyman. When Cavett asked about the "commune" they lived in, Frechette "categorically" denied that it was a commune and said that "The community is for one purpose, and that's to serve Mel Lyman, who's the leader and founder of that community." At that point, Halprin finally tried to speak, but Cavett went to commercial. When the show returned from commercial, the next guest was brought out, and Frechette and Halprin were not interviewed further.
December 18, 1970: Lester Maddox Walks Off the Show
Former Georgia governor Lester Maddox walked off the show in the middle of a conversation about segregation after Cavett refused to apologize to Maddox's satisfaction. Cavett had made a reference to the "bigots" who had elected Maddox. Following a give-and-take about how insulting the remark might have been and Maddox's demand for an apology, Cavett had finally apologized to those Georgians who had supported Maddox who might not be bigots. Not satisfied, Maddox left the studio. During the hastily called commercial break, Cavett tried to coax Maddox back to no avail. Cavett suspected that the behavior was mere showmanship and a calculated publicity stunt. The incident was reported on the news before it aired that night, increasing viewership. In Greenwood, Mississippi, the hometown of Cavett's wife Carrie Nye, the guests at a country club dance abandoned the dance floor to watch the show on the TV in the lounge.
Truman Capote, also on the show, watched Maddox walk offstage, paused and declared "I've been to his restaurant and his chicken isn't that finger licken." Years later, he said he got more comments about it than any other TV show he had done. Capote reaches for Maddox as he storms off. Maddox yanks his hand away in disgust. The other member of the guest panel was football great Jim Brown.
Maddox later returned for another appearance on the show, and this time Cavett walked off as a joke. Left alone on stage, Maddox cued the band and began singing "I Don't Know Why I Love You Like I Do" as Cavett reappeared in the wings to join in.
June 7, 1971: J. I. Rodale's Onstage Death
As noted in Cavett's autobiography (p. 321-323), on June 7, 1971 publisher J. I. Rodale, an advocate of organic farming, died of a heart attack during taping. Cavett was speaking with journalist Pete Hamill when Rodale began to make a snoring noise. Cavett's reaction to this is contested - he claims that both he and Hammill realized immediately that something was wrong, while other accounts have him addressing the unconscious man with "Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?" The audience did not realise anything was seriously wrong until Cavett asked (avoiding the cliché), "Is there a doctor...in the audience?"
The program was never aired and a rerun was aired in its place.
June 1971: Vietnam War Debate with John Kerry
During a debate about the Vietnam war, Cavett had two veterans debating on the show. The anti-war side was led by a young John Kerry and the pro-war side by John E. O'Neill, later the founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. It was later revealed through then-President Richard Nixon's secret White House tapes that Nixon wanted to "get rid" of Cavett because of this debate.
August 2, 1971: Ingmar Bergman
Director Ingmar Bergman appeared for the first time on a US talk show, in one of the few TV interviews he ever agreed to do.
December 15, 1971: Norman Mailer vs. Gore Vidal
Moments before the episode with Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, and Janet Flanner, Mailer, annoyed with a less-than-stellar review by Vidal of Prisoner of Sex, headbutted Vidal and traded insults with him backstage. As the show began taping, a visibly belligerent Mailer, who admitted he had been drinking, goaded Vidal and Cavett into trading insults with him on air and continually referred to his "greater intellect". He openly taunted and mocked Vidal (who responded in kind), finally earning the ire of Flanner, who announced that the discussion had become "extremely boring", telling Mailer "You act as if you're the only people here." Mailer moved his chair away from the other guests and Cavett joked that "perhaps you'd like two more chairs to contain your giant intellect?" Mailer replied "I'll take the two chairs if you'll all accept finger-bowls." As Cavett professed to not understand Mailer's "finger bowl" comment and made further jokes, Mailer stated "Why don't you look at your question sheet and ask your question?", to which Cavett responded "Why don't you fold it 5 ways and put it where the moon don't shine?"
A long laugh by the audience ensued, after which Mailer asked Cavett if he had "come up with that line himself". Cavett replied "I have to tell you a quote from Tolstoy?"
The headbutting and later on-air altercation was described by Mailer himself in his short book "Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots," including a description that does not jibe with the videotape and was disputed by Cavett decades later in his New York Times Online column. Cavett noted that Mailer said that he received more mail about this episode than anything else in his career.
1971: John Simon vs. Mort Sahl
1971: The Pornography Episodes
Cavett did a two-part show on pornography; both parts were taped the same day and shown on two nights. During the first part, he was discussing the depiction of oral sex in movies and made a parenthetical utterance: "oral-genital sex...mouth on sex organs." A flap ensued where executives demanded that the censor cut the second phrase.
An angry Cavett described the ongoing situation at the beginning of the second part, reusing the phrase. One of the guests, legal scholar Alexander Bickel, sided with Cavett. The result was that the show aired with the phrase cut the first night but left in the second night.
March 31, 1972: Chad Everett vs. Lily Tomlin
During the filming of this episode, actor Chad Everett had a much publicized argument with feminist actress/comedienne Lily Tomlin. Tomlin became so enraged when Everett referred to his wife as "my property" that she stormed off the set and refused to return.
June 27, 1972: Angela Davis
Angela Davis, an activist who was associated with the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 1970s, cancelled a scheduled appearance on June 27, 1972. The basis for the controversy was the continuing debate over the SST (Supersonic transport) system. ABC had insisted on inviting either William F. Buckley, Jr. or William Rusher of the conservative National Review magazine to have a balanced viewpoint, but Davis declined.
1972: Rogers Morton
A show with Secretary of the Interior Rogers Morton resulted in nine animals being added to the endangered species list after Cavett commented on them.
June 12, 1973: Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando, who just months earlier had rejected his Academy Award for The Godfather to protest the plight of American Indians, appeared on the show with representatives of the Cheyenne, Paiute, and Lummi tribes to promote his views. After the program ended, Brando assaulted photographer Ron Galella who ended up in the hospital after being punched in the face.
October 1973: Katharine Hepburn 2-Hour Interview
During a two-part interview with Katharine Hepburn, Hepburn got up and left at the end of the first half of the interview, thinking her job was done. Cavett apologized to the audience, promising she would be back the next evening (she was). However, this was actually staged by Cavett and Hepburn as a joke.