At Sunday’s WGA Awards, late-night host, comedian and writer Dick Cavett received the Evelyn F. Burkey Award, speaking in his acceptance speech about what writing means to him.
“Writing is one of the great bastions of civilizations. It’s a branch of the art that needs preserving,” he said in the pre-taped segment, “and I thought I’d try to get through this without using the word ‘honor,’ but this is an honor.”
The honoree, who hosted multiple iterations of The Dick Cavett Show over the course of almost two decades, also fondly recalled time spent with the innumerable literary icons that graced his show. “I have been lucky to spend time with some of the most colorful, wonderful people in this county and the world, and they were writers. Ms. Burkey, whose name is on this award, was a real character. She’s done millions of good things for writers, helped them immensely,” he said. “Once a jerky producer tried to fire me from a show and I called her. She said, ‘He wants to fire you? Ask him if he wants the show to go on the air tonight.’ He did, and I was back the next day.”
Presenting the award to Cavett at the virtual ceremony was Late Night‘s Seth Meyers, who also appeared in a pre-tape, noting that the honor being given to Cavett is known to writers as “the award with the longest name.”
Meyers referred to Cavett as a “true giant of late-night television” who “changed the game forever” starting in 1969. “He was and is cerebral, insightful, quick-witted, and kind,” said Meyers. “He always had a writer’s sensibility and understood that without writers, there is no art, media or entertainment. That’s what made him special.”
Watch the speech above.
The Evelyn F. Burkey Award, recognizing someone who has brought honor and dignity to writers, was established in 1978 to honor Burkey, who dedicated her professional life to supporting writers, helping to create the Writers Guild of America, East in 1954, and serving as its executive director until her retirement in 1972. Past recipients of the award include James Schamus, Edward Albee, Walter Bernstein, Joan Didion, Claire Labine, Walter Cronkite, Arthur Miller, Sidney Lumet and Martin Scorsese.
Cavett is a three-time Emmy winner who has been a member of the Guild since 1961. He launched his career as a writer on The Tonight Show, through the period in which Jack Paar and Johnny Carson hosted, then going on to write for The Jerry Lewis Show. He wrote and hosted the special Where It’s At, produced by Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear, in 1966—and two years later was hired by ABC to host This Morning, which was later renamed The Dick Cavett Show, moving to primetime and then to late night.
The Dick Cavett Show is remembered for breaking new ground in late-night television, reinventing the formula to give space for counter-culture figures to appear before mainstream audiences. Throughout his time as host, he placed a spotlight on such writers as Alfred Hitchcock, John Cassavetes, Ingmar Bergman, Norman Mailer, Mort Sahl, Mel Brooks, Stephen King, Alice Walker, Steve Martin, Sydney Pollack, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet, Agnes Nixon, Neil Simon, Buck Henry, Carl Reiner, Dick Gregory, Gene Wilder, George Carlin, George Plimpton, Woody Allen, Harold Ramis, Norman Lear, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Pryor, Robert Towne, Spike Lee, Marshall Brickman, Terry Gilliam, Nora Ephron, Frank Capra and Joel and Ethan Coen, among many others.
The Writers Guild Awards honor outstanding writing in film, television, new media, news (broadcast and digital), radio/audio, and promotional categories. Sunday’s ceremony was hosted by comedian, writer and actress Ashley Nicole Black.
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