Dick Cavett Looks Back On The Complicated Relationship Between Joan Rivers And Johnny Carson

The late Joan Rivers' first step to becoming a comedy icon was her hilarious relationship with the great Johnny Carson, who appointed Rivers as his permanent "Tonight Show" guest host in 1983. Carson then caused one of the biggest disappointments of Rivers' life when he blacklisted her from NBC after she left "Tonight" for her own talk show on Fox.

Their relationship was a complicated one, and it plagued Rivers for the rest of her life. She addressed the ordeal in her moving, enlightening, honest 2010 documentary "A Piece Of Work," and she wrote about it for The Hollywood Reporter in 2012.

HuffPost Live discussed the conflicted relationship between Rivers and Carson with Dick Cavett and Larry King on Friday, when the television legends joined host Marc Lamont Hill to remember their friend and colleague.

King summarized the beef between Rivers and Carson this way: "Here was a girl that [Carson] gave a big break to. She hosted the show for him. Then she took the job with Fox. It only lasted a year, and he never spoke to her again, wouldn't return her phone call. Joan felt he that should have been very happy for her. Johnny felt that she should have called him before she took that gig, and of course he wouldn't have stopped her from taking it, but that she owed him the courtesy of [telling him]."

The timing of that call has always been disputed. Rivers claimed she called Carson first, and he hung up and never spoke to her again. Carson claimed Joan never told him anything. Cavett, a late-night icon himself, told HuffPost Live his take is that "it was too much on his side, and I think inept on her side -- or whoever handled it for her." Cavett said he never felt Carson was opposed to competitors, including Cavett himself.

"Look, I went ... up against Carson for years, and we remained great friends," he said. "I would call him about problems I had with the show, and he would laugh about things that bombed."

It seems it all comes down to the timing of Rivers' phone call, which King speculated did not come as early as Carson would have hoped.

"I think Joan may have been calling after it was announced that she took the show. I don't think she was calling to say, 'What do you think of me taking the show?' That must have been it -- why would he not take the call if she hadn't signed a contract?" King said.

Cavett ended the conversation with a sense of moving on from the famous feud: "It hardly matters now."

King and Cavett's conversation about Rivers was wide-ranging and, as she would have appreciated, hilarious. Below, enjoy a few of their favorite memories of the woman comedy fans will never forget.

Rivers and Cavett ended up as legends, but they started as nobodies. Cavett reflects on the pair's very humble beginnings.

It may not seem like the most obvious comparison, but Cavett finds an important connection between Rivers and a controversial former president.

For more on the hysterical Joan Rivers from two men who knew her for decades, click here for the full HuffPost Live conversation.



Joan Rivers' Funniest Moments