Born in Sicily, Joe Cavalier moved to Hollywood as a baby when his mother, a dress designer, decided she wanted to create costumes for movie studios. As a child, Cavalier worked as an actor and tap dancer, performing at the various studios and making friends with all members of the cast and crew. Becoming interested in the technical side of production, he obtained a job at Columbia Pictures as a second assistant director, working for such directors as Howard Hawks, Frank Capra and George Stevens. On Hawk’s Red River (1948), Cavalier, was given the opportunity to shoot several second unit scenes, his first time leading a crew.
In the late 1940s, he moved to New York so he could direct for television, helming such productions as The Danny Kaye Show, The Howdy Doody Show, The Milton Berle Show, Texaco Star Theater, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and Broadway Open House, the precursor to The Tonight Show. While in New York he joined the Radio and Television Directors Guild and witnessed the merger that created the modern DGA. Following his tenure in New York as a director, he returned to Hollywood and signed a contract with Universal Pictures, working as an assistant director on the series Laredo, Ironside, Run for Your Life, and The Virginian, as well as the films Madigan (1968), Coogan’s Bluff (1968), Eye for the Cat (1969), The Shootist (1976), and The Enforcer (1976). Cavalier then worked his way up to production manager for such TV series as It Takes a Thief, Marcus Welby, M.D., Kojak, and McMillan & Wife. He also worked as the UPM for the films The Beguiled (1971), That Man Bolt (1973), The Gauntlet (1977), Jinxed! (1982), and Timebomb (1991).
In 1974, Cavalier was a member of the directorial team for Charles S. Durbin’s DGA Award-winning episode of Kojak.