Savage was active in New York theater and organized a childrens theater group that performed in public housing. He performed both on and off-Broadway; for his work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in L.A. and Chicago he won a Drama Circle Award. His film career began with a role in Love Is a Carousel (1970) and continued through 1975, after which he took a four-year break from movies while continuing to act frequently on TV. Savage returned to the big screen in 1979 with The Deer Hunter, after which he appeared in numerous films. His movies tended to do more for the careers of his costars than for his own. Most of the films he made in the '80s and '90s were commercially unsuccessful.