Dick Cavett and Robert Bader, Woodbridge Connecticut.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I learned that Dick Cavett and Writer/Producer and Groucho archivist Robert Bader were going to appear at a local Jewish Community Center to give a talk on “Groucho Marx, the Inside Story.”
What were my wife and I going to get for our $24 dollars, anyway?
Contrary to what a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, (Joan H.) said that she thought Dick Cavett was dead. Mr. Cavett was indeed alive and quite frisky for a septuagenarian.
The diminutive Mr. Cavett crouched against a piano facing away from the audience as a montage of his interviews were played on a large screen before a crowd of about 300. I guess even “stars” have difficulty watching themselves in front of audience. Once introduced by Mr. Bader, he bounded on stage with energy and aplomb.
While the main focus of the evening was the late and great Julius H. Marx, the real treat and value was watching Dick Cavett play the role of interviewee for an hour and forty-five minutes.
While Mr. Bader played some great clips of the Groucho, Harpo, and Chico recreating their vaudeville act when they made TV appearances in the 1950s, he reminisced about how his interest in the Marx Brothers began as a youngster sneaking downstairs after his parents went to bed to watch Groucho on the Dick Cavett show.
Cavett shared a story that took place in the Midwest where Groucho was invited to a séance. Groucho was counseled that this was serious and he was expected to maintain a sense of respect and decorum. Groucho assures his host that his stage persona is one thing and he can be serious and is a seeker of spirituality.
As the lights dim and the Margaret Dumont like medium goes into a trance and asks, “Does anyone have a question for the beyond? Does anyone have a question for the beyond? Does anyone have a question for the beyond?”
A voice pipes up. “What’s the capitol of North Dakota?”
Groucho was lucky to escape unscathed.
The two gentlemen spoke extensively about Marx Brothers, with Cavett sharing his personal relationship and friendship with Groucho. Cavett spoke about the letters Groucho would write him after watching a Cavett stand up performance on the Merv Griffin Show.
Cavett, in his stand up routine, spoke about being a rube from the Midwest and how he was inappropriately dressed when he came to New Haven as a freshman at Yale. “I actually wore Brown and White shoes,” Cavett remembered, “and the white one kept getting dirty.”
Cavett said that Groucho provided some useful insight in his letters, “that the Rube at Yale was hitting the mother lode. And you should continue to mine it.”
Mr. Bader did an outstanding job of engaging Cavett, whose storytelling was riveting. What I found compelling was a respect and reverence of his friendship with Groucho. When Cavett related a letter he received in the last few years from one of Groucho’s daughters, she had made the statement “you had done so much for my father,” his voice cracked and he was truly humbled by her words.
Cavett spoke about how Groucho, as any comedian would want to, end a letter with a laugh quoted a post script where Groucho said, “Did you ever notice that Peter O’Toole is the only actor that has double phallic name?”
The video clips were unique, and some recently discovered, including a rare color video tape of Groucho and Dinah Shore performing the Peezy Weezy song in 1959 on her TV show.
Cavett spoke about writing for Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and even for Groucho, when he guest hosted the Tonight Show after Jack Paar left the show. Cavett remarked that one of Bob Hope’s writers thought that Cavett was successful as writer for different talent, because Cavett could hear these comedian’s voices in his head and write it as they would say it.
We came away being thoroughly entertained, by the stories, the clips, and the intimate venue. Mr. Cavett attempted to moonwalk across the stage at the end of the evening.
While he comes across looking old and frail when presents on his DVD series, Mr. Cavett was in both good health and good wit.
Mr. Bader and Mr. Cavett share one final Groucho story, that both said was never shared, before it made into Mr. Bader’s book.
Groucho and Tony Randall were appearing as presenters at a Tony Award ceremony, and were waiting backstage as a number of women dancers came offstage and quickly had to perform a “bareass costume change,” slipping off their costumes into their birthday suits, and dressing quickly to make a return onstage.
Groucho watching the women undress and dress turns to Tony Randall and says, “This is something you’d never get to see if you were in the pants business.”