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MAY 17, 2012 11:00PM

Dick Cavett, Groucho Marx and me.

Rate: 26 Flag

Dick Cavett and Robert Bader

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.”

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A wonderful story about a great personality. His was a truly intelligent talk show.
Mary, I was pretty impressed.
I was a kid when Dick Cavett was on television, but I loved him then. I still remember the night Lester Maddox walked off his show.
Always love anything "Marx"! I always liked Cavett too! R
“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.” - Groucho Marx
Dick Cavett has admitted to crippling depression and shyness. Odd for an entertainer, but there it is. That's why he turned away from the screen. He was embarrassed to look at himself.
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.

~ROTFLMAO~ Have to love Groucho!! I LOVE watching the old You Bet your Life.....
What a great experience! Thanks for sharing it.
You had me at the title, Sheepie, and I enjoyed every word of your post. Our family never missed "You Bet Your Life," once we got our TV, and I was always a big Cavett fan.
You know how much I enjoyed this post. Wonderful from start to finish and I loved the Peter O'Toole crack. I guess we will just have to keep wondering about Groucho and Bud. Thanks so much for sharing this and I am glad that you had such a good time.
Thank you for sharing this story with us, Sheep dog. I was always a fan of both Cavett and the Marx Brothers--Harpo was my favorite.
I would have loved to have been in the audience with you! I have always loved them both but Dick Cavett was just so soft spoken and kind he never came across as anything else....How lucky you both were to get to go!
Grouch via Cavett? The next best thing to the real deal. Nice job capturing the high points of the evening. Loved that last line. So Groucho. R
Sounds like a great time. I've always wanted to see James Whitmore as Will Rogers and Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain. Alas, I don't think anybody could do Groucho. To my odd mind, the closest anyone came was John Lennon.

Truth be told, Groucho was a dirty old man, and my parents were reticent about letting us watch the Groucho Marx Show, but let it go figuring we wouldn't get most of his single entendres. Ah, if only Groucho were around in this censorless age. Then again, Groucho and Cavett were both too sharp for this witless age.
I enjoy reading Cavett's droll blog at the NY Times (yes Joan, he's not only alive but blogging). He seems to have aged well, with loads of interesting memories, but looking forward as well.
Sheepdog, nice to see you having a night out with Dick Cavett. I love that man. And funny imagining Groucho at that seance.
Cavett has dealt with severe depression
or as Groucho would say:
"It isn't necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in order to be unhappy.”
Bareass costume change -- I knew I went into the wrong line of work. Cavett talking about Groucho is pure gold.
Really enjoyed this!
thanks for the review, sheepie. i love both cavett and groucho, and you narrated the show perfectly, down to the punch line timing. great, great job.
Kosher -- I thought that was a monumental show.

Marilyn -- I completely agree with you. The Marx Brothers never get old.

David -- George Burns said something similar, "If you can fake sincerity, you can be a success in this business."

neutron -- It was obvious from my observations that Cavett is "on" once he's on the stage. I can completely relate to the shyness.

Tink -- Glad I could make you laugh.

Sheila -- We could not pass this up. It's was a lot of fun.

CM -- The event really exceeded my expectations. Glad I could share it with everyone.

MHR -- I didn't get to ask that question.

Erica -- Harpo performed in the West Coast run of "the Man who Came to Dinner" as "Banjo" where he has a speaking part.

LL2 -- It was a blast. Cavett seemed to open up once he knew the audience had warmed up to him.

Gerald -- I think the spirit of Groucho was there with us.

Tom -- I think Groucho would have made a great blogger. You should read his books. Very erudite, yet funny. Different from the on screen persona.

Lea -- Cavett being the interviewee was priceless. Let's face it, he always was reticent about himself. He was pretty open during the Q&A, particularly about his writing for Paar and Carson.

Scarlett -- It was privilege to share it with you.

Chuck -- Cavett had ECT and swore by it. Funny how the most talented and gifted suffer. Oscar Levant is another talent like that. My favorite Levant quote is "There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have managed to erase that line."

Stim -- You said it, man. Pure gold.

Sophieh -- So did I.
Candace -- Cavett was great.
Cavett's always been a favorite of mine. You were fortunate to have the opportunity to see him this way.
Now you'll have a nice memory to share with your wife and others--including us right here at OS.
Nicely written!
Cavett IMHO was the most intelligent of all the TV hosts. Great piece thank you! R Duke
Groucho's books of letters, real and fake, have a lot of laughs in them. Cavett's approach--bring Jacqueline Susann and Capote on the same show, or Capote and Lester Maddox--was a real innovation.
He was bar none the best, hippest talk show host in history. I watched with glee every night and when Groucho was on I stayed up late to see and hear it all. Look at his Jack Benny interviews too.