The 2017 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Revisiting Adventures in Paradise: Part VIII

Dick Cavett during his interview — er, conversation — with Illeana Douglas.

In a little over a month from now, I’ll be making my way to Hollywood to attend my sixth Turner Classic Movies Film Festival! So, while I wait for more films to be announced, and try to figure out the perfect wardrobe for wall-to-wall movie-watching and whatnot, I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer up another installment in my year-round look at last year’s fest. This month’s post takes a look at one of my (many) favorite events during the festival, an interview with the legendary Dick Cavett.

When I think back, I don’t recall ever watching an entire episode of any of the iterations of The Dick Cavett Show, but it seems like I’ve known all my life who he was. When I learned that he was going to appear at the festival, there was no question in my mind that I would juggle my schedule, eliminate screenings, go without meals, or do whatever else I had to do in order to see him in person. And let me say that I wasn’t disappointed.

In his introduction by actress Illeana Douglas (Melvyn Douglas’s granddaughter, dontcha know), I learned that the Lincoln, Nebraska native was nominated for 11 Emmys during his decades-long career, and is the author of four books, one of which he’d be signing at the end of his interview. “His interviews are a treasure trove,” Douglas said.

“Everything in my life came from that,” Cavett said of the big break he got from Jack Paar.

Cavett began his career as an actor (“They needed a kid who could do an English accent in Lincoln, Nebraska,” he joked), and soon after his graduation from Yale, he moved to New York to see acting work. To make ends meet, he worked several jobs, including copy boy for Time magazine, but his career swerved into a different direction when, on a whim, he wrote out a monologue for Jack Paar, then-host of The Tonight Show. He took the unsolicited manuscript to Paar (“Jack claims I cornered him in the men’s room,” Cavett recalled), who used a few lines from the monologue and promptly gave Cavett a job as a writer. Several years later, when Cavett got his own show, he said that Paar called him.

“He said, ‘Kid, when you do the show, don’t do interviews,’” Cavett recalled. “’Make it a conversation.’”

Cavett was a big fan of Groucho’s.

Among Cavett’s seemingly countless conversations was with Groucho Marx. Cavett spoke fondly of his long-time friendship with the comedian, whom he met at the funeral of George S. Kaufman.

“When I went in [to the funeral], I looked at this crowd and I think I saw every face every caricaturized by Hirschfeld,” Cavett said, referencing the famed artist whose drawings lined the walls at the Brown Derby restaurant. “And there in front of me was Groucho Marx. I froze. Because years earlier, out here, when I was about 10, at the chicken leg stand at the Farmer’s Market, the lady told me, ‘Hey kid, you should been here five minutes earlier – Groucho Marx was just here.’ I suspected there was no God at that age.”

Cavett said he followed Marx when he left the funeral.

“I went up to him and I said one of my most inspired lines: ‘Hi, Groucho – I’m a big fan.’” That was the start of their friendship.

Ali said Cavett was his “main man.”

Cavett was also friends with Stan Laurel. While working at Time, Cavett discovered Laurel’s Santa Monica address in the phone book. Cavett wrote him a letter and Laurel wrote him back, inviting Cavett for a visit. When Laurel came to the door, he said, “’Well, lad, it certainly is nice to meet you,’” Cavett recalled, describing the silent film comedian as “intelligent and cultured.” Laurel and Cavett talked for about three hours, Cavett said but, regrettably, Laurel wouldn’t come on his show because he “didn’t want the kids to see what I look like now.”

Another story involved boxing great Muhammad Ali. “There was a time when I felt Muhammad Ali was my best friend in all the world,” Cavett said, adding that the boxer appeared on his show 15 times. “The moment that got to me the most was after Ken Norton broke his jaw. He came on the show and he was very sullen. He told me that nobody else asked him to come on their show. He said, ‘I’m just an old washed-up fighter. I just want to say to you, you’re my main man.’”

Dick and me.

Cavett wrapped up his hour-long conversation with an hilarious story about Jack Benny, who he termed “the most admired man in show business” and “the cleanest act in vaudeville.” One night, after Benny had made an appearance on The Tonight Show, Cavett was riding in the elevator with him when a group of tourists got on. They began peppering Benny with a series of questions – “Are you really cheap?” and “Do you really play the violin?” and the like. Finally, after several floors, the tourists exited and Cavett turned to Benny.

“I asked him if that kind of behavior ever got to him, and he said, ‘You know kid,’” Cavett said, with a more than passable Benny imitation. “’Sometimes you just want to tell them to go fuck themselves.”

(I really wanted to end this post with that memorable quote, but I just had to say that I got the chance to meet Dick Cavett during his book signing, and it was truly a thrill. I told him he was my “main man,” ala Ali, and he gave me a soul-brother handshake. Now THAT’S a cool guy.)

Stay tuned . . . next month I’ll be serving up a preview of April’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival 2018!!

~ by shadowsandsatin on March 22, 2018.

2 Responses to “The 2017 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Revisiting Adventures in Paradise: Part VIII”

  1. He’s still a handsome and charming man. I love that photo of you with him!

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