Dick Cavett: Let's walk and talk. I, uh, I have some wonderful stories about
other famous people that include me in some way.
Homer: Er, can't, I gotta go distract bulls at a rodeo.
Dick: Hey, me too. We can go together.
Homer: Um...no, I'm going a different way than you, Dick.
Dick: Heh heh, your...churlish attitude reminds me of a time I was having dinner
with Groucho and…
Homer: Look, you're going to be having dinner with Groucho tonight if you don't
~ “The Simpsons”
There’s something simultaneously wonderful and depressing about watching the
latest Dick Cavett collection from the fine folks at Shout! Factory. As per the
previous volumes, there’s a general theme between the collected episodes, and
it’s spelled right out in the title: comic legends. Although it may result in
the phrase “old fogey” being bandied about the Bullz-Eye staff as a description
for yours truly, when watching this set, it’s hard to imagine anything similar
being released for comedians from the past few decades.
For one thing, it’s almost inconceivable that any talk show host would bring
someone onto their show not because they had something to promote, but simply
because they loved their work and wanted to talk to them. Groucho Marx and Jack
Benny were no spring chickens when they came to talk with Cavett, and neither
had any projects in the works; they just came to chat…and, in the case of
Groucho, Cavett devoted the entire show to him, having him talk about anything
that came to his head, sing a few songs, and because just be Groucho. Also, is
there really anyone nowadays who has the same kind of stature as these
individuals? It’s hard to imagine that, in 40 years time, Ray Romano, Kevin
James, or even Kelsey Grammar will still be making the talk show rounds,
discussing their craft.
The names here are substantial: redheaded TV comediennes Lucille Ball and Carol
Burnett, stogey-smoking former vaudevillians Marx and George Burns, and masters
of the deadpan reaction such as Benny and Bob Hope. There’s a slight slipping
into more recent comedians such as Woody Allen and Bill Cosby, but, of course,
in this context, “more recent” means “they’re still alive.” It’s interesting to
see Allen being interviewed, since he’s been persona non grata on the talk show
circuit for decades now, but it’s possible that his reputation has never
recovered from the awful, awful floral print shirt he can be seen wearing during
one of his appearances here. Watching Benny interact with Cosby is
fascinating…old guard meets new guard…and the Smothers Brothers discussing their
battles with censorship with Cavett is extremely interesting as well, from a
It’s highly entertaining to watch the headlining guests interacting with the
other guests on the panel, like Benny and Cosby with boxer Joe Frazier, or Woody
Allen with actress Ruth Gordon, but perhaps the most hilarious segment finds
Groucho sitting amongst a group that includes author Truman Capote during one
appearance, along with animal expert (and “Tonight Show” stalwart) Jim Fowler.
Cavett: Do you have any animals?
Capote: Yes, two cats and a dog.
Groucho: (waggling his eyebrows) Do they mate?
Capote: (hesitates) Not with each other.
Groucho: (raises his eyebrows) You’re pretty shifty, aren’t you?
Capote: (smirking) Elusive. Not shifty.
Like Tom Snyder and Joe Franklin, Cavett’s reputation as one of the best
interviewers was less because he cut a great on-camera figure but more for his
knowledge of show biz history; he knew the background of his guests backwards
and forwards. His newly-recorded intros are consistently revelatory; Cavett has
always been willing to poke fun at his reputation as a man who’s always ready
with a celebrity anecdote (witness the above quotes from his “Simpsons” guest
spot), but the reality is that he’s met a ton of people and has fascinating
stories about almost all of them. Contained in these four discs are just a few