WHAT IT’S ABOUT Early in the summertime of 1961, a younger author for “Tonight Starring Jack Paar” went to the funeral of playwright, humorist and author of Marx Brothers’ musicals, George S. Kaufman. There he met America’s (arguably) best dwelling comic. By then, Groucho Marx was in his 70s, and Dick Cavett was simply beginning out. However, an everlasting friendship was born that day, which continued when Groucho — who died in 1977 on the age of 86 — guest-hosted “Tonight,” and Cavett (now 86) had his personal highly-regarded discuss present on ABC, from 1969 to 1975. This “American Masters” is a portrait of that distinctive (and uniquely humorous) collaboration.
MY SAY Lengthy after he was host of “You Guess Your Life” and lengthy (lengthy) after his then-classic film profession had ended, Groucho Marx was a late-night discuss present habitué. He usually turned up on “The Tonight Present Starring Johnny Carson,” however as “Groucho & Cavett ” establishes, the extra memorable visits had been to the rival late-night vacation spot that aired on ABC.
Why is shortly self-evident. On “Cavett,” he was allowed to indulge with out being self-indulgent, even when the road between each did look like a advantageous one at occasions. Right here he might carry out total variations of signature songs, like “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” and “Lydia the Tattooed Girl.” He might talk about concepts and literature, together with his personal literary output (as a author for The New Yorker.) He might memory, kvetch, replicate, inform jokes and discuss world affairs.
Cavett allowed Groucho to be Groucho, and Groucho returned the favor. Interviewing somebody like him could not have been simple, however Cavett made it appear easy. He knew when to ask questions, and when to pay attention. He additionally knew when to snort and when to not; Marx clearly appreciated the excellence as a result of, as he complains right here, after half a century of telling jokes, folks laughed at all the things he mentioned. They took one another critically and mutual respect like this has a approach of bringing out the very best in skilled entertainers. It actually did right here.
This “Masters” is actually an exploration of two distinct kinds via a single lens, though Marx does get the a lot wider angle. That was inevitable: Groucho had spent a lifetime entertaining and wasn’t about to cease, particularly when there have been cameras and a receptive host as witness. His type of humor dated from the earliest days of the twentieth century, however owed a sure allegiance to Mark Twain too, most notably, the adroit flip of phrase. His specialties had been the lightning fast comeback and puns — heaps and many these. (Instance: “What resort room are you in,” Marx as soon as requested Cavett, who replied “485.” Groucho: “Feels like a cannibal story.”)
However by the late ’60s and early ’70s, the final wisps of vaudeville had been disappearing, whereas Groucho collaborator/songwriters Yip Harburg and Harry Ruby had been practically forgotten. It was left to somebody like Cavett (who interviewed each) to have a good time them and to have a good time Groucho earlier than he suffered the identical destiny. Watching this program, you may virtually see Cavett holding on to that previous earlier than it is gone for good. He is aware of one thing treasured is about to be misplaced perpetually, and the function of a community discuss present host is to at the least attempt to protect some a part of it.
Certainly, that is the pleasure of “Groucho & Cavett,” and the poignancy too.
BOTTOM LINE Groucho Marx and Dick Cavett have every earned his personal “American Masters” portrait, however till these come alongside, this two-birds-with-one-stone method suffices properly.