The Dick Cavett Show: Television’s Classiest Talk Show Host

Dick Cavett made a career of being a talk show host. He began on ABC in March of 1968 and ended on TCM in 2007. In between, he showed up during the day, in prime time, late at night, on PBS, in syndication, and on CNBC. The Dick Cavett Show seems to refer to all the shows as a collected whole, so that’s how I will present it in my blog.

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Photo: chicagotribune.com

If you have ever seen Cavett in action, he has such a smooth, polite manner that sometimes you forget he may be asking an invasive question. Some of the most memorable shows were conversations with Christine Jorgenson (who walked off the show in 1968); Groucho Marx (1969); Jimi Hendrix (1969); The Woodstock Show (1969); Eric Clapton (1970); Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne and Noel Coward (1970); Orson Welles (1970); Salvador Dali (1971); John Kerry debating on Vietnam (1971); Watergate and Beyond (1974); Angela Davis (1972); Jackie Robinson (1972); Marlon Brando (1973); Katharine Hepburn (1973); Carol Burnett (1974); and  Mohammad Ali (several shows). As you can see, in addition to entertainers, Cavett interviewed influential authors, politicians, athletes, and newsmakers.

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Talking to the Great One: Ali Photo: latimes.com

Cavett often had several guests on each show, but sometimes he devoted the entire night to one person such as Laurence Olivier, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Janis Joplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Fred Astaire, Gloria Swanson, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, and David Bowie.

Politics were often covered by Cavett, and over the years, he interviewed many including political guests including Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, Walter Cronkite, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, Gerald Ford, Barry Goldwater, Henry Kissinger, and G. Gordon Liddy.

In various interviews of his own, Cavett mentioned different shows that were memorable or brought in a lot of mail. Early in the show’s history, Cavett was interviewing Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, and John Cassavetes about a movie they were in. Cassavetes was so drunk and incoherent, Cavett walked off the stage.

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Laughing with Katharine Hepburn Photo: dangerousminds.com

Georgia governor Lester Maddox appeared in a panel with Truman Capote and Jim Brown about segregation. Cavett made a reference to “bigots” who supported Maddox. When Maddox demanded an apology, Cavett apologized to Georgians who supported him without being a bigot. Maddox left the studio. However, later Maddox relented and made another appearance, and Cavett walked off the set as a joke.

One memorable episode was something no host wants to encounter. Publisher J. I. Rodale was on the show. Cavett was talking to another guest when Rodale seemed to be snoring, but everyone soon realized something was wrong. He actually died there on the set. The audience didn’t even realize it until Cavett called for a doctor. The program was taped but not aired.

Director Ingmar Bergman did few television interviews and no US interviews, but he made an exception for Dick Cavett.

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With David Bowie Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

So, what types of things might you have learned from Cavett’s show? Well, Hitchcock explained how some of his most ingenious special effects worked.  Gale Sayers talked about the movie Brian’s Song (maybe he could have given me a hint how not to cry every single time I see the movie.).  BB King revealed what his name stands for. Jack Benny demonstrated how to play the violin. Melba Moore told what it was like to open at the Apollo Theater. James Garner explained how he accidentally broke co-star Doris Day’s ribs, and Jacques Cousteau discussed the mystery of manatees.

And finally, I had to find out who was Cavett’s favorite interview, and who were the ones that got away? The two he never got to interview but always wished he had was an easier answer to find: Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.

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Photo: WBUR

It was a lot harder to answer the first question.  If you read the other three blogs in this series, you know the other talk show hosts (Mike Douglas, Phil Donahue, and Tom Snyder) began careers in Ohio. I was hoping to find an Ohio link for Dick, and that’s when I found the answer to my question of his favorite interviewee.  Cavett landed in Cleveland at the end of his career, which seems fitting since he is ending this series.

He was talking about an upcoming show at The Nightclub in Cleveland and mentioned Jack Paar was his mentor. (Cavett wrote for The Tonight Show when Paar hosted it, and Paar began his career in Canton, Ohio; I know it’s one coincidence after another.) Jack told him he didn’t need humor, singing, or anything except a desire to have a conversation. Then Cavett said, “I watch clips from the shows when I’m invited to give a talk and they show them, and I’m always surprised by the number of little delightful moments I’ve forgotten. I watched a moment the other night when Groucho was on the show with [zoologist] Jim Fowler. And Fowler brought a sloth on the stage, and Groucho said, ‘That’s the lousiest-looking dog I’ve ever seen.’ I’d forgotten that. That was the same night Groucho proposed marriage to Truman Capote. . . .’I love to do Q&A with the audience, but there’s only one forbidden question, and it doesn’t have anything to do with sex or politics,’ he said. ‘The forbidden question is, Who has been your most interesting guest?’ . . . But then he went on to say that ‘If pushed to the wall, I have to admit that Groucho was the guest who meant the most to me.’ Cavett said that ‘In a letter from Miriam, Groucho’s daughter, she wrote, ‘My father thought the world of you.’ It gets me even now when I say that out loud.’”

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The unique Groucho Marx Photo: pinterest.com

In 2005 several box sets were released of some of Cavett’s shows. They are collected by theme of the interviewee such as The Rock Icons, etc. The network Decades, which recently went off the air, broadcast these shows also. Before the network was disbanded, I was able to watch about ten of these episodes, and they were as good as I had hoped for.

I have really enjoyed reviewing these talk show hosts and their guest interviews this month.  It makes me want to invite a bunch of friends over, one at a time, for coffee and conversation.  Just be forewarned, if I invite you over, I may have a list of questions I’ll want to be asking you.

What do You Wear to Eat Beans and Franks with Arnold Ziffel?

There is a lot that happens behind the scenes to help make a show a hit. In previous blogs (see the December 2018 blogs about Earl Hagen and Jay Livingston), we learned about composers. This month we’ll take a look at the costumers and the set designers. The wardrobe department has the responsibility to make sure the characters are wearing the appropriate clothing for their character.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, ca. 1952
Photo: quotesgram.com

Green Acres presented a challenge for the wardrobe department. Most of the citizens were farmers, so overalls and house dresses fit the bill. Sam Drucker was the grocer, postman, and newspaperman for Hooterville, among other jobs. He always wore a blue shirt with a tie and had his postman vest or grocery apron on. Lisa and Oliver Douglas played an attorney and his wife who relocated from New York City and the social scene to rural Hooterville to run a farm. Oliver often wore suits on his tractor, looking somewhat silly and questioned by the locals. Lisa also continued to wear her glamorous outfits, but somehow, she was accepted by everyone and fit in wherever she went.

Photo: metv.com

Lisa Douglas could wear anything and look good. She often wore her negligees around the house without being thought a hussy. She could show up in a sequined gown for a local band performance and was just one of the crowd. She wore gowns of boldly colored prints, but she was just as likely to show up in a single-colored sheath dress with a simple strand of pearls.

Photo: imdb.com

With her lavish updo hairstyle and her extensive collection of jewelry, Lisa was fun to outfit. Three designers were responsible for the majority of Lisa’s wardrobe: Jean Louis, Lucie Ann Claire Sandra, and Nolan Miller.

Jean Louis

Born Jean Louis Berthault in 1907 in Paris, France, he was an Academy Award winner for The Solid Gold Cadillac in 1956 starring Judy Holliday. (Jean was nominated for 13 Academy awards.)

Photo: pinterest.com

He attended the School of Decorative Arts and then went to work for Agnes Drecoll, courtier. In 1935, he moved to New York city where he worked for Hattie Carnegie before going to Hollywood. While working there he began gathering a large clientele, including Wallis Simpson and Irene Dunne.

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Black gown -1960s Jean Louis Silk Tiered Gown

From 1944-1958, he was head designer for Columbia Pictures. Some of his most creative designs included Rita Hayworth’s black satin dress from Gilda, the beaded gowns worn by Marlene Dietrich, and the sheer, sparkling dress Marilyn Monroe displayed when she sang “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy. He also was the primary designer for Kim Novack.

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Gold and black lame dress

In 1958 he moved over to Universal. There he began a working relationship with Doris Day, with Pillow Talk, their first collaboration. Journalist Tom Vallance described his work:- “He created a sophisticated allure for Doris that launched a new phase of her career.” James Garner, who also starred with Doris in several films said she “exuded sex appeal while still maintaining her All-American Girl next door image.” Jean Louis also worked with Lana Turner during this era, putting together her colorful wardrobe in Imitation of Life. Jean’s daughter said her father “had the most amazing discerning eye for color. It was a sixth sense for him.”

Jean Louis had designed the clothing for The Loretta Young Show from 1953-1961. She was a close friend of Jean and his wife Maggie. After Maggie passed away, he and Young married in 1993. She was considered one of, if not the best, well-dressed stars. He also designed clothing for Ginger Rogers, Vivian Leigh, Julie Andrews, Katherine Hepburn, and Judy Garland.

Jean began to freelance in 1960. He opened a boutique in Beverly Hills and sold his label, “Jean Louis, Inc.” at better department stores all over the country. During this time, he also updated the United Airlines stewardess uniforms.

Photo: metv.com

From 1965-1967 he designed Lisa Douglas’s dresses on Green Acres. He was the perfect designer for her. Gifted with a great sense of humor, he could undoubtedly relate to the humor on the show.

Photo: thewritelife61.com

As he said during a Vogue interview, “You can use marvelous fabrics, have wonderful, impossible embroidery—in fact, be superluxe and superluxe is what the couture is all about.”

Photo: tumblr.com

In the 1970s, he opened a boutique in France and launched his first fragrance. His career was still flourishing with clients like Jacqueline Kennedy, Sophia Loren, and Bianca Jagger.

Jean Louis passed away in 1997. His influence continues to be felt among designers today. Some of the fashion icons who admit being influenced by him include Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, and Zac Posen.

Photo: imdb.com

Lucie Ann-Claire Sandra

Lucie Ann vintage nightgowns are among the most glamorous and desirable negligees ever made. Lucie Onderwyzer founded the fashion company in 1947 in Beverly Hills. Known for bold color and exuberant details like pompoms, bows, rosettes, and rhinestones, she designed for many stars including Elizabeth Taylor.

Photo: pinterest.com
A few of Lisa’s gowns in the background

She designed all the peignoir sets worn by Eva Gabor in Green Acres. Her designs were also featured in other television shows and movies. In one episode of Bewitched, Darrin goes to the store to purchase a Lucie Ann for Samantha.

Photo: pinterest.com
Darrin shopping for Samantha

Lucie passed away in 1988 and her company was bought by Deena Lingerie Co and later Lady Ester Lingerie Company which is still making them today.

Norman Miller

Norman Miller was a wardrobe consultant for Eva on Green Acres.

At www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/nolan-miller, Miller described his relationship with Eva.

 “I adored Eva. We worked together for many years. Later on, our working relationship became a friendship that I really valued. She wasn’t silly. She was a very smart lady. Not so smart with the men of her life. Her home was incredibly elegant. Anything that she needed I would do.” Miller shares about the time when Eva discovered a store called Loehmann’s; the store would buy designer samples and pack them up in huge boxes for stars to pick from. “Eva was a size 8 and the sample sizes were 2, and she’d simply ask me to do my magic and tailor them to her size. I smile at that as Eva could get anyone to change things around for her. I sometimes wonder whether she did understand fully well what was entailed in changing a size 2 into an 8 just like what was entailed in coming up with an animation idea tailor-made for her. She’d bat her eyelashes and sprinkle in a few ‘darlings’ and you find yourself doing what she wanted.”

Photo: pinterest.com
A pink chiffon sleeveless floor-length Nolan Miller dress with accompanying chiffon and ostrich feather wrap worn by Eva Gabor on the television series Green Acres.

Miscellaneous

These three designers were the major forces behind Lisa Douglas’s beautiful fashion style on Green Acres. Gabor had an amazing fashion sense and was well known for her private wardrobe. She also was a successful business woman, owning a multi-million-dollar wig company.

Photo: newyorksocialdiary.com

Eddie Albert tells a great story about Gabor and her fashion. At her funeral, he said he probably saw more of Gabor than any of her five real-life husbands did. And, like any couple, married or not, they had their differences. She, for example, never quite understood his passion for wildlife conservation. “Every time you hear about a sick fish, you make a speech. Vy?,” Albert recalled his co-star saying. “And I would tell her, ‘I think we ought to preserve nature, save wild animals,’ and so on. Well, one day she showed up in a gown made of feathers, and I asked her not to wear it. ‘But so chic!’ she said. And I said, ‘Yes, and ladies will see it and want one, and thousands of birds will die.’ And she said, ‘But, Eddie, feathers don’t come from birds.’ ‘Well,’ I asked, ‘where do they come from?’ And she said, ‘Dahlink. Pillows! Feathers come from pee-lowz!’ ”

Perhaps there was more of Eva Gabor in Lisa Douglas than we realized.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Tonight’s Partridge Family Episode Features . . .

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The Partridge Family (ABC) later seasons (1971 – 1974) Shown from left: (top) Brian Forster, Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough; (front) David Cassidy, Shirley Jones, Susan Dey

Ask any girl who grew up in the late sixties and early seventies and they will tell you their favorite night of television was Friday.  We looked forward to watching The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love American Style, but the first hour of the night was the only “can’t miss” one. Boys coming of age in that era might have a tough time deciding between Samantha Stevens and Jeannie, but almost every girl will tell you Keith Partridge beat out Greg Brady hands down. Like most nine-year-olds in 1970, I had a huge crush on Keith Partridge. Watching the episodes today takes me right back to that time, and I feel like a kid on Friday night again.

The Partridge Family aired from 1970-1974, and the concept was based on the Cowsills.  The Cowsill family grew up in Rhode Island, and by 1967 the band consisted of siblings ages 8-19 and their mother. Although the group no longer includes all the siblings, they still tour and record.

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I still enjoy watching the episodes today.  Even though the show is filled with nostalgia as far as clothing and interior décor, the problems faced by the Partridge Family were primarily the same problems faced by all families with kids and many of the shows have a timeless appeal. I’m not sure that anyone not growing up during that time period realizes the impact of the Partridge Family.  I still have the Partridge Family game, we had trading cards that were collected and the back of the cards put together formed a puzzle.  I had paperback books featuring the Partridge Family and lots of kids had albums, lunch boxes and other collectible memorabilia. Danny is often referred to as a brat, but I like the character of Danny Partridge.  Then again, I liked all the Partridge Family members.

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However, what I wanted to talk about in this blog is the unbelievable guest stars that the show was able to attract.  Of course, Shirley Jones was a well-liked and famous movie star and she had a lot of connections in the industry.  However, the names of the people who appeared on an episode of The Partridge Family during those four short years is incredible. I counted more than 50 looking at various shows over the years.  Let’s look at some of those guest stars.

Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow, and Margaret Hamilton, the wicked witch, from the Wizard of Oz both made appearances.  Ray Bolger played Shirley Partridge’s father on several shows. Margaret Hamilton is Rueben’s mother.

Two Dick Van Dyke Show cast members were featured:  Morey Amsterdam, Buddy Sorrel and Ann Morgan Guilbert, Milly Helper. Amsterdam provided Danny with some bad comedy material in the first season. Guilbert is married to Norman Fell in the show and they visit Shirley when their son Keith’s age develops a crush on Shirley which he mistakenly thinks is reciprocated.

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In addition to Ann and Morey, there were a lot of previous sitcom stars on the show.  John Astin from the Addams Family, plays an eccentric millionaire. Edgar Buchanan, Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction, plays a judge which he also portrayed in the movie, Move Over Darling, starring Doris Day and James Garner. Rosemary DeCamp played Shirley’s mother.  Rosemary had been featured on lots of tv shows.  She was on Love That Bob and was Ann Marie’s mother on That Girl. Arte Johnson from Laugh-In was in two episodes, one as an artist who paints a nude on the family garage when they are out of town.  Harry Morgan, a sitcom veteran, played, a man faking whiplash in the first season and appeared again in 1972 as another character. William Schallert who was Patty Lane’s father on The Patty Duke Show stars as a folk musician whose career has taken a nose dive. Ronne Troup who played Polly on My Three Sons was on the show as the fourth season began as their neighbor complains about their music.

Not only were the past tv stars featured but a lot of up and coming stars showed up. Meredith Baxter gifts a million dollars to the Partridges and they find they don’t enjoy being wealthy. Bert Convy played one of Shirley’s serious boyfriends on three shows. Norman Fell is the father of a young man who gets a crush on Shirley when she goes back to school using her maiden name. He later married Helen and was Stanley Roper on Three’s Company. Pat Harrington Jr. appeared the first season and came back as someone else three years later. While he was in hundreds of tv episodes, he is probably most often recognized as Schneider from One Day at a Time.  The Partridges try to set up Ann Jillian with their delivery boy to build up his confidence.  If she had dated him, she might not have ended up a waitress on It’s a Living. Gordon Jump who was a veteran tv guest star, best known as Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati, was on seven episodes as different characters. Richard Mulligan appeared in one show as Shirley’s boyfriend but also came back for another episode two years later; we know him as Burt on Soap and Dr. Westin on Empty Nest. Annette O’Toole plays Keith’s girlfriend in the second season; later her marriage with Nash doesn’t work out on Nash Bridges. Rob Reiner, who will soon be “Meathead” on All in The Family, appears as Snake, a rough biker with a heart of gold who likes Laurie.  Vic Tayback who we know best as Mel on Alice appeared as three different characters on three different shows, Nancy Walker is the mother of Shirley’s date before she was Rhoda’s mom in later years.

Three of the five Charlie’s Angels showed up on different shows:  Farrah Fawcett was a “pretty girl” the kids hire to try to get Harry Morgan to reveal that his whiplash is not real. Cheryl Ladd is the popular girl Keith wants to take to the dance after promising to take Laurie’s friend. Jaclyn Smith plays the niece of Shirley’s boyfriend.  When he buys her a ring for graduation, the kids assume she is his fiancé and take matters into their own hands.

We had big stars from different genres including Johnny Cash playing himself and introducing the first concert the family is performing in Vegas. Richard Pryor talks the Partridges into playing for his charity event, and Bobby Sherman plays a singer, Bobby Conway. This episode actually turned into a spinoff for a short time.

Many famous or soon-to-be-famous movie stars can be spied on episodes including Jackie Coogan who replaced Ray Bolger as Shirley’s father on two later shows. Jodie Foster and Danny have a love/hate relationship when their parents are dating. Lou Gosset Jr., producing a charity event with Richard Pryor, asks the Partridges to fill in when a group cancels. Mark Hamill is Laurie’s boyfriend before he even knew Princess Leia. Charlotte Rae, a bit out of her typical character, plays a doctor.

I could continue, but every blog has to end sometime. It is amazing how many famous people were willing to appear in a new sitcom not only once but up to seven times as seven different characters. It says a lot about the reputation of the show. Let’s finish up with some fun facts about the show.

  1. Shirley Jones was recruited to be Carol Brady but passed and took The Partridge Family
  2. Partridge had passed away in the first episode, but his first name is never mentioned on the show.
  3. Rueben Kincaid’s middle name is Clarence.
  4. When the Partridges are asked to replace another musical act for a charity event put on by Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett Jr., the group that cancelled is the Temptations.
  5. When Laurie gets braces, she can hear radio signals in her mouth, and it interferes with her performing. The music she “hears” in her mouth is The Rolling Stones.