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.

Mr. Hospitality: Mike Douglas Hosted 30,000 Guests

For the month of July we are taking a look at some of the innovative talk shows of the past. With only three channels to choose from in the sixties, almost everyone tuned into The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.  However, talk shows were also popular during the day.

The Mike Douglas Show began in Cleveland, Ohio in 1961. It had light banter with guests and featured musical performers daily, although more serious interviews were also conducted from time to time.  In 1963, the show was expanded to Pittsburgh, Boston, Baltimore, and San Francisco.

In 1965, the show moved to Philadelphia and went into national syndication that same year. One final move was made in 1978 when it relocated to Hollywood. For 1980, Douglas handed the show over to John Davidson to host. It went through some changes and replaced about one-third of the staff, but the ratings continued to plummet and it was officially cancelled in November of 1981 with more than 6000 shows and 30,000 guests.

Douglas was born in Chicago in 1925 and became a teenage singer, entertaining on the radio and in supper clubs. He sang a lot of big band numbers and became the staff singer at WKY in Oklahoma City before joining the Navy in WWII. He had two hits in the fifties, “Old Lamplighter” and “Ole Buttermilk Sky,” but his career was not going anywhere, so he decided to turn to television.

Photo: eyesofageneration.com

Douglas had a different celebrity co-host every week, and they interviewed a variety of entertainers. The show was very popular and had high ratings.  Douglas had a fun personality .  In 1976, Match Game received higher ratings, so Douglas made an unscheduled appearance on the game show to congratulate Gene Rayburn on having the number 1 daytime show on the air.

Photo: muppetwikifandom.com

I could literally fill pages with the guest stars and musical performers who appeared on the show. Some of the more interesting ones included two-year-old Tiger Woods who showed off his golf swing for Bob Hope and James Stewart.

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Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope and a very young Tiger Woods Photo: pinterest.com

A Who’s Who listing of guests also included Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, George Burns, Sid Caesar, Angela Davis, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Alfred Hitchcock, Malcom X, Mother Teresa, the Muppets, Ralph Nader, Richard Nixon, Vincent Price, and John Wayne.

The “Supreme” music guests Photo: pinterest.com

A variety of musical genres were represented with performers including ABBA, The Beach Boys, The Bee Gees, James Brown, Ray Charles, Cher, Sam Cooke, Electric Light Orchestra, Marvin Gaye, Genesis, The Jacksons, Jefferson Airplane, Elton John, John Lennon with Yoko Ono, The Mills Brothers, The Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, The Supremes, and Frank Zappa.

With Gene Simmons and Cher Photo: vintage.com

Critics also liked the show. It received its first Emmy in 1967 and would go on to win four more.

Tom Kelly, who co-authored with Douglas on his memoir, revealed why he thought Mike was so successful: “One big key to his great success was he had his ego in check. He always let the guest have the limelight. He was a fine performer. He could sing, he could do comedy, he did it all, but he always gave the guest the spotlight.”

Photo: wikipedia.com

I can remember my mother watching Mike Douglas most days while I played with my toys.  Here we are sixty years later and afternoon talk shows like Ellen DeGeneres and Kelly Clarkson are still going strong thanks to pioneers like Mike Douglas who showed us the classy way to be a host.

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