The beloved talk-show host, now 86, spoke about a new PBS documentary that tells the story of the friendship that changed his life.

An elderly man sits at a round table with a glass top surrounded by elaborate furnishings. Behind him is a stained-glass window, flowers and a fireplace. On the table sits a candelabra with four burning candles.
“I think I was in a state of exalting disbelief and joy that I had Groucho sitting there and being Groucho Marx,” Dick Cavett said of his friend, who appeared on his show seven times.Credit…Timothy O’Connell for The New York Times

By Chris Vognar

Dec. 22, 2022

On a hot summer day in 1961, a young TV writer and aspiring comedian named Dick Cavett attended the funeral of George S. Kaufman, the renowned wit and man of letters. There he saw one of his heroes, Groucho Marx. Cavett approached Marx, and managed to tell him that he was a big fan.

Without missing a beat, Marx responded: “Well, if it gets any hotter, I could use a big fan.”

“That was the beginning of our friendship,” Cavett said last month. “I thought, well God, I’ve talked to him for actual minutes now. Nobody’s going to believe this. And suddenly he said: ‘Well, you seem like a nice young man. I’d like you to have lunch with me.’”

Now, 61 years later, their relationship is the subject of a new PBS documentary, “Groucho & Cavett,” which premieres on Tuesday as part of the “American Masters” series.

In a video interview from his home in Ridgefield, Conn., Cavett, 86, recalled with fondness his old friend, whose affection and mentorship changed the young Cavett’s life. As a writer for “The Tonight Show,” Cavett went on to write for Marx when Marx joined a brief rotation of hosts after Jack Paar left the show, in 1962. Starting in 1968, when Cavett got his own program on ABC, “The Dick Cavett Show,” Marx was a frequent guest.


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