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A Farewell to David Letterman

Updated on May 23, 2020

Letterman Announces His Retirement

A young David Letterman.
A young David Letterman.

David Letterman enters our lives.

It, as noted athletes and celebrities say, was a good run. Good? How about fantastic? Throw in all of the superlatives and you've described David Letterman's 33-year run on NBC and CBS with The Late Show with him at the wheel. (P)

David Michael Letterman, now-retired legendary-host of CBS' Late Night with David Letterman was born April 12, 1947, in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the quiet neighborhood of Broad Ripple, to be exact. (P)

Early on, Letterman's childhood was mostly unremarkable, but images of him being the class clown began to surface along with a strong independent streak. Letterman went on to graduate from Ball State University in the late 1960s and married Michelle Cook in 1969.

David retired May 20, 2015, from "Late Night with David Letterman."
David retired May 20, 2015, from "Late Night with David Letterman."
Letterman at a serious moment.
Letterman at a serious moment.
David always loved to embrace his audiences with jokes.
David always loved to embrace his audiences with jokes.
Dorothy Mengering, Dave's mom, appeared on many of his shows.
Dorothy Mengering, Dave's mom, appeared on many of his shows.

Letterman's career boosted by Johnny Carson.

From 1970 to 1974, he worked as a weatherman and television announcer. From 1974 to 1975 as a radio talk show host. As the late 1970s approached, Letterman was working as a struggling stand-up comic at The Comedy Store and started writing for television shows including a CBS hit, "Good Times" (1974). (P)

David's career was instantly-boosted with several appearances on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson (1962). He became so popular that he was the permanent substitute host by the end of the 1970s. NBC saw great potential in the young irreverent comedian, so they gave Letterman his own daytime talk show, "The David Letterman Show" (1980), which was a disaster and aired for only for a short time. At about this time, "Tom Snyder" was having problems with his late-night show, "Tomorrow Coast to Coast" (1973), which aired after the "Tonight Show." His problems were mostly with his co-host, noted Hollywood columnist, "Rona Barrett," and Snyder was forced off air in late 1981. (P)

Letterman, who was still permanent co-host of the "Tonight Show," took over the post-Carson slot with the title, "Late Night with David Letterman" (1982). Letterman's show was extremely unconventional. For starters, Letterman was very political, whereas "Johnny Carson, King of Late Night," had steered away from political jokes. (P)

Letterman's early antics changed talk shows. He would often stage elevator races in Radio City Music Hall. And making random calls to strangers to talk about the strangest subjects. At Letterman's side was his loyal associate, Larry "Bud" Mellman, who was David's "guinea pig" for new and twisted comedy ideas for his audiences.

David Letterman was always good for a laugh with his staff or at home.
David Letterman was always good for a laugh with his staff or at home.
David enjoys talking with his mom as they are very close from his youth.
David enjoys talking with his mom as they are very close from his youth.
When David had a point to make, guests had to just step-back and let him make his point.
When David had a point to make, guests had to just step-back and let him make his point.

Letterman: Always in charge.

As the late 1980s approached, Letterman was becoming more and more of a household name, often at odds with the censors over his show, and never one to kowtow to guests' wishes. But that only made him more popular, and he garnered more and more status as a world class talk show host. Among the more classic moments in his early show was the time he covered his suit with Alka Seltzer and jumped in a vat of water. (P)

One of David's best-known segments was sending a stagehand, "Pat," on some building with a high roof and telling him to throw items such as watermelons, dozens of eggs, even a stuffed Teddy bear to the sidewalk below to just see what the collision would look like.(P)

I never claimed to be a professional entertainment critic, but in August, 1988, thanks to a great pal, Chris Cook, now-assistant Superintendent of Education, Marion County, (where I live), I became a David Letterman fan. It was not just a "fly-by" liking, but I felt at that time I would appreciate Letterman for years to come. I was right.(P)

I did not agree with all of Letterman's statements and views, but that can apply to my personal-favorite, the late Johnny Carson, whom I believe came to this world interviewing guests. Carson was that good. Letterman in the early years of his talk shows, looked weary at times when he would get confused at something one of his researcher's had given him to discuss with a guest. Letterman had the gift of hiding his confusion and moving-ahead with the show.

Dave being interviwed by "The King of Late Night," Johnny Carson.
Dave being interviwed by "The King of Late Night," Johnny Carson.

So long, David.

One thing about David Letterman that I will always admire: He did not fear network exec's, sponsors' threats to pull their ads if he did a certain thing on the air or the general public. David was David all of the time--at home and on the air. Letterman was a rare celebrity in many ways and not fearing those who might hurt his career was the one trait I loved the most.(P)

As I watched the final "Late Night with David Letterman," Wednesday night, May 20, it dawned on me that as Letterman made his famous "jog" across the stage and then slowly walked out to greet his audience, that David Letterman did not "work" at being funny or successful. He was both of these already thanks to his early-experience as an Indiana weatherman and that disaster-of-a morning talk show. Letterman let both is bad and good experiences teach him as he went along.(P)

And now, he is gone. Sadly, he is gone.(P)

Personally, I would not like to be Stephen Colbert, who takes over the "Late Show" in September. I am now wondering if Letterman has, without realizing it, cast a shadow far too wide and long to outgrow.

In honor of David Letterman's retirement from doing over 6000 shows, a combined total of shows he and his musical director, Paul Shaffer, did on NBC and now CBS, I wanted to publish my own(P)

Top Ten List of Things David Letterman Did on May 21(P)

10.) Meet two people he has not seen that much: His wife and son.
9.) Walk around his yard and dwell on one question: "Was this retirement a huge mistake?"
8.) Take as many naps as he wants.
7.) Talk to his mom and share what it was like to sign-off "Late Night" for the last time.
6.) Talk with Paul Shaffer about the good times.
5.) Sit and wonder if Bill Murray has a prank planned for the first week of his retirement.
4.) Out of habit, rise from bed at 5 a.m. to get to the Ed Sullivan Theater.
3.) Answer his phone and talk to the many show business agents who want to represent him in another show.
2.) Do his "Late Night" routine in the den--running across stage, then do his monologue for his wife and son.
1.) Wonder what life would be like to host a reality show on ABC.

David, I would wish you the best in your retirement, but I do not believe in formalities.


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