21 March 2007

Remembering Larry "Bud" Melman...

Damn, another one gone: Calvert DeForest, aka Larry "Bud" Melman, has passed away in Long Island at the age of 85 after a long, undisclosed, illness. For long-time fans of David Letterman, "Larry" is as essential to his legacy as Paul Shaffer and the shattering glass sound effect. Before Dave became today's gruff but big-hearted elder statesman of anything-goes comic experimentation and intelligent discourse (sorry, Jon Stewart, but you come second in my books), he was television's supreme M.C. of playful post-modernism and abrasive observation, which struck many--to my constant surprise--as "rude" (there are two groups of people in this world: those who "get" Letterman, and those who think he's "mean"...).

During Dave's NBC "Late Night" years (an hour later at 12:30 PM), DeForest alternately functioned as Dave's foil and whipping post, and I could never tell whether he was fearlessly uninhibited, mentally deluded (and thus exploited), or a somewhat sad and shameless sucker for attention (and with it, frequent punishment). He dressed up as Elvis, Roy Orbison, Neil Diamond, Meat Loaf, Barbra Streisand, Batman, sang with Sonny Bono, and took audience questions on "Ask Mr. Melman", proving time and again that the cue card was his Achilles' heel). Not much was known about DeForest in real life, other than he worked as a clerk at a rehab centre before being "discovered" by someone on Letterman's NBC staff and acted semi-professionally in a handful of NY-based feature films (I saw one of them, the Lloyd Kaufman-produced comedy "Waitress!"--note the exclamation mark--for which he provided the sole highlight in a seconds-long cameo). He enjoyed some brief mainstream success as a pitchman for AT&T and Dominos Pizza and published the novelty tome "Cheap Advice".

When Dave left NBC, "Larry Bud Melman" remained--incredibly--the "intellectual property" of the network (the name was coined by Merrill Markoe, Dave's ex), but DeForest did appear periodically on the CBS "The Late Show" incarnation under his real name. His last appearance was in 2002 to celebrate his 81st birthday.

"Everyone always wondered if Calvert was an actor playing a character, but in reality he was just himself — a genuine, modest and nice man," Letterman has said in a statement. "To our staff and to our viewers, he was a beloved and valued part of our show, and we will miss him."

Too bad Dave won't be able to treate us to a comprehensive clip reel to remember this bizarre, but ultimately sweet and endearing, pop culture oddity. "Intellectual property", remember...?

Here's a clip of "Larry" in a bear suit on the old Letterman show...