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David Letterman
by James H. Burns

I once made Alec Baldwin laugh on the Letterman show...

He made a joke about the New York Jets, and I was the only one in the audience who got it, and gave forth with what some of you know can be my rather notable chuckle... Baldwin looked up, thanked me, and giggled. But when I saw the show later on that evening, I was no where to be heard:  The part of the audience I was sitting in, wasn't miked!

I had gone to a taping, because my pal James Scott was visiting from Chicago, and he had always wanted to see the show. I emailed an old acquaintance from the 1970s (we were "kids" at comic conventions and other film buff events!), who had worked on the series essentially forever, and he was kind enough to get us a couple of tickets. (And I'm only not mentioning his name here, because I'm not sure if he'd like to remain anonymous!  But I'm still grateful for his consideration.)

I had seen David Letterman once before. In 1983, I was up at "Live at Five," the local NBC news show, with Earl Thomas Conley, the country music singer. I stepped into the hallway, probably to grab a smoke, and there was Letterman, whose studio was apparently across the hall, appearing a little tense, a little pent up, as he was moments away, I suppose, from commencing that night's program.
(Robert Wuhl, a guest that evening, was also pacing a bit... But the greatest surprise, really, was in the news studio. The great broadcaster, anchorman Jack Cafferty, a vision of complete poise and composure on air (and truly bright, as he would demonstrate over many programs), was a quirky conglomeration of odd movements the moment the camera was off; even sneaking a smoke under the newsdesk. (What did it matter, really, when he was so fine when doing his job? And he was extraordinarily polite when we later shared an elevator.)

The Letterman show's regulars were such a part of Manhattan, I don't think it was necessarily unusual to run into them around town.

Larry "Bud" Melman (in reality, actor Calvert DeForest), liked to shop at the monthly nostalgia and collectables show run for years by brothers Bob and Paul Gallagher, held in the ballroom or events facility of a New York City church.
For some reason, every decade or so, I'd run into Paul Shaffer, always a gentleman.
(But I'd still love to find out why one of his band members would be so cold, when we'd run into each other at Barrymore's, the great old Broadway joint, gone since early 2006. Perhaps it was one of the rare cases where my having a familiar face worked against me, and the musician made me a late night case of mistaken identity...)

My favorite Letterman moment, I think, like that of so many other folks, was with his first show after 9/11. Letterman was just about perfect, when it was terrific for him to be.

And when Odetta came out to sing, I wept.  It was like a wonderful moment from the best optimism of the 1960s, coming forth to remind us that we'd be whole again.
To my surprise, I found myself more than a bit weepy, when the last show ran that marvelous final montage.

And yet, the Letterman I'll remember is the one only recently revealed in other quick, clips.  Sitting in the magnificent Ed Sullivan Theatre a little over seven years ago, we all saw Letterman, before the show, running around happily, and engaging the crowd in conversation.

He seemed joyous.

Here's an episode from 1996 with David Letterman & Alec Baldwin:



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