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March 22, 2007

Letterman fave Calvert DeForest Dies at 85

Beloved cult performer—known first to David Letterman's audience as Larry “Bud” Melman—moved to CBS with the late-nighter, though NBC "kept" his moniker

Calvert DeForest

Long Island, NY — Calvert DeForest, the cherubic character actor better known as Larry “Bud” Melman, his alter ego on the talk show Late Night with David Letterman, died Monday in Babylon, Long Island, following a lengthy illness. DeForest, whose eccentric demeanor, plump physique, thick black-framed glasses and unpolished vocal delivery made him an unlikely television personality, was 85.

DeForest had the distinction of being the very first image viewers saw when Letterman’s show launched in 1982. In a send-up of the prologue to the original 1931 version of Frankenstein, DeForest warned that the broadcast “may shock you—it might even horrify you!”

In dozens of episodes over the ensuing years, DeForest showed up in memorable sketches and man-on-the-street sequences, from Manhattan to Norway, where he covered the 1994 Winter Olympics. In one of his most absurd and beloved bits, DeForest went to Port Authority Bus Terminal, where he offered hot towels to arriving passengers.

He also delivered comically off-key impersonations of such celebrities as Ronald Reagan, Andy Rooney, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley—even Barbra Streisand.

Letterman's Team Seeks and Finds DeForest After
He Surfaces in NYU Student Film

DeForest first drew the attention of Letterman and former Late Show writer Merrill Markoe (who, along with Letterman, coined his kooky name) when he played an unbalanced movie executive in a New York University student film titled King of the Zs. When Letterman dispatched members of his staff to locate the quirky performer, they found him working as a file clerk at a drug rehabilitation center.

When Letterman left his original network, NBC, for a new talk show on CBS, he brought DeForest with him—but not his pseudonym. NBC, which claimed intellectual property ownership of the moniker “Larry “Bud” Melman, forbade its use on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman. From then on, DeForest used his given name.

DeForest’s exposure on Letterman’s shows made him famous enough to land several national television commercials, including spots for MCI, Honda, Cheerios and Pizza Hut. He made his final appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman in 2002.

Born in Brooklyn on July 23, 1921, DeForest always wanted to be an actor, but subordinated his performing ambitions to the wishes of his mother, who had worked briefly as an actress. Instead he spent years working for the pharmaceuticals company Parke-Davis. When his mother died he began to work backstage on local theater productions, and over time began to perform as well.

DeForest, who never married, leaves no immediate survivors. At his request, there will be no funeral service. Donations may be made in his name to the Actors’ Fund of America.

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