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Goodbye, Calvert

Calvert DeForest, also known to David Letterman fans as Larry "Bud" Melman, died today at 85.

In 1994, our Philip Michaels interviewed Calvert for the UCSD Guardian. Here's that story, along with some stuff he didn't include because of space limitations.

John Mosseau, who handles promotions for CBS, has a few words of vice for anyone interviewing Calvert DeForest, the diminutive character actor who has developed a cult following as David Letterman's comic foil.

"Don't ask him his age," said Mosseau, explaining that every reporter who has interviewed DeForest during this latest CBS College Tour Promotion has asked the question, much to the actor's chagrin.

So when DeForest made an appearance at UCSD on Tuesday afternoon, the dreaded question went unasked. Who, after all, would be foolish enough to tempt the wrath of a man noted for his appearances on Late Show With David Letterman and assorted commercials?

It would be hard to imagine DeForest as anything but the jovial actor who signed autographs and posed for photographs with UCSD students at Revelle Plaza on Tuesday. DeForest has reason to be happy -- his appearances on Letterman's top-rated "Late Show" are considered by many fans to be some of the show's funniest moments.

"It's the best move that could ever have happened," DeForest said of Letterman's much publicized move from NBC to CBS last summer.

DeForest may be better known by his stage name -- Larry "Bud" Melman -- which he used back in the days when Letterman's show was on NBC. However, when Letterman switched networks, NBC claimed the name as its intellectual property, and DeForest no longer could call himself Larry "Bud."

Nevertheless, people still call DeForest by his stage name. "I don't think you can sue everybody for it," he said.

"I like my real name," DeForest added. "It's nice to get it back again. But I enjoyed being Larry."

DeForest has been with Letterman since the latter's late-night debut in 1982. When two of Letterman's writers showed him a film they had made as students at NYU which featured DeForest, Letterman hired the character actor instantly.

Since then, Melman has been a mainstay on the late-night program, doing memorable comedy bits like his rendition of Elvis Presley's "Hunk-a-Hunk-a-Burning Love" and his infamous goodwill tour, in which DeForest attempted to drive from New York City to Tierra Del Fuego in South America.

"I went as far as Guatemala," DeForest said. "It was supposed to be a goodwill tour, but after you leave the Winnebago and have to change to a car and you're traveling through all these small Mexican towns, and then from there, you get to Guatemala, they tell you [that] you can't use the car, you have to use the bus... It seemed like it took forever to get to Guatemala City."

The tour ended after one of television's stranger moments, when a feverish DeForest pleaded with Letterman over the phone to be allowed to come home. "He said, 'Don't be a baby, Larry,'" DeForest said.

But DeForest added he has no regrets about any of his appearances on Letterman's two shows and that he has never refused to do a sketch which the writers have up with. "I never veto anything. David says do it, that's it," DeForest said.

His success in late night has propelled DeForest into other ventures. He will play a nasty acting coach in the movie Mr. Write, which debuts in May and co-stars Paul Reiser and Martin Mull.

DeForest also wrote a book, Calvert DeForest's Cheap Advice, which will hit bookstores this fall. DeForest declined to talk about the book's content. "It's cheap, but not free. I don't give away secrets," he said, punctuating the sentence with his trademark laugh.

DeForest has no explanation for his popularity with viewers. "Maybe it's because they feel I'm a friend, an uncle, or I don't know, however you want to put it. Someone they can trust and confide in," DeForest said.

And now the stuff I didn't include:

We did the interview in his limo: me, Ben Boychuk, Calvert, and Calvert's weasely manager.

Calvert is an extremely nice man, and I became loopy halfway through the interview. I mean, I've interviewed "famous" people before (mostly politicians), but I was more excited about this interview than any one I've ever done. As a result, I ended up sounding like Chris Farley on SNL. "Remember when you sang the Beatles songs a few weeks ago, Calvert? That was cool..."

According to Calvert's manager, they were going to the San Diego Zoo after their gig at UCSD. "We're hoping to get a shot of Calvert in the monkey house."

Re: the rumor that he and Dave don't get along, "Bullshit," said Mosseau. DeForest said he exaggerated when he said in an earlier interview that he and Dave had never spoken for more than five minutes. But David is, in Calvert's words, "a private man."

Calvert's favorite actress is Betty White, so the Tropicana Twister commercial was one of them dream come true things.

His next MCI commercial will feature Calvert in drag.

Calvert doesn't write any of his schtick. It's all the writers.

Best quote I didn't use. On his trip to Lillehammer: "The foreigners there are so warm."

Rest well in that great bus terminal in the sky, Calvert.


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