Calvert DeForest, A.K.A. Larry 'Bud' Melman 1921-2007
Only in the offbeat world of David Letterman could Calvert DeForest's résumé—can't sing, can't dance, can't act—lead to a successful show business career. Not regular show business, of course. On Letterman's late-night show, under the stage name Larry "Bud" Melman, DeForest suited up in a bear costume and asked strangers to change a $10 bill, delivered hot towels to arrivals at a bus terminal and promoted "toast on a stick" as America's favorite snack. All with a look of bewilderment and a maniacal, high-pitched cackle.
"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 said following DeForest's death March 19 at age 85.
So true. About 20 years ago, my fellow New York Daily News reporter Larry Celona got a side gig as DeForest's road manager and asked me to help. We picked Calvert up at his modest apartment in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge neighborhood, where shops featured autographed Melman pictures in the window, and took him to local clubs. There he'd read bad jokes we had written, to the delight of college-age crowds. Sometimes DeForest would get flustered—I don't think he ever truly understood his appeal—but never rude or boisterous. He was a simple guy.
Letterman and DeForest met in 1982 when the host, preparing for NBC's Late Night with David Letterman, saw him in a student film and hired him to introduce the premiere episode. (He was 60, single and working as a file clerk at the time.) DeForest was also the first face seen when Letterman changed networks in 1993, popping out of the CBS eye logo to proclaim, "This is CBS!" after NBC declared the name Larry "Bud" Melman their "intellectual property" and nixed Letterman's use of it. DeForest worked under his real name after that. He last appeared on the show in 2002.
DeForest's popularity on Letterman's shows led to work in commercials (Honda, Pizza Hut) and scores of personal appearances. "We went down to Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1985, tossing out toast on a stick, and everyone went wild," says his former agent Kenny DiCamillo. "He was a really good egg. That's one reason people loved him. He also never got caught up in the fame. It never changed the kind of guy he was."
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