Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 10/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Merrill Markoe

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WITH THE AID OF HER TRUSTY ANSWERING machine, a device so beloved as to rate a name (it's a toss-up between Mindy and Keith), Merrill Markoe routinely screens her phone calls. How else to avoid folks who want to know all about David Letterman? As the comic's former girlfriend of 10 years and the original head writer on Late Night from 1982 to 1983, Markoe could talk, but, understandably, she balks. "He has another girlfriend now," she says. "I've had several boyfriends since. Why do I have to talk about him? Especially since not one of the pieces in my book is about him." Then she relents: "Okay, what do you want to know about Dave?"

Actually, the focus here is Markoe, a fortysomething former art teacher who began auditing film courses and submitting scripts on spec in the mid-'70s before trying stand-up comedy, which led her to Letterman. "I'd always been the smart-ass person in high school," she says, "but it hadn't occurred to me there was a job in it."

When her relationship with Dave soured—"I don't think working for your boyfriend is a good idea"—Markoe moved to Malibu, where she shares quarters with four dogs and no biped at the moment. "Just say I'm dating, if that word even applies after you're 40," notes Markoe, who appeared this summer in Michael Moore's TV Nation and is currently thinking about new book topics and new ways to put Letterman behind her. "I'll have to forge a high-profile scandal to distract people," she says. "I'll have to steal Donald from Marla."

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