Good as Gold

updated 02/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

FORGET THOSE POWERFULLY TIUGIIED speed skaters, the downhillers with the racer's edge, even those blade-dueling foes Nancy and Tonya. The really big deal at the Olympic Winter Games at Lillehammer is a sprightly septuagenarian who wears a bright-blue CBS ski parka and knitted cap and goes by the name of Dave's Mom.

Yes, with her chatty Late Show segments, broadcast nightly from Norway, Dorothy—now known to the world as the mother of David Letter-man—has vaulted over the media competition, charming audiences and seasoned pros alike. Not only did her Valentine's Day debut mark the highest-rated Late Show since its premiere week, but "everybody from Charles Kuralt to Paula Zahn wants to meet her," says Jay Simpson, a producer for CBS's Olympics unit. "If you hear people walking through the hallways talking about someone being adorable, you know they're talking about Dave's Mom."

In fact, Dave's Mom has become a kind of Every mom. "She's just a darling person," says Simpson. "The minute the camera goes off, she'll say, 'Jay, you go have something to eat now. Stay warm, Jay. Are you cold?' "

It was during a recent Florida vacation with her second husband, Hans (her first, Dave's dad, Joe, died in 1974), that an unexpected call came from Maria Pope, a Late Show producer, asking if Dorothy would like to go to Lillehammer. "We were thrilled," recalls Dorothy, who for 16 years was a secretary for the Second Presbyterian Church back in Broad Ripple, Ind., near Indianapolis. "I didn't think I'd have another job. Although this isn't really a job, you know. It's a lot of fun."

Which doesn't mean that Dorothy—whose coverage is costing the network "$40,000 a day," kidded Dave—isn't taking her Lillehammer stint seriously. "The lady is just a trouper," says Simpson. "We tell her, 'Do that over,' or 'Stand over here,' 'Look in the other direction'—and she doesn't flinch. Also, she beat us up the hill on the way to the opening ceremony." She also scored an early coup with a rinkside interview with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, which she played like a kaffeeklatsch. "Is there any thing you or your husband can do about the speed limit in Connecticut?" Dorothy asked on behalf of her son, who lives (and speeds) there. Said Hillary with a knowing smile: "Does he have a heavy foot? So docs my husband."

Between assignments, Dave's Mom is sampling such traditional Norwegian dishes as reindeer steak, which, she told Dave, lasted like filet mignon. She is also polishing her tourist Norwegian and was hoping early on to visit the figure-skating venue in Hamar. "That's the event I want to see," she says. "They're so graceful, so beautiful. Of course it's the one sport that hinges on judges, and you hope they'll be fair to the young people who work so hard."

Her newfound fame is a little heady, admits Dave's Mom: "I never expected to sign so many autographs and pose for pictures like this." But even so, there's little chance she'll be trading in her apron for a microphone anytime soon. "They say Indianapolis is trying to become the amateur sports capital of the world," says America's latest sweetheart, a tad wistfully. "But as far as winter goes, all we really have is an ice rink. And, well, some sledding in the park."

SUSAN SCHINDEHETTE
BRIAN CAZENEUVE in Lillehammer

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