Wednesday 11 November 2020

Larry Bud

Late Night With David Letterman was quirky and inventive when it began airing on NBC in 1982. Of the many incongruous things that attracted viewers was a character named Larry “Bud” Melman. Viewers weren’t sure whether he was in on the joke as he awkwardly went through the motions and read cue cards—and was utterly lost when he was left on his own.

Columnists sought him out to find the answer. One of the many feature stories written about him was this syndicated piece that appeared in newspapers on August 8, 1984.

As fans eventually learned, Larry “Bud” was an obscure actor named Calvert DeForest. Viewers loved him because he seemed so genuine and helpless. He was unique. He died in 2007 at the age of 85.

The Real Larry ‘Bud’ Melman

Larry "Bud" Melman celebrity. He conspicuously takes a walk around Rockefeller Center outside the NBC studios where he irregularly appears in comedy sketches on “Late Night with David Letterman.” He poses for a photographer, smiling a seemingly toothless smile, and making baby gurgling noises. He pretends to eat a Chipwich and, later, to read a bus schedule. These are the kinds of stunts for which he is famous.
Several fans from Queens and Illinois come up to ask him for his autograph. He signs and continues walking as the whispers and snickers of awe-stricken Melmanites follow him. They recognize his trademark black glasses that give him that goofy aura. They spot his space-cadet expression and are reminded who he is when he begins to laugh a silly little cartoon chortle that reaches down to shake his belly. This mild-mannered star looks a little like Casper the friendly ghost. In "real life" he is actually funny man, Calvert De Forest, 63.
He rounds the corner and a limousine pulls up. Out comes another star. It's the new Miss America! Suzette Charles!
"Larry Bud Melman!" she screeches as about 10 photographers click away. After posing with the beauty queen, he walks away, saying, "Ooh, she's cute. She's so tiny!" This from an adorable man who is 5 foot 2—a man with hands and feet so small he has to wear boy's shoes.
Larry "Bud" Melman, just a regular guy. Seriously folks. He's lived in the same Brooklyn apartment for years. Takes the subway to Manhattan when he's called in to do a sketch for the Letterman show. But when he's not working, which is most days, he's sitting at home watching the soaps. No fooling.
Oh, sure, there are the vacations he takes in California, with pal Pee Wee Herman, another Letterman semi-regular. There are the galas at New York's famous Hard Rock Cafe with Eddie Murphy and Lauren Bacall. Heck, he's tired of going to Studio 54, and besides, "that's passe." But deep down, he's an ordinary bachelor who likes Mexican food and country music. Off camera, he is just as unassuming as on. His ordinariness really has no business being on national TV. And yet that is his appeal.
Since he got out of high school, he's done odd jobs, such as working as a file clerk for a drug company or working in a department store, so that he could pursue his acting career. He appeared in community theater and off-Broadway shows such as “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Philadelphia Here I Come” and “Here Comes Mr Jordan.”
He also appeared in several New York University student films, which brought him to the attention of people at the David Letterman show. In one titled “The King of Z,” he was cast as the actor in a studio on poverty row who had to play all the parts. De Forest was "discovered" two years ago by then-head writer Merrill Marko [sic] when the students who produced the film were on the “Late Night” show and a clip from the film was shown.
Marko decided to give him the whacky name Larry "Bud" Melman and cast him in a short sketch in which he played the president of "Melman's bus lines." Larry Bud was a hit explaining the merits of buses with a completely straight face reading his lines from a cue card and messing up.
From there, he was put on the show as a semi-regular, appearing twice every three weeks or so. The “Late Night” writers invent his material. He writes nothing himself. His antics have included promoting "Toast on a Stick," peddling "Melman's Mystery Dinners," interviewing tourists atop the Empire State Building, greeting surprised passengers at a New York bus terminal with hot towels and wearing a bear outfit and walking around the NBC studios. His latest stunt is "Ask Mr Melman" in which he gives straight answers to stupid questions.
For laughs, he need only appear onstage. And many of the laughs are on him like when the audio gets messed up while he's standing on location in a blizzard, and Letterman keeps cutting back to an obviously freezing Larry Bud throughout the show.
Letterman on working with Melman: “It’s a supreme joy.”
Melman on working with Letterman: “Working with David is a riot. He is really funny.”
Steve O’Donnell, “Late Night” head writer, on Melman: “He’s the sweetest man in the world. He’s always surprising us. I guess that’s part of the excitement he creates for us on television.”
Candy Carell, makeup artist for the show, on Melman: “He is by far one of the most special, humble people I have ever met, and success hasn’t spoiled him. You just look at him, and you feel good. He’s just naturally funny. I glue things on him, we’re constantly changing him. We put him through so much. And he never complains.”
What price fame? Last February, De Forest was fired from his receptionist job at a New York City drug-rehabilitation agency, after his bosses found out about his second career. A spokesperson for the agency said the job had been intended for elderly people with no more than $6,075 outside income. He had kept his job at the center because his work on the Letterman show was part time and spur-of-the moment. He doesn't want to discuss this ugly incident, except to say, "It's really got me upset. The point is I did nothing criminal."
His lucrative career, however, has him on the rebound. He has been performing a stand-up routine as Larry "Bud" Melman around the country on college campuses and at comedy clubs. The act includes reading jokes off a cue card and making mistakes. He swears he can't remember any of the material. Even so, his shows at Los Angeles' Improv and San Francisco's Other Cafe were sold-out smashes.
"The crowds were just — Ah! Beeeeeuteeful. Nice reviews," he says, leaning back in a chair in an NBC public relations office overlooking St Patrick's Cathedral.
"Where I live it's 'Oh, no, it can't be. You mean you live around here? I can't believe it’," De Forest says of his adoring public. "I see them on the subway and they think I should be riding in a limo. I say 'Of course I'm like everybody else.' It's amazing how they separate a celebrity from an ordinary person. They're exactly the same."
He gets stacks of fan mail, mostly from college kids who want to know more about his "Toast on a Stick," or from women who want a date with him. He's received marriage proposals ("not that many, maybe two or three") even a letter once from a woman in New Orleans who claims he fathered her child. It is a cruel and vicious allegation Larry Bud denies. "I told David that I've never even been to New Orleans."
He insists he's not a legend in his own time.
"I’m not that much of a sex symbol," the lifelong bachelor says, completely seriously. "I'm no threat to Tom Selleck or Robert Redford. They’re perfectly safe."
Wherever he travels around the country to do his stand-up routines, which he began doing a few months ago, he is mobbed. "At the airport in Milwaukee it was like the Beatles. The crowds were unbelieeeeeevable," De Forest recalls in his strongest Brooklyn accent. "They had to get me in the limo back to the hotel. I thought 'Oh, this is sooooooomething!' Then another car would be following and waving 'Hi Larry.' It felt great." v He admits to being starstruck. “I get a bigger kick out of meeting people like Robin Williams, Joe Piscopo, Eddie Murphy. I’m thrilled by them. They’re the ones who are great.”
But his biggest thrill, he says with an enormous amorous sigh, would be to meet Bette Davis.
“Just to meet her once!” he says, almost drooling. “David’s never had her on the show. I’ve been tempted to ask him, ‘cause Johnny’s had her on his show. I’ve gotta get the courage up.”
De Forest is a trivia buff, able to cite the “real” names of Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, and says he loves gossip and “Entertainment Tonight.” At the tender age of 12, he saw his first movie, the silent version of “Seventh Heaven” with Janet Gaynor. From then on he was hooked on watching the Busby Berkeley big productions, and, of course, Bette Davis flicks. “Ya had better stars back then,” he laments “Mosta yer legends are gone.”
Women in clubs go up to kiss this man, but Miss America refused, shaking her finger and saying 'no' when he leaned toward her with his lips puckered. "Oh, she's gotta keep her image pure," De Forest explains. Perhaps it was just a chance encounter, meeting Suzette Charles on a typical day, perhaps it was fate. "What a thrill. Who expected that?" a tickled De Forest snickers.
It must be his great timing.
“Yes. Being in the right place at the right time. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” says Larry “Bud” Melman, celebrity.
“That’s show business all the way. Faaaaaaaaaaaaabulous!”


  1. Ah, the good old days when late-night TV was actually funny and not crammed with political BS!!

  2. Part of the charm of the character was the incongruous name that Markoe came up with -- when Letterman moved to CBS and NBC claimed intellectual property rights on all his bits, they had to revert DeForest to his real name. Combined with the added polish that CBS put on the show for its 11:35 p.m. time slot, as opposed to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along feel the 12:35 a.m. time slot had, his final years on the show just didn't feel the same.

    1. I only rarely watched the CBS show when it began and then not at all. I tuned in again years later during his last week and it looked like Letterman and Shaffer were parodying themselves.

  3. There was a lot of hostility between Letterman and NBC/GE at the time of his leaving for CBS. I preferred the make it up as you go along style of those early years on " The Late Show ". Watching Melman's gaffes,flubs and everything else, plus Letterman's high pitched laughing at what was going on made it work. Those early days on Letterman with the bits, stunts,Paul and Larry Bud reminded of a morning radio show with pictures.

  4. "The king of Z" (or "King of the Zs") mentioned in the first article used to run inbetween movies on HBO - a great mockumentary about the fictional "Vespucci Pictures," producers of "Block & Tackle Meet Scary People" and "The Dog That Got Real Big."
    I don't recall if DeForest/Melman was on Letterman's 1980 daytime show, but it seemed Dave was going for a Steve Allen vibe with a cast of regulars including Bob Sarlatte, Valri Bromfield and Edie McClurg (the latter portrayed "Mrs. Marv Mendenhall," who claimed to have lived in every town in the US).