Born 100 years ago today, Calvert DeForest (1921-2007) better known to his adoring throngs as Larry “Bud” Melman.
Don’t know who that is? Well, you’re probably young. DeForest’s heyday was the 1980s, and I was just the right age to appreciate him back then (a teenager and young adult). He came to fame as as a regular on Late Night With David Letterman from 1982 to 1993 and Late Show with David Letterman (1994-2006). To audiences he seemed like a bizarre non-actor, with a Truman Capote-esque voice, horn rimmed glasses, and funereal suits. Letterman would trot him out for insane, non-sequitur bits, fake commercials, touting companies that he “owned”. It kept stretching and growing of course over time. I seem to recall that at one point he became a sort of supervillain, doing something horrible to Dave, and cackling like a mad man with an echo effect distorting his voice. He seemed for all the world like some random, possibly “not right” guy who the producers plucked from the mailroom and then made jump through hoops for the mirth and merriment of all. But he was only partially that.
DeForest had indeed been a file clerk at a pharmaceutical company for most of his working life, but he had also always wanted to be an actor, and even had a little experience at it. What’s more, his family had show business connections. His father was a cousin of Lee DeForest, the cinema pioneer whose sound experiments pre-dated those of Vitaphone. And his mother had been an aspiring actress. Born and raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, DeForest’s background was surprisingly posh, or semi-posh, anyway. His father was a doctor. Calvert attended a private school. And get that name — Calvert. Is he named after the Founders of Maryland? Or perhaps the architect Calvert Vaux, mentor to Frederick Law Olmstead? There is a Calvert Vaux Park in Gravesend, a short hop from Bay Ridge, a possible inspiration.
DeForest was in his fifties before he began playing bit parts in movies. His first, Chuck Vincent’s While the Cat’s Away (1972) was a porn film. Then came Howard Goldberg’s low-budget Apple Pie (1975), Arthur Chisholm’s Blonde Poison (1979, the director’s only film), and Romano Scavolini’s Savage Hunt (1980, a Greek co-production). The First Time (1981) seems to be “The First Time” DeForest appeared in a movie with stars, for it features Wallace Shawn, Marshall Efron and a post-Soap Cathryn Damon, among others. Then came Troma’s Waitress! (1982).
DeForest was discovered for Letterman by writers Stephen Winer and Karl Tiedemann who had put them at the center of their student film King of the Zs (1982). Then, at age 61, DeForest found the fame that he had always sought, although probably not exactly the sort of fame he was seeking. He was a figure of fun and not strictly an intentional one. Still he got paid, and that’s not to be sneezed at. And he got other bookings. His most memorable non-Letterman appearance was probably the Run-D.M.C. video for “King of Rock” (1985). He was on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Saturday Night Live, Hollywood Squares, and The Dana Carvey Show, and in movies like Tom Schiller’s Nothing Lasts Forever (1984), Heaven Help Us (1985) with Andrew McCarthy; Leader of the Band (1987) with Barney Miller’s Steve Landesberg; My Demon Lover (1987) with Scott Valentine (Nick from Family Ties); Mario Van Peebles’ Identity Crisis (1989), Freaked (1993) with Brooke Shields; Mr. Write (1994) with Paul Reiser; and Encino Woman (1996) with Jay Thomas. His last credit was a 2003 adaptation of The Devil and Daniel Webster called Shortcut to Happiness, starring Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
85 at the time of his death, DeForest’s is a rare case that inspires me to say, “Gee, I hope he SPENT some of that money!” There being, you’ll perceive, so little time for him to have done so.
For more on variety entertainment, including TV variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,