Calvert DeForest, who played the character Larry "Bud" Melman on Late Night with David Letterman for many years and continued to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman using his given name for many more, has died at age 85 after a prolonged illness.
Calvert DeForest was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 23, 1921. DeForest's uncle on his father's side was Lee DeForrest, inventor of the Audion (a vacuum tube which amplifies electrical signals, greatly improving radio reception and making radio broadcasting possible). His mother was an actress. Because she discouraged him from a career in show business, he never pursued one for most of his life. Following her death when he was 40, DeForest volunteered to work backstage on various smaller production in New York City. Eventually, he found his way onto the stage. He also appeared in a student film, King of the Z's, made at New York University. The makers of the film would find themselves on the staff of David Letterman's new show (Late Night with David Letterman) and screen the film for them. That is how David Letterman discovered Calvert DeForrest. Working at a Social Services office, DeForest received a call from Letterman to appear on his new show. It was then Calvert DeForrest's face first seen on Late Night with David Letterman on NBC. Parodying the prologue to the 1931 Universal classic Frankenstein, DeForrest introduced the new series. He soon found himself as a regular on the show, appearing in many, many skits. He also received a new name--David Letterman dubbed him "Larry 'Bud' Melman."
Calvert DeForest's popularity led him to make other appearances beyond Late Night with David Letterman. He appeared in small parts in several movies, including Waitress, Heaven Help Us, My Demon Lover, Heaven Help Us, and Mr. Write. He also appeared on other TV shows beyond Late Night with David Letterman. He made appearances on Saturday Night Live, Pee Wee's Playhouse, and Wings. He also did numerous commercials, for everything from AT&T to Pizza Hut.
When David Letterman moved to CBS to host The Late Show, Calvert DeForest went with him. Unfortunately, due to a dispute between NBC and Letterman over "intellectual properties," DeForest would no longer be called "Larry 'Bud' Melman." Regardless, the character he played was still the same. Over the years, whether under the name "Melman" or his own name, DeForest engaged in a number of different skits and antics. There was the regular segment on Late Night called "Ask Mr. Melman," in which he would dispense lousy advice to audience members. There were the many celebrities he impersonated, everyone from Neil Diamond to Barbara Streisand to Madonna. He also appeared in such odd places as New York City's primary bus terminal. And just as DeForest introduced Late Night with David Letterman on NBC, so too did he introduce The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS. As the years went by his advancing age forced DeForest to appear less and less frequently on The Late Show. He made his last appearance in 2002.
As a long time fan of David Letterman, I have also always been a fan of Calvert DeForest. I honestly believe he was one of the funniest men on late night television. It was funny to see him stumbling over cue cards or portraying some celebrity whom he looked nothing like (which was, well, just about all of them). In his thick glasses and suits, he even looked funny. The fact is that I don't think there has really been any other character on late night television that appealed to me as much as Calvert DeForest. I have to say I am very saddened by his death.