Let­ter­man’s mom was ev­ery­one’s mom

Mother-turned-celebrity ap­peared on son’s TV show from home kitchen, Olympics


From her In­di­ana kitchen, she be­came ar­guably the most beloved mother of late-night tele­vi­sion: the ex­pert pie-maker with the trade­mark apron, warm smile and gen­tle de­meanour that charmed Amer­i­cans each time she came on the screen with her sig­na­ture greet­ing, “Hi, David!”

Dorothy Men­ger­ing wasn’t just co­me­dian David Let­ter­man’s mom. She was ev­ery­one’s mom.

Men­ger­ing, pop­u­larly known as “Dave’s Mom,” died Tues­day at her home in Carmel, Ind., a day be­fore Let­ter­man’s 70th birth­day. She was 95.

Through her oc­ca­sional ap­pear­ances on Let­ter­man’s shows, Men­ger­ing be­came a celebrity in her own right.

It be­gan with a few phone calls, usu­ally around Thanks­giv­ing, when Men­ger­ing would talk to her son — and his view­ers — via satel­lite from her kitchen. Let­ter­man would ask his mother about the most mun­dane of de­tails: the weather in In­di­ana, the cat or what she had pre­pared for din­ner.

But those sim­ple, hum­drum con­ver­sa­tions were what made Men­ger­ing so mem­o­rable and what made her un­ex­pected comic ca­reer on her son’s show take off.

Once fa­mous, she even wrote a cook­book, 1996’s Home Cookin’ With Dave’s Mom, fea­tur­ing recipes Let­ter­man grew up eat­ing: cup cus­tards, ham loaf and broc­coli-lima bean casse­role.

Af­ter Let­ter­man moved to CBS, where he started The Late Show, he got the idea to send his 74-year-old mother to the 1994 Win­ter Olympics in Lille­ham­mer, Nor­way. Men­ger­ing put up with all of the var­i­ous stunts her son made her do: try­ing crosscoun­try ski­ing, tak­ing a rein­deer­pulled sleigh ride, shar­ing what she had eaten for her meals (at times, McDon­ald’s) and even show­ing off her minia­ture ho­tel soaps.

There was the pop­u­lar, oc­ca­sional bit from her kitchen, “Guess Mom’s Pies.” There was the time she listed lit­tle-known facts about her son, “His date for se­nior prom: you’re look­ing at her,” she said. And the time she de­scribed the top 10 things she had learned in her 84 years: “In a pinch, vanilla ex­tract will give you a good buzz,” and “It’s hard hav­ing a son who looks older than you.”

Gretchen Let­ter­man, 61, the youngest of Ms. Men­ger­ing’s chil­dren, told the Tampa Bay Times her mother “was the per­fect foil” for her co­me­dian brother.

“She wouldn’t take any stuff from him, which was what was so funny,” Gretchen Let­ter­man said.

“Even though she let him fill her fridge with Colt 45 malt liquor and bags of White Cas­tle, when he would say some­thing re­ally ridicu­lous, she would say: ‘Oh David, that’s not true.’ ”

Men­ger­ing, who lived her en­tire life in In­di­ana, mar­ried Let­ter­man’s fa­ther, a florist named Harry Let­ter­man, in 1942. He died in 1973 and she mar­ried struc­tural en­gi­neer Hans P. Men­ger­ing, who died in 2013.

The mother of three and grand­mother of five worked as an In­di­anapo­lis church sec­re­tary and loved curl­ing up with a good book, her chil­dren wrote in an obit­u­ary in the In­di­anapo­lis Star. Her favourite book, by Hoosier au­thor Gene Stratton Porter, was The Song of the Car­di­nal.

Just af­ter she died Tues­day, her chil­dren wrote, a “bril­liant red car­di­nal landed on a branch out­side her win­dow, sing­ing his song.”

Dorothy Men­ger­ing’s first ap­pear­ances were for a seg­ment called “Guess Mom’s Pies.”

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