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.”