David Letterman unveiled what was billed as the “First Annual Holiday Film Festival” on Nov. 30, 1985. This was the fourth year that “Late Night with David Letterman” had followed Johnny Carson on NBC and the try-anything attitude was in full force.
Letterman presented a short film, as did Bette Midler, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin and Harry Shearer. There was another celebrity who brought a film that night — Harmon Killebrew — but Letterman ran out of time and Harmon never made it beyond the green room.
Seventy-three nights later, on Feb. 11, 1986, Letterman devoted his entire show to Killebrew, the first time he had done that for one person.
A decade later, the Twins had a promotional function at the Metrodome that included an opportunity for fans to register for a forum with Killebrew. Twenty-five fans were given the opportunity to go to a room in the Dome and ask questions of Harmon.
Gregg Scherer, a teacher and ardent Minnesota sports fan, was in the group. “I waited for everyone to ask the baseball questions, and at the end, I asked him for the back story on his Letterman appearance,” Scherer said.
Harmon gave him the Idaho, aw-shucks, you don’t want to hear that, but Scherer persisted and Killebrew told the story:
Letterman grew up as a baseball fan in Indiana. He decided to adopt a player from a big-league city similar to Indianapolis, and chose the other “apolis” … Minneapolis. The team there, the Twins, had a home run hitter named Killebrew.
“That’s the way Harmon told the story as to how he became Letterman’s favorite player in the early ’60s,” Scherer said. “Move 20 years later, and Letterman is calling Harmon, asking him to come up with an idea for a short film and appear on the show in New York.”
Harmon’s first reaction was to tell Letterman: “I’m not coming to New York.”
Letterman pleaded. He covered $10,000 in production costs for the short film. Harmon came up with something, flew to New York, and then didn’t make it on to the show.
“Dave was mortified that he had done this to Harmon,” Scherer said. “He called and promised the one-man show. That made Harmon even more reluctant. He said, ‘How can you do a whole show about me?’ ”
Letterman called back with this hook: If Harmon returned to New York, he would have Charley Pride, Harmon’s favorite singer, on the show to sing to him.
“Charley Pride?” Harmon said. “OK, I’ll do it.”
When the day arrived, there was a complication. It was February and Pride’s plane was grounded by a winter storm.
“Dave was at his improvising best,” Scherer said. “He had Charley sing over the phone to Harmon, accompanied by Paul [Shaffer] and the band. It was hilarious.”
Killebrew signed a Twins jersey for Letterman that night and it hung in the rafters in NBC Studio 6A at 30 Rockefeller Plaza until 1993, when Letterman left for CBS to start the “Late Show with David Letterman” as a rival to NBC’s “Tonight Show.”
The new Letterman vehicle also had a hilarious moment when it came to the Twins:
On May 9, 1997, Kirby Puckett, with his right eye almost closed after failed surgical attempts to restore his vision, read the list, “Top Ten Ways to Mispronounce Kirby Puckett.”
This was a period when Letterman would fly in an audience from a different city four times during May sweeps. The audience for that taping was all Minnesotans. Neal Justin was there for the Star Tribune and wrote:
“… [Puckett] received one of the longest, most-heartfelt ovations in the show’s history.”
Scherer was not among those hundreds of Minnesotans who flew in and out of New York for the taping. He had a greater live moment with Letterman in 2006, with his mother, Nancy Scherer.
As a family gift to Nancy on her 75th birthday, Gregg arranged to have his mother see the set of “As the World Turns,” a soap opera she had followed religiously.
“It was the 50th year for ‘As the World Turns,’ ” Gregg said. “I wrote a letter, explaining what a 75th birthday present this would be if my mom could visit the set. The show did much more than that. She had a chance to spend time with Jack and Carly [actors Michael Park and Maura West], the romantic couple and stars of the show. It was fantastic.”
Nancy and Gregg went from there to stand in line for a taping of the Letterman show at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Never one to be shy about favors for his mother, Gregg asked if she could have a chair to sit on for what was a three-hour wait in line.
The Letterman folks also did better than requested for Nancy. They let the Scherers wait in the theater for three hours, where they were able to see the rehearsals.
Letterman has a quick warm-up before the show where he takes a couple of questions. Gregg shot up his arm from a front seat, Letterman nodded, and Scherer said: “My mother is here for her 75th birthday. What are you going to do for your 75th birthday?”
Letterman’s response was, “Come to the cemetery and find out.”
When the show started, Letterman used the line, told the crowd that a mom deserved much more than being at the “Late Show” for her 75th birthday, and then Nancy received two dozen roses, dinner for two at 21, a Letterman hat, a kiss from stage manager Biff Henderson and a rendition of “Happy Birthday” from the audience.
“We were walking through Times Square after that, and people were shouting, ‘Happy birthday, Nancy,’ ” Gregg said.
Many Minnesotans will feel a void when Letterman’s run ends with a final show on May 20. I would guess none more so than Osseo’s Nancy Scherer and her son.