But there was a time, long ago, on a very short-lived variety show starring Mary Tyler Moore, when Letterman did sing and dance. He - along with Michael Keaton and Swoosie Kurtz, among others - was a cast member on Mary, a 1978 variety show starring Mary Tyler Moore. Hell of a cast. Awful show. The show only lasted three episodes.
One of the writers on Mary - one who, like Letterman, had a sense of humor that had nothing in common with the show that employed her - was Merrill Markoe. Markoe and Letterman were dating at the time, and Markoe later served as head writer on Letterman's own short-lived show, the morning-aired David Letterman Show in 1980. Two years later, Markoe began as head writer on Light Night with David Letterman, and played a huge role the success of Late Night. She created Stupid Pet Tricks and discovered Calvert DeForest (a k a Larry "Bud" Melman), among many other contributions.
Markoe recently guested on the podcast How Was Your Week and spoke about Mary:
"The guys in the cast were Letterman and Michael Keaton ... dancing and singing "Macho Man." And they (the senior staff of Mary) didn't understand it was a gay anthem. I remember saying to them, you know that this is a gay anthem, right? "Macho Man"? And they're like, nah, it's not.
"... also they dressed them up so they were wearing the clothing of the movie Deliverance.
"... What they were was both (Letterman and Keaton) seriously uncomfortable. At the time I was dating him (Letterman) and all the other writers on the writing staff came running down to go, oh you have to come look at the monitor. And I couldn't look, I just ... it was too uncomfortable."
Unfortunately, the "Macho Man" clip is not online. But I can offer you a nice (is that the right word?) consolation prize. Here are David Letterman and Michael Keaton singing and dancing as Mary Tyler Moore performs the Wings hit, "With a Little Luck":
Keaton at least looks like he's trying. Dave? He looks humiliated, sick to his stomach, like he'd rather be anywhere than there, doing that. He looks exactly what you'd expect David Letterman to look like in that situation.
Here's a 6-minute clip that includes the Mary show opening (with plenty of views of Letterman), a few scenes of Mary introducing segments, plus the "audition tapes" of Keaton and Letterman (not their real auditions - it was a bit for the show). Keaton's bit is not funny at all. Dave's, however, actually resembles the Letterman we would come to know much better within a few years - his comic sensibility is there, his delivery, his expressions. Makes me wonder if Letterman (or Markoe) got to write his the lines for the segment. Letterman appears at the 5:20 mark:
Has there ever been a show with this much collective talent on screen - television legend Mary Tyler Moore, a guy who later became a legend in Letterman, very talented actor Keaton, very talented singer and actor Swoosie Kurtz, and we haven't even mentioned the solid Dick Shawn - that was so bad? Any nominations?
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