StoryCorps Extra: Dave’s Mom
Michael Garofalo (MG): From NPR, it’s the StoryCorps podcast. I’m Michael Garofalo. And I’ve got a little podcast extra for you here. A tribute to a woman who was a mother, a grandmother, and an all-around good sport.
Her name was Dorothy Mengering and she died Tuesday, April 11th at the age of 95. Dorothy was born in 1921, and there wasn’t even electricity at the time in her home outside of Linton, Indiana. You might know her, though, from these comedy bits called “Dave’s Mom” on the Late Night show hosted by her son, David Letterman. She was a regular guest, reading top ten lists, showing off her baking, and she even covered the 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics in Norway and Japan.
Dorothy recorded a StoryCorps interview in 2007. And in this excerpt, she tells her granddaughter, Bryn Mooth, about being on TV.
Dorothy Mengering (DM): When David was on “Late Night,” a lot of times he would call me on the telephone, on the show.
Bryn Mooth (BM): Mm hm, on the show.
DM: We were in Seattle one morning and the phone rang. And it was Maria from the “Late” show. “Will you be by the phone so we can call you when the show is taped this afternoon?” So I said, “Okay, we’ll find one.”
So we drove down the highway, and there were phones at the roadside parks but the traffic was too heavy. [Laughs]
DM: So then we went to, uh, Comfort Inn, across the highway and asked if we could use her phone. I tried to explain to her…she wasn’t real sure about that. So we said, “Well, can we rent a room for an hour?”
David Letterman: “Can you hear that? Is it ringing?”
“Comfort Inn, can I help you?”
“Uh, my name is Dave Letterman. I’m looking for my mom. Is she there?”
“Her name is Dorothy. Just start screaming around for Dorothy. Check the bar!”
DM: It all worked.
BM: Oh, that’s funny.
DM: I talked to David on the lobby phone.
David Letterman: “Hi Mom, how are you?”
Dorothy Mengering: “I’m fine. How are you?”
David Letterman: “Good. Mom, what are you doing at the Comfort Inn there?”
Dorothy Mengering: [Laughs] “Waiting for your call.”
David Letterman: “I see.”
DM: And then of course, there was Norway.
BM: What was that like?
DM: It was a wonderful experience. Loved it.
BM: You interviewed Hillary Clinton, didn’t you?
DM: Yes, I did. [laughs]
DM: [laughs] Oh my gosh. I’d never done anything like that before.
BM: How nervous were you?
DM: After we got started, she really put me at ease.
BM: Mm hm.
DM: So it worked pretty well, I think.
Hillary Clinton: “You have to come visit us in the White House sometime.”
Dorothy Mengering: “Oh, I’d love to.”
Hillary Clinton: “And tell Dave to come on down and see us, and bring you, or you come by yourself.”
BM: And then you went to Nagano?
DM: Mm hm.
BM: Was that four years later?
DM: Yes. They said, “You can come down and maybe do three or four segments.” And I thought, “Well, why spend the money if I’m only going to do that much?”
BM: Mm hm.
DM: So it was on every night, from Nagano. [laughs]
DM: So…those experiences just have been wonderful.
BM: So the girl from Linton, Indiana had a big world experience that you never would have imagined.
DM: Never dreamed.
David Letterman: “All right, the category: uh, top things I have learned in my 84 years. Are you ready, Mom?”
Dorothy Mengering: “I’m ready.”
David Letterman: “Okay, here we go — number 10.”
Dorothy Mengering: “In a pinch, vanilla extract will give you a good buzz.”
David Letterman: “What?”
David Letterman: “Number nine!”
Dorothy Mengering: “Think twice before getting a Robert Wagner tattoo.”
David Letterman: “Yeah.”
David Letterman: “Number eight!”
Dorothy Mengering: “You can kill a man with two fingers, applied swiftly to the Adam’s apple.”
David Letterman: “What?”
MG: That was Dorothy Mengering, mother of late night host David Letterman, speaking with her granddaughter, Bryn Mooth, at StoryCorps in Indianapolis. Dorothy died on April 11, 2017. And you can read a lovely obituary written by her kids on IndyStar dot com.
Our website is StoryCorps.org, and we’ll be back with a full episode next week. Until then, I’m Michael Garofalo — thanks for listening.