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 demeanor 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. She was 95. Letterman’s publicist, Tom Keaney, confirmed to the Associated Press Mengering’s death, which took place a day before Letterman’s 70th birthday.
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.
“I think we started calling her once every two or three months,” Letterman told the St. Petersburg Times in a 1996 profile of his mother. “We’d call her in the spring and try to get her to say that the crocuses were up. There never seemed to be any one reason why we would do it.”
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. As Pamela Davis wrote in the St. Petersburg Times profile, Mengering was a “tuck-you-in-at-night mom. A kiss-and-make-it-better mom. A favorite-meal-on-your-birthday mom.”
Once famous, she would even write 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.
But first, she would make a name for herself in the least likely of ways: as a correspondent for three different Winter Olympics.
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. Appearing bundled up in winter gear — always showing her sincere smile — Mengering put up with all of the various stunts her son made her do — trying cross-country skiing, taking a reindeer-pulled sleigh ride, sharing what she had eaten for her meals (at times, McDonald’s) and even showing off her miniature hotel soaps.
She wasn’t always in on the joke, but she went along with all of her son’s gags anyway.
“He kidded me in Norway,” she told the St. Petersburg Times, explaining that he asked her whether she’d seen any fjords lately. “‘I was supposed to say ‘No, but I’ve seen some Chevys.’ I didn’t get it until after we were off the air. I saw the tape of the show, and then it dawned on me.”
During her time there, she would interview figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and have a memorable run-in with then-first lady Hillary Clinton, who insisted that she visit the White House sometime.
“Is there anything you or your husband can do about the speed limit in Connecticut?” Mengering asked Clinton, a reference to her son’s many speeding tickets. (Even President Clinton admitted later that he and Hillary Clinton stayed up late to watch her.)