Dorothy Mengering, David Letterman’s Mother and Comic Foil, Dies at 95

Dorothy Mengering, known to late-night television audiences as a gentle foil to her sometimes cutting son, David Letterman, died on Tuesday at her home in Carmel, Ind. She was 95.

Tom Keaney, Mr. Letterman’s spokesman, confirmed her death.

A white-haired avatar of small-town values placed on the national stage, she seemed equally comfortable on camera baking a pie or interviewing a celebrity.

Ms. Mengering first appeared on Mr. Letterman’s NBC show “Late Night” in the mid-1980s and became a regular in the early 1990s, first in telephone calls with her son and, after Mr. Letterman moved to CBS in 1993 as host of “Late Show,” as a correspondent, reporting from her Indiana home and from three Winter Olympics.

At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, Ms. Mengering conveyed an ingenuousness rarely seen in a television interlocutor, although her segments were interspersed with occasional laugh lines that made it clear she was in on the joke. When she was presented with a bill after cross-country skiing, she said, “Charge it to David Letterman.”

Ms. Mengering awkwardly interviewed Nancy Kerrigan the day after she won the silver medal for figure skating, twice offering her cocoa; she had earlier tried to interview Tonya Harding, who had famously been involved in an attack on Ms. Kerrigan. Ms. Mengering called three times to Ms. Harding, who ignored her, arms crossed and stone-faced.

At the same Olympics, Ms. Mengering interviewed Hillary Clinton, the first lady at the time. Mrs. Clinton laughed out loud when Ms. Mengering asked, “Is there anything you or your husband can do about the speed limit in Connecticut?” (Mr. Letterman lived in Connecticut and had received several speeding tickets.)

She also kept her composure delivering more incongruous material, like, on her birthday, “The Top 10 Things I Have Learned in My 84 Years.” Highlights included “You can kill a man with two fingers applied swiftly to the Adam’s apple,” “In a pinch, vanilla extract will give you a good buzz” and, at No. 1, “It’s hard having a son who looks older than you.”

Dorothy Marie Hofert was born in Linton, Ind., on July 18, 1921, to Earl Hofert and the former Lena Strietelmeier. She graduated from Linton-Stockton High School and studied business at Indiana University.

In 1942, she married H. Joe Letterman. They moved to Indianapolis, where he began his career as a florist and later opened his own shop. She raised their three children, worked at the flower shop part time and later became a secretary at a Presbyterian church.

Ms. Mengering often cooked on Mr. Letterman’s show; she appeared live from her kitchen every Thanksgiving and had him guess what kind of pies she had baked. In 1996, she published a cookbook, “Home Cookin’ With Dave’s Mom.”

Joe Letterman died in 1973. A decade later, she married Hans Mengering, who died in 2013.

In addition to her son, she is survived by two daughters, Janice Letterman Millholland and Gretchen Letterman; a sister, Hazel Baughman; and five grandchildren.

Dorothy Mengering and her son, David Letterman, at his alma mater, Ball State University, for the dedication of the David Letterman Communication and Media Building in 2007. Credit Michael Conroy/Associated Press

David Letterman's mom Dorothy Mengering dead at 95

David Letterman's mother Dorothy Mengering, a Midwestern homemaker who became an unlikely celebrity in her 70s as she baked mystery pies and covered the Olympics for her son's late-night show, has died. She was 95.

Letterman's publicist Tom Keaney confirmed Mengering's death Tuesday to The Associated Press.

Letterman had been on the air for years, and had made ironic celebrities out of dozens of nobodies, before he thought to bring on his mom.

But the moment he did, she became a hit, with a cheerful "Hi, David!" in her Indiana accent starting every appearance.

The two had great on-air chemistry, her homespun sincerity proving the perfect foil for her son's urban acerbity.

Her first appearances came via satellite from her Carmel, Indiana, kitchen for a segment called "Guess Mom's Pies," which became a Thanksgiving tradition. Letterman would make a huge production of the bit before finally declaring, usually correctly, "chocolate chiffon!" or "rhubarb!" When he was wrong, she would take on a comforting tone like he was a boy who had lost a little-league game.

She soon started making annual Mother's Day appearances too.

She really became a star when the show took her out of the kitchen.

Mengering was a correspondent for the Letterman's Late Show on CBS at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, a role she reprised for the next two winter games, wearing bulky snow gear that made her tiny self almost invisible, and oozing pure sincerity even in absurd bits Letterman's writers had her perform.

"After Lillehammer, I couldn't believe how it all took off," Mengering told The New York Times in 1996. "I think it's about the idea of mom and of a family."

Mengering lived all her life in Indiana. She 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.

Once famous, she put out a cookbook, 1996's "Home Cookin' With Dave's Mom," that included recipes such as "Dave's Fried Baloney Sandwich" and the secrets behind many of the pies she had baked for the show.

David Letterman's mother and 'Late Show' regular, Dorothy Mengering, dies at 95

David Letterman's mother, Dorothy Mengering, died at the age of 95, a rep for the Letterman family confirmed to CBS News.

Mengering was a regular guest on The Late Show when Letterman was hosting, and made her first appearance on the show during the 1994 Winter Olympics, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and went on to be a correspondent for the Nagano, Japan and Salt Lake City winter games in addition to doing a segment for the London Olympics.

Often referred to as "Dave's Mom" or "Dave's Mom Dorothy" on The Late Show, she appeared in a Thanksgiving segment called "Guess Mom's Pies," and often made Mother's Day visits as well as participated in "Top 10" lists. She also published a cookbook in 1996 called Home Cookin' With Dave's Mom.

On Tuesday, Stephen Colbert, who is the current host of The Late Show, tweeted out his condolences, writing: "I'm so sorry to hear of Dorothy Mengering's death, and so grateful that Dave shared her with us."

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