A Former 'Letterman' Intern Tells All ... Sort Of Reacting to the talk show host's recent admission that he was the target of an extortion attempt over his affairs with show staffers, satirist Brian Unger divulges the juicy secrets from his own time on Late Night with David Letterman.
NPR logo A Former 'Letterman' Intern Tells All ... Sort Of

A Former 'Letterman' Intern Tells All ... Sort Of

During a taping of his late-night show, David Letterman says he had sex with female employees and that someone tried to extort $2 million from him over the affairs. CBS/AP hide caption

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During a taping of his late-night show, David Letterman says he had sex with female employees and that someone tried to extort $2 million from him over the affairs.


This thwarted Letterman extortion attempt has opened some painful wounds for me. But finally, I am now able to speak freely about my own relationship with David Letterman. (I can't speak for others.)

I am unshackled by the fear that this man can somehow hurt me for breaking my silence after decades of keeping dark secrets. The terrible things I saw and the creepy things he made me do have left me crippled for much of my adult life.

I was only 21, a student at Ohio University, when I applied for an internship at Late Night with David Letterman, and was accepted. I bought hard shoes, and moved to New York City to intern on the show.

I quickly proved myself as a discreet and dependable intern, and in short turn I was selected from the intern pool by Letterman's chief of staff to service the talk show host personally. My dream was coming true.

Brian Unger was an intern at NBC's Late Night with David Letterman in 1986. He is now a correspondent for The Jay Leno Show. Courtesy of Brian Unger hide caption

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Courtesy of Brian Unger

But it quickly turned into something else — where I witnessed and was party to the terrible, creepy things David Letterman did.

It started with small favors. I would be called to his office, everyday, around noon. I was given what was to me a large sum of petty cash, sent into the streets of Manhattan, to procure fine, hot... vegetable soup. Letterman, to my shock, was a notorious vegetarian. Everyone knew it except me. I, corn-fed and cattle-reared, loved meat. I felt dirty, and ashamed. But it somehow didn't stop me. This was my hero.

And so, it got worse, the favors more frequent, and more personal. I grew uncomfortable with the intimate nature of the requests — like the time I was sent to his hotel because Letterman needed something special, something quick. I entered his bedroom, and there, near the bed, out in the open, staring me right in the face, was something I hadn't seen since my Uncle Petru showed me his — a rosewood cigar lighter Letterman had forgotten on his nightstand. I grabbed it, and brought it back to the office. I felt so dirty. I had no idea Letterman was into tobacco. Turns out everyone on staff knew what I didn't — David Letterman loves cigars. (But not in a Bill Clinton way.)

At work, I felt that I had to keep our relationship a secret — because they told me I was special. But I was embarrassed. He looked me up and down, on many occasions, and sent me to change... the water in the fish tank. The other interns grew jealous. And I felt dirty.

Everyone knew. The whole company watched in disbelief as Letterman consistently made it to third base... in the staff softball game. Out in the open, in Central Park even. It was so brazen and public. I no longer felt dirty, I was just numb.

But some of the terrible things Letterman made me do were suffered by me, alone — and the behaviors moved from the workplace to the home. One time, he made me sit in his apartment for hours, and wait... for the cable guy to come. I felt dirty again, mainly because it was a new place with no furniture and I had to sit on the floor.

Our relationship continued for almost 6 months, and ended like they always do — with one, final blow. I was called to his office on a Saturday, where Letterman made an advance. He reached out to me, and in his hand was a Late Night sweatshirt. He just stood there, holding it, and said, "If you ever need anything, don't call me."