By now you’ve heard about the recent death of Larry (Bud) Melman, the old Late Night With David Letterman character whose real name was Calvert DeForest (NYT obituary).
In an intellectual property dispute, NBC claimed ownership of the Larry (Bud) Melman name, even though it had been devised by a “Letterman” writer, Merrill Markoe. From the moment his face appeared as the center of the CBS eye logo on the debut CBS show, Mr. DeForest used his own name. He parlayed his “Letterman” fame into other film roles and commercials for a wide range of companies including M.C.I., Honda, Cheerios and Pizza Hut. His last appearance on “Letterman” celebrated his birthday in 2002.
Unbeknownst to me, however, DeForest may have also been involved in intellectual property issues previously. His obituary notes that he was a long-time employee of then-Parke-Davis Pharmaceuticals before starting his acting career, perhaps influenced by his father, a physician. (Parke-Davis was swallowed by Pfizer in 2000 and was the first to market epinephrine, an endogenous compound and drug first isolated by my namesake, John Jacob Abel).
Now why didn’t the ad agencies think to put Larry (Bud) Melman in a DTC (direct-to-consumer) drug advert?
DeForest’s uncle, Lee De Forest, was a prolific inventor who patented the first vacuum triode for amplifying radio signals, which allowed the manufacture of tube radios, spawned the broadcasting industry, and made early telephones and radar possible. The elder DeForest also founded DeForest Radio Telephone & Telegraph Company in 1907, constructed one of the first experimental radio stations, and established De Forest Phonofilm, a film production company that pioneered talking films during the “silent era” of the 1920s.
[Photo credit: Marilynn K.Yee/ The New York Times]