Story & interview by Brian Schott
I n December, Whitefish Review landed a rare interview with David Letterman, the beloved king of comedy and part-time Montana resident, to talk about growing up and getting older for its 18th issue. Review founding editor Brian Schott spoke with Letterman about retirement, raising his son, his love of Montana, his own childhood, and growing a wildman beard. The interview went viral online, with more than 120 media outlets referencing the interview. Visit www.whitefishreview.org or purchase a copy at a local bookstore to support this nonprofit venture. Issue #19, “Change,” will be released on June 4.

David Letterman: First of all, let me tell you this, particular to nothing. Yesterday I was walking around a small town in Connecticut and the commercial grid of this small town reminded me of the commercial grid of what I remember of Whitefish. Except it’s not surrounded by lakes, rivers, or mountains. And I just said to myself then and there—I’m moving to Whitefish. I told my wife last night and she thinks I’m kidding. But why wouldn’t you move to Whitefish?

Brian Schott: That’s a good question. We could make you an intern here at Whitefish Review.

DL: I’ll do it. I’ve got nothing but time. (laughing)

BS: So apparently, along this theme of growing older, we’ve heard that you’ve retired. (laughter)

DL: Yes, I have retired. I am no longer in show business.

BS: So how has that change in your life affected you?

DL: We did this television show—my friends and I—for a very long time. It’s probably like anyone else’s professional pursuit. When you are doing it for so long, and for each day—I have always likened it to running a restaurant—because you get response to the day’s endeavor immediately. Either from the audience or the ratings, but you know as early as the next day how you did.

And because of this introspection, you believe that what you are doing is of great importance and that it is affecting mankind wall-to-wall. And then when you get out of it you realize, oh, well, that wasn’t true at all. (laughter) It was just silliness. And when that occurred to me, I felt so much better and I realized, geez, I don’t think I care that much about television anymore. I feel foolish for having been misguided by my own ego for so many years.

BS: Can you talk a little bit more about your relationship to the space out here? Does the land have a real calming effect on you?

DL: Yes. Tom Brokaw is the reason we ended up in Montana. For years and years, Tom said [in Brokaw accent] ,“You ought to go to Montana.” And I said, “Okay, sure, Tom. Sure.” And I would look at Montana and I would think, Good Lord—who wants—why—I mean, look at that!—it’s too wide, for one thing…

…And so we stumbled on the Rocky Mountain Front, where no one lives, because of the 200-mile an hour winds, but it was thrilling to be there.

The first thing that this experience brought to us is that you just can’t stop seeing once you’re out there. The big sky and all—and for heaven’s sake, it’s true—but also the endless horizon. And we still haven’t gotten over the land…

Every time we go out there we learn something about the land, about the animals, about the plants, about the trees, about the fires, about the wind, about the weather. It’s a never-ending education and it’s been so gratifying and so enriching for my wife and myself—she’s from Ohio, I’m from Indiana—and my son, it’s in him now. Whereas Tom Brokaw had to talk me into going to Montana, my son, he won’t have that problem. He’s there…

…I was thinking how unpleasant it would have been if Harry didn’t like being in Montana. Leave him back here with a sitter? (laughing) But it’s part of his life. If it’s just a fraction for his life of what it has been for our life, he will be a rich man forever. Did you notice that experience? That it never stops?

BS: The mountains out here really grabbed me and got into my heart. I never really expected to stay, but it really got inside me.

DL: The last time we were out there at Big Mountain—I guess they call it Whitefish Mountain now—you’re looking into the Canadian Rockies, then you’re looking back at Glacier, then you’re looking south to the ranges that run forever in that direction. One of my early ski instructors said to me that the first lesson in skiing is that when you get off the chairlift, take in the view. We’d been half way up the chairlift and it was like an IMAX movie. It’s beyond an IMAX movie—it’s all there. It’s crazy. You don’t see stuff like that.

BS: So we saw a pretty good-looking lumberjack beard photo of you recently. We were just curious about your plans for your facial hair?

DL: You know what? I used to say, every day, “I am so sick and tired of shaving.” I had to shave every day, every day, for 33 years. And even before that when I was working on local TV. And I just thought, the first thing I will do when I am not on TV is stop shaving