[image-1] “He’s an icon. He’s the best who’s ever done it,” says Julie Montgomery, former talent coordinator for Late Show with David Letterman. She’s talking, of course, about Letterman himself. Montgomery worked for the show for eight years after college before moving on to a brief stint at MTV and eventually to PR gigs in Charleston for Garden & Gun, and now her own company. We spoke to Montgomery over the phone where she was getting ready to leave New York after attending a Letterman staff reunion party. Read on for her backstage dish on one of late night TV’s most legendary shows.
[Letterman hired Montgomery shortly after her internship ended for the position of production administrative assistant. She did that for a couple months before moving to the talent department. She was an assistant there before coming a celebrity talent booker. Montgomery held this position until 2005. There was a Letterman staff reunion party on Saturday night and there were over 300 people there, including Dave, who according to Montgomery, didn’t hang around too long ( in true private-life fashion). Stephen Colbert takes over Dave’s spot in September.]
City Paper: How’d you get the job on Letterman?
Julie Montgomery: I was thinking of the story last night actually. Growing up, my dad was a huge fan, and I remember watching Letterman as a teenager. On a trip to New York once when I was 16, I forced my dad to take me on a studio tour — it was Late Night back then. I remember walking up on the stage, and I grew up in Ala. so it was like, huge for me. On the tour I grabbed the page, and I remember demanding that he tell me everything — I was like “how did you get this job. He was just kinda like “oh yeah I mean there’s a page program.” I remember so clearly being borderline psychotic. I told him, “No, no, no I have to get this job. This is exactly what I want to do.” My senior year in college I finished my last final on a Tuesday and moved to New York three days later and started Letterman the next Monday as an intern. That was in 1996. I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, eager beaver straight out of Alabama heading to New York to intern.
CP: I mean that’s pretty exciting, a talent booker. You pick who comes.
JM: Some things just kinda work out that way in life. My dad loves telling the story [of the original studio tour]. He likes to take credit. That’s how it all kinda came together. I was there for a little over eight years, and I loved every minute of it*. One reason I left was just because I was burning out doing the talent thing. Booking a late night TV show … it’s fun but, you’re booking five days a week. There were many days of eating three meals a day at work. As much as fun as it was, I was ready to move on and do something else.
CP: How far in advance would you have to book someone? Do you think it was harder to book people in the ’90s? I guess email and the internet weren’t as popular.
JM:We always booked about three months out, sometimes four, depending on movie schedules, holiday movies. It was also very competitive. People would say, “You’re the celebrity booker for Letterman. That’s the luckiest job in the world,” and yeah it was a great job, but it was very competitive. We were going against East Coast and West Coast.
The majority of my time there was pre-social media. The tools were somewhat limited. You were just trying to even figure out where celebs were geographically and tracking them down with their agent or manager. Maybe it was more straight forward back then. We think: we want them for the movie that comes out in December, this is what we have.
CP: I guess you hung out with everyone that came? Did you prep them? How far did your duties go?
JM: There were several bookers, I don’t want it to sound like it’s just me, but yeah we’d greet them backstage, hang out, take them to their dressing room, get them anything they needed, prep them for the show, and then walk them down to backstage area and literally stand with them right there on the wings until they got the cue to walk on stage. It was pretty cool. Pretty much every single guest that came on the show I met. It’s not like I’m having two-hour conversations backstage … but you know, some were very chatty, some weren’t.
CP: Were there any that stood out as super friendly or super rude?
JM: (Laughs.) I always tell people … name a celebrity and I’ll tell you about them. Sarah Jessica Parker was definitely one of my favorites. She was always super sweet, called me by name, everyone there loved her. All of the comedians were great. Will Ferrell was always so nice. You know there are a few that definitely weren’t as friendly as maybe I was expecting …. yeahhhhhh…. you never know.
CP: Did you ever have any guests on at the same time that maybe didn’t like each other?
JM: Well, the research department and the talent department are very, very thorough so we would’ve definitely known way ahead of time if there was a potential conflict. The years I was there nothing comes to mind. I don’t remember anything being awkward backstage or anything. That would have been something that would have been researched extensively. If anything it was all about creating a good balance. If Julia Roberts is the lead guest — she’s one of Dave’s favorites — that’s gonna go like 15 minutes long, so we need something shorter to go with it.
CP: So I Googled top 10 crazy Letterman interviews. Were you there for Farrah Fawcett?
JM: Yes, I was there for Farrah. That was always an interesting one. I was the person trying to get the guest out of their room and on the stage. I can remember her being very nervous and I think almost scared to go downstairs and I can remember literally being in her dressing room and fastening her shoes and helping her get ready and getting her on the stairs. Letterman definitely goes by taped clock. He doesn’t hold commercial breaks. If someone wasn’t coming, then the stage managers were yelling at me. And I was like “I’m doing this as fast as I can!” There were always people who would get my blood pressure up a little high in that regard because they weren’t moving super fast. In the nicest way I could I’d say, “Ya got to get out of the room right now.”
Who else did you google?
CP: Another one that came up was “Don’t F*ck with Madonna.” (In 1994 Madonna went on Letterman and said f*ck an estimated 14 times in her interview.)
JM: I was not there for that one. The one where she had black hair and cussed the whole time? That was right before I started my internship. I was there for Madonna another time. There were definitely people that I’d get a lot more excited about than others and I can just remember being really super excited when I was standing next to Madonna. I loved her growing up. She was friendly and very quiet. She’s very serious.
CP: Looks like … a Joaquin moment?
JM: I was there for Joaquin, but I was not there for the one they’re referencing, when he was in character. I had just left.
CP: I think he’s kind of a quirky guy anyway.
JM: And so sweet. He’s definitely a quirky guy but really nice guy.
CP: This is the closest I’ve gotten to celebrities, I’m just trying to dig up some dirt.
JM: I was trying to think about good anecdotal stories, but it’s from stuff I don’t want to tell. Dave was always so private, and I want to respect the idea of him and the show.
CP: You worked pretty closely with Dave. Were you friends?
JM: Dave was a very private person, and I definitely saw him every day. Would we chit chat a lot? Not really. He was always nothing but nice and cool. And one time in particular, right after Dave had his heart surgery, my dad had a heart scare and had to go to a hospital in Nashville and they thought he was going to have open heart surgery and I can remember Dave stopped me backstage and said, “How’s your dad? Is he OK? If he needs anything, if I need to put my doctors in touch with his. I’m happy to do that.” He’s private, he’s not really hanging out a lot with people, but he’s cool. He was always friendly and fun
CP: Do you think someone today could get a job like that, an internship that moves into that job? It seems like there might be more competition today with stuff like LinkedIn and social media. It just seems like a really badass job that a lot of people want.
JM: Back then when I was going for the internship, it was something like 500 interns applied.
CP: So you just have to be good at what you’re doing?
JM: I was persistent. I think a lot of people would be very gimicky and jokey in their application and that isn’t helpful. To me it was very business-like and professional. Looking back … I was so determined. I was one of the people: “I am moving to New York and I’m working for David Letterman.” And somehow it happened.
CP: Is everyone sad? Do they feel like the show has run its course?
JM: Everyone’s pretty sad. I mean he’s an icon, in my opinion. He’s the best who’s ever done it in late night. I just don’t think there will be another like him ever again. There were definitely some laughs and good times and memories but some tears too. A lot of people are trying to figure out what they’re gonna do next. But yeah it’s gonna be weird and strange not having Dave on the late night TV landscape anymore.
CP: That will be different too, because I think the Colbert Show has its own set of fans that aren’t ready for the transition.
JM: It definitely has a different feel and look to it. He’s a good Charleston guy taking over. I guess, if someone has to.
*Yes, that’s Jim Carrey planting a fat one on Julie in the ’90s.