This clip of Bill Murray appearing on David Letterman’s first ever episode of Late Night has been making the rounds today, which is understandable seeing as (a) Letterman announced his retirement last night, and (b) Bill Murray. Watching it reminded me of an old interview Letterman did with Playboy back in 1984 — which was helpfully republished yesterday over at Gawker’s Playboy Kinja — in which he discussed some of the behind-the-scenes antics/chaos that took place leading up to the premiere, a sizable chunk of which were thanks to Bill Murray and three gallons of cheap tequila.
Playboy: The first Late Night, with Bill Murray as your guest, established an anything-can-happen-here attitude that you have hung on to. Was that the attitude you wanted to establish or did it just happen?
Letterman: I want viewers to feel that anything can happen on our show. When there’s real jeopardy, that’s when the fun begins. But that first show might have been just a touch too unstructured.
Playboy: Because of Murray?
Letterman: Yeah. [laughs, tries to answer but laughs again] When we asked Bill to be on our first show, he said he’d like to do something different: Could he come up to the office and talk with the writers and see what they could come up with together? I said, “Great.” So he arrived one afternoon when Merrill and I were out shooting a remote and brought six half-gallon bottles of whatever tequila was on sale, and he and the entire staff proceeded to get sh*t-faced all afternoon. When I got back, the place was a shambles; everyone was dangerously drunk; all the lamps were hidden, because Bill had convinced them that the fluorescent lights were draining their vitamin E; nothing had been written; and the only explanation I could get out of anyone was “Bill was here.” And when we did go on the air, Bill didn’t want to do any of the things we had finally gotten around to preparing. Instead, he had a sudden urge to sing “Let’s Get Physical” and do aerobics. So he did. And it was very funny.
“Bill was here.” Sounds about right.