Bill Murray is one of David Letterman’s favorite guests (they even get together to dress up), but their Late Night relationship, which sounds a lot sexier than it actually is, got off to a rocky start. In his Amazon Kindle Single AND NOW…An Oral History of Late Night with David Letterman, 1982-1993, Brian Abrams spoke to a bunch of old staffers about, among other things, the time Murray went missing.
STEPHEN WINER — writer, Late Night (1982-83)
[Murray] came in the writer’s room [a few days prior]. He took a sweater and draped it over the lamp. Then he turned on the radio. It was like a boom box. He didn’t like how the sound came out, so he took a metal trashcan, emptied it, and put the radio into the garbage for the reverb. Then he put that on the desk. Remember: Dave and [Dave’s head writer/girlfriend] Merrill [Markoe] had gone home for the night. So it’s like “Mommy and Daddy left.” Then he got one of the interns to go out for tequila. So my first thought was, “I’ve been in show business two weeks, and I’m having a party with Bill Murray.”
That’s the dream. But Murray disappearing the day of the taping? That’s a nightmare.
SANDRA FURTON — talent coordinator, Late Night (1982-89)
[On February 1, 1982] we couldn’t find him, so we basically put out an internal APB. Everyone looked in all the doorways, looked through all the rooms. The show was starting, and we found out that he had left the building. He came in through the 6th Avenue entrance — it was a building he was familiar with because of Saturday Night Live — and [talent coordinator] Cathy [Vasapoli] and I asked, “Where have you been?” And he said, “I had to go home and feed my cat.”
Letterman was none too pleased. In the clip below, you can see him stall for time, and according to director Hal Gurnee, “I remember Dave being annoyed because he’s waiting for him to get through with this routine. The show was out of his hands, and this guy who was singing ‘Let’s Get Physical’ had control.” C’mon, Bill, everyone knows Letterman prefers Xanadu. Here’s the footage.