Killebrew shined on one of
TVs oddest nights
(Jim wrote this for the Rochester Post-Bulletin May 20, 2011.)
It took repeated pleas from producers to convince Harmon Killebrew to
make a brief film for Late Night With David Letterman in 1985.
Liberace captivates Harmon Killebrew with a Barbra Steisand
story on David Letterman's NBC television show in 1986.
I think some of the writers were fans of mine, Killebrew would
say in 2004, so he agreed, reluctantly.
Lettermans NBC show was just three years old, and the host had already
scared off some big Hollywood names with his acerbic approach to celebrity.
Killebrew seemed insulated from disaster, however, because he was scheduled
to be part of the shows Film Fest. He would appear in a brief
segment on a night that featured films from other celebrities, such as Bette
Midler and Michael Keaton.
When Killebrews film was bounced because the show ran long, NBC
didnt want the cost of the film wasted, so producers created Harmon
Killebrew Night, which was taped live the evening of Feb. 11, 1986.
It was potential embarrassment: A retired baseball player with small-town
sensibilities spending an hour as guest of TVs perceived bad boy. No one
counted on Lettermans hey, were just guys on TV
attitude blending with the self-effacing Killebrew.
No one counted on something else: Killebrew shined from the start.
'This is Your Life,' with Liberace
Letterman brought Killebrews former teammate and close friend Bob
Allison onto the stage using a This is Your Life device, with
Allison behind a curtain reading a few lines and leaving it to Killebrew to
recognize the voice.
When artist LeRoy Nieman said this work would go for
$200,000, David Letterman suggested "the fumes are getting to LeRoy."
Haltingly, Allisons voice entered the studio. Hi, Harmon. We
played together (pause) on the Senators and Twins (longer pause) for 12-plus
years. (Pause.) We were friends and roommates.
Killebrew looked to Letterman. Is he reading that?
Letterman and the studio audience erupted, and from that point it was clear
that Killebrew was hip enough to hold his own on a show that featured
Liberace, who wore white pants and white suit coat with oversized mink
lapels. The glittery pianist also entered the studio after a This is Your
Life bit, even though he had never been part of Killebrews life.
It could have been awkward, but as Liberace went into a decades-old story
about Barbra Streisand, Killebrew chimed in, well aware of how she had broken
into show business.
If the night hadnt been enough of a carnival, Killebrews
favorite singer, Charley Pride, came on to sing Mountain of
Love. Well, Pride couldnt get a flight from Dallas to
storm-sequestered New York, so he sang it over the telephone.
Oh. All the while, artist Le Roy Neiman painted a billboard-sized mural of
The highlight of Killebrews brief film was the re-creation of
17-year-old Harmon heading by train from Payette, Idaho to Chicago for his
big-league debut. It didnt matter that Killebrew had flown to Chicago,
partly because the crew member who played the young Killebrew was a grown man
with a mop of hair and a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
The evening closed with Letterman asking Killebrew to remove his blue blazer
so it could be raised to the studio rafters to hang forever in this
In the shows only scripted moment, Killebrew protested, I
dont know Dave, this is kind of an expensive sport coat, as band
leader Paul Shafer, wearing a red Twins cap, began his tribute
During Harmon's last night in this dimension, son Ken
said, "We put on a tape of the David Letterman show that we hadn't seen
since Dad was on it, when they had 'Harmon Killebrew Night.'
"Dad got a good kick out of it."
Har-mon Kill-e-brew ...
Just say the name ...
And I start to think ...
Of that long home run ...
A sharp line drive ...
A dislocated elbow ...
Back in 65
Killebrew had not only held his own, his elegance twinkled on a hour of TV
that could have fallen flat. Letterman acknowledged it. As the credits were
about to roll, the host held out his hand to Killebrew and said,
Youre a terrific gentleman, and quite a sport.
Once again, Harmon Killebrew had hit it out of the park.