Tony Mendez, who was in charge of the cue cards for “Late Show With David Letterman,” as well as one of the show’s eccentric characters, until an altercation (over cue cards) with one of the writers getting him fired in 2014, died July 29 at his Miami Beach home. He was 76 years old.
Andrew Corbin, his former partner, confirmed the death but said he did not know the cause.
Mr. Mendez’s on-camera interactions with Mr. Letterman have made him a key member of the show’s non-star cast, including the comedian’s mother, Dorothy Mengering; stage manager Biff Henderson; and Mujibur and Sirajul, vendors in a souvenir shop near the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the show was recorded.
Mr. Mendez began printing (in big black letters) and periodically turning over cue cards for Mr. Letterman on his NBC show “Late Night With David Letterman” in 1990. He took over full time when Mr. Letterman moved to CBS in 1993. Dubbed “Cue Card Boy” by Mr. Letterman, Mr. Mendez continued to shoot oversized cards for the comedian’s monologue and other scripted tracks for another 21 years.
“The reversal of the cards is very important” Mr Mendez told the New Yorker in 2001. “If you go back too fast, they can’t see the last row. If you are too slow, you slow them down.
Mr. Mendez was also the star of a bizarre online video series, “The Tony Mendez Show,” posted on the show’s website for several years. In 2007, a billboard promoting the Mendez show was unveiled near the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, where Mr. Letterman recorded his program.
But Mr. Mendez’s stay on “The Late Show” came to an end in October 2014, when he assaulted one of the writers, Bill Schef. The behind-the-scenes incident made headlines in the New York Post with the headline “HATE SHOW: A backstage battle breaks out in Letterman.
The two had argued before the taping of the Oct. 8 show about changes to the cue cards. “He tells me what to do and I have to say ‘I know what I’m doing,'” Mendez told the Post.
The next day, The Post reported, Mr. Mendez was still angry. He grabbed Mr. Scheft’s shirt and shook it, which led to his dismissal (six months after Mr. Letterman announced he would be retiring from the show in 2015).
“It was an unfortunate way to end his stay at the show and a sad way to end a 22-year friendship,” Scheft said in an email.
Antonio Emilio Mendez Jr. was born in Havana on March 27, 1945 and left Cuba by plane in 1961 with his father, who worked at the Faculty of Law at the University of Havana, and his mother, Josefina.
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No immediate family member survives.
In Los Angeles, where Mr Mendez lived with his family, his mother, who taught Spanish at UCLA, met someone who knew Barney McNulty, who is considered the first person on television to use maps. memory aid. Mr. McNulty hired Mr. Mendez to turn cards for soap operas, sitcoms like “The Lucy Show” and the variety show “The Hollywood Palace”.
In his early twenties, he took a detour through dancing. His sister, Josefina, was a principal dancer with the Cuban National Ballet, and he grew up enjoying his art. He studied at the Houston Ballet, apprenticed at the Harkness Ballet, and received a scholarship from the American Ballet Theater.
“And at that time, if you could point your finger, they would offer you a scholarship,” he said in an interview with Time Out New York magazine in 2008.
He danced on Broadway in the 1970s and 1980s, in “Pippin”, “Irene”, “Dancin ‘” and “King of Hearts”. He also danced on the “Applause” and “Evita” tours.
In 1984, approaching his forties, he returned to the cards, this time for “Saturday Night Live”, where he remained nine years.
“It was the most stressful job I have ever had,” he told The New Yorker. “The hosts were in total panic. They were all trying to memorize, and I would tell them the script was going to change until the last minute, so they had to follow me.
Then, in 1993, Mr. Mendez took over from his partner, Marty Zone, who had been diagnosed with HIV five years earlier, as the man with Mr. Letterman’s cheat sheets.
Mr Mendez’s relationship with Mr Letterman was, he once recalled, unusually strong – until he was fired.
“Nobody talks to him like I do and he welcomes it because everyone is so scared of him,” Mendez told Time Out. “And he knows he will get the truth from me.”