The Real Story Behind Crispin Glover's Infamous Letterman Appearance

"Crispin Glover": Even the name sounds like a fictional character from a movie or novel, one on par with Glover's eccentric and often-misunderstood public persona. Since the early 1980s, when he was just a teenager, Glover has curated a career of roles that have carved a singular place for him, and him alone, in the Hollywood universe. From standout, memorable turns as Marty McFly's father George in 1985's "Back to the Future" to later parts like the ultra-disturbing Mr. World in the Neil Gaiman adaptation "American Gods," Crispin is a truly sui generis actor — a genre of one. And one early interview in the 1980s with David Letterman embodied Glover's remarkably spot-on middle name: Hellion.

Come 1987, Glover was on the promotional circuit for "River's Edge," a coming-of-age story where he played Layne, a teenage pack leader who egged on his circle of friends to cover up a murder. His friend Sampson was the culprit, and the victim was Sampson's girlfriend. Layne, played by Glover, shoulder-shruggingly says to his own girlfriend that Sampson simply "had his reasons" to kill his girlfriend (via Roger Ebert). The crew of friends treat the corpse like an exhibit and invite people to come and view it. The whole thing was inspired by a real case.

When Glover went on "The David Letterman Show" in 1987 to promote the film, he was dressed oddly, wearing an obvious wig, and generally acting bizarre. But come 1991, folks could have easily figured the whole thing out.

Not the last time Letterman is fooled

Crispin Glover 1987's appearance on "The David Letterman Show" wouldn't be the last time Letterman was fooled by a guest. And make no mistake — that's exactly what happened, even if Glover assumed Letterman would "get" the whole thing. Joaquin Phoenix did the same thing later, in 2009, four years after his success in "Walk the Line." Phoenix basically fooled the whole world into thinking he was leaving acting to pursue a career in hip-hop when he was just in character for a 2010 mockumentary, "I'm Still Here." And Glover back in 1987? He was playing a character, too.

When Glover came on stage, he was wearing vertical-striped pants, a horizontal-striped polo, thick platform shoes, big glasses, and a thick, tangled wig. Compare this look to later appearances in 1990 and 1992, when he's crisp in a suit with slicked-over hair. In 1987, he acted jumpy, stuttered a bunch, whipped out a crumpled copy of LA Weekly to read articles about himself (Crispin Glover, not the character he was playing), and had the audience laughing either with him or at him. Letterman sits there, suppressing his mockery and stumped at the whole thing. 

Then Glover, talking about how strong he is and how he "can kick," gets up and delivers a solid snap kick to the air mere inches from Letterman's face. Letterman, perhaps afraid, gets up and strolls off, and the interview is over.

'My cat can eat a whole watermelon'

So what exactly was going on when Crispin Glover went on "The David Letterman Show" in 1987? Folks knew that he was a unique person suited to the performance arts. Instead of thinking he was doing just that, though — performing — some folks thought he'd just lost his mind, Letterman included. Interviews, after all, are supposed to be where we see the "real" person behind the persona. But in such a performative world, working in a performative field, when is an actor "real"? To that point, in a 2014 interview with SiriusXM's "The Sam Roberts Show," Glover reiterated what he'd always said: that he "can neither confirm nor deny that I was on 'The David Letterman Show.'" And the interviewer hit the nail on the head: Glover's character Rubin was on Letterman.

Even only looking at a single 1991 trailer, we can see exactly what Glover was doing back in 1987. 1991's "Rubin & Ed" features Glover playing (getting increasingly meta here) a strange, misunderstood guy named Rubin, who treks with an unsuccessful businessman named Ed into the desert to bury Rubin's cat. The film is a surrealist take on a buddy comedy. There's even a bit featuring — wait for it — Glover's character Rubin kicking massive platform shoes into the air, just like the kick he'd delivered on Letterman four years prior. 

The lesson? Actors act. And Glover did a fantastic job of it.