This week in nostalgia history: Drew Barrymore flashes Letterman



This week in the headlines, we take a look back at two women who took empowerment to the next level in very different ways. First, Drew Barrymore flashes Letterman at the height of her wild child era, then Ellen DeGeneres makes history by coming out as gay on the cover of Time Magazine. Without further ado, travel back in time with us!

Last week: Mel B and Eddie Murphy’s fraught relationship and the paternity test that ended it

Drew Barrymore flashes Letterman, April 12, 1995

David Letterman was in for a major surprise on his 48th birthday, which he spent interviewing Drew Barrymore for a now-infamous episode of The Late Show. 1995 was a wild time for Barrymore, who opened the year by posing for the cover of Playboy, appeared as the complicated protagonist in the angsty teen romance, Mad Love, and left a trail of anecdotes about her complicated past in interviews.

During the interview, the host asked Barrymore about a recent escapade at a nude performance club, during which she took her clothes off on stage. Rather than explaining the details, the actress thought it would be more useful to demonstrate them to Letterman, which she did by jumping on his desk and flashing him, with her back to the audience. Letterman responded, saying, “I can’t thank you enough for that.”

Years later, Barrymore remembered the incident on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, saying, “I’m such a different person now that it doesn’t feel like me, but I’m still into it.” She later recalled Letterman’s involvement to Entertainment Weekly, saying, “From the moment I went on—especially with my little dance number, which was completely spontaneous and not calculated in any way—he let the audience know it was okay. He was so accepting of me and letting everyone know to just go on the ride.” The pair became good friends, and Barrymore returned as a guest many times since.

Letterman has been a favourite talk show host amongst many, but he has also been an antagonist in recent headlines, including a BuzzFeed article that details his possible mistreatment of famous women including Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Ellen DeGeneres comes out as gay to the world, April 14, 1997

Ellen DeGeneres made headlines in April 1997, when she and her fictional counterpart, Ellen Morgan came out on Time Magazine and national television. Her character became the first openly gay lead on a network TV show. In the Time Magazine article, she revealed to the interviewer, Bruce Handy, that coming out to the public was harder than coming out to her family.

Before DeGeneres’ character came out in “The Puppy Episode,” DeGeneres herself came out to the world. Pressures from advertisers made ABC execs reluctant on going through with DeGeneres’ plan, but DeGeneres got them on board and began her carefully orchestrated coming out month. After the issue of Time hit stands, DeGeneres was in a chair speaking with Diane Sawyer on 20/20, and then with Oprah Winfrey. In a moment of ‘art imitates life,’ Winfrey portrayed Ellen Morgan’s therapist on the coming-out episode. Two weeks after the Time Magazine cover, 42 million people tuned into the episode.

Ellen was cancelled after five seasons, partly due to a highly divided America over LGBTQIA+ rights (the Defense of Marriage Act was passed only a year prior), but the sitcom set a precedent for representation across television, paving the way for shows like Will and Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and The L Word. In 2016, Degeneres was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former U.S. President Barack Obama for her ground-breaking decision.