Barbara Gaines, the Emmy award-winning executive producer of Late Show with David Letterman, has always considered the talk show host a "big brother," She was 23 and he was 33 when they both got their major break: His was doing a morning show for NBC in 1980; hers was working on Letterman's staff as a (bad) receptionist and later a (good) production assistant,
At the very time Gaines was visible to millions of viewers, she found herself lying more and more about her private life - a life that finally included dating women after years of trying to find the "right" boyfriend.
Now Gaines is an executive producer, running the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of the show. Shy by nature, Gaines is not involved in booking guests, but she certainly remembers the first out lesbian to appear with Letterman.
"I told my cousin I was gay when I was 12," says Gaines, "and she said, 'No. You're just ... you're fat. You just have to lose weight.' And I said, 'OK.' I tried to dress better, and then I got a boyfriend, who ironically years later ended up gay. We just kind of rolled around together.
"Then when I was 17 told my mother, my father, my brother, and his then-wife. I said, 'I think I'm gay.' And my mother said, 'You are not.' 'OK.' And I went off to college, where I had a million blind dates."
Though very shy, Gaines finally did manage to hook up with a woman: her mother's aerobics instructor. Other girlfriends followed, but still she hadn't come out at work. "I started to get very ... nervous," says Gaines. "Much more nervous than [when I told] my parents, because Dave I was with all the time. I also felt he valued honesty. I was more nervous about him thinking I was lying than thinking I was gay."
She had her mentor on the show break the ice with Letterman. All he said was, "Huh. So Barbara Gaines is a lesbian." Still unsure if it made him uncomfortable, Gaines finally went into his office.
"I remember him sitting behind his desk and saying, 'Is there something you want to tell me?' And I said, 'Um ... yes?' And he was just looking at me. And I said, 'Um ... um, I'm a lesbian?' And he said, 'Oh, come here.' And he gave me a big hug. And that's how I came out to Dave. That, to me, was perfect."
When she was up for her first Emmy - her first of five nominations - Gaines planned to give a long, determined kiss to partner Ludvigsen, an architect whom she married in 1993. (Letterman was the only person from the show invited to attend the intimate ceremony.) But Gaines was so excited when the show won, she just jumped onstage. The second time she garnered an Emmy, Gaines finally gave her partner a loving kiss, thinking the entire world was watching. She smiles. As they found out later, "it was off-camera."