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As it happened Wednesday night, the much-vaunted debate between vice-presidential hopefuls Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle may have been but a prelude to the evening’s real debate: between Shirley MacLaine and David Letterman. The former was on the latter’s “Late Night” show to chat up her new film, “Madame Sousatzka.” Instead, Letterman peppered MacLaine with questions about her very special blend of mysticism. Part of the exchange went like this:

MacLaine: “I already said I don’t think we can get into it and you keep harping on it. Maybe Cher was right, maybe you are an (expletive).” (NBC censors bleeped the remark.)

Letterman: “Why did you call me that?”

MacLaine: “I thought it was a funny remark.”


Letterman: “Calling me an (expletive)?”

Finally, when the interview segment was agonizingly winding down, Letterman asked MacLaine, “Is there anything you want to talk about?”

MacLaine: “You’re the interviewer, you tell me. . . . You’ve wanted me here for three years.”

Letterman: “And I think we’ll probably wait another three.”