'Is He Happy? Is He All Right?'

By David Finkel
Sunday, January 13, 1991


Larry King says this in that perfect radio voice of his, deep in pitch, confiding in tone, a voice that fills the room where he has come this evening to give a speech.

He is in a synagogue, looking out at 700 people who have paid $20 and up to see him. The synagogue is in Philadelphia, a somewhat uncomfortable place for him to be at the moment because it is the home of Julie King, his sixth wife, whom he is in the process of divorcing. Even as he speaks, she is down the road in her own place, preparing for a final trip to his Arlington apartment to pack up her clothes.

But he is here anyway because he is rich and famous and adored by his fans, and if a synagogue in Philadelphia wants to pay him $15,000 to speak, the least he can do is take a train north, sign some autographs, pose for some pictures and tell some stories from a remarkable life. He is a good speaker, instantly likable, and when he is done, and the synagogue fills with applause, he decides to tell one story more.

"This," he says, "is known as the Carvel story. I've told it on the air. It's in an earlier book. I haven't told it in a while, but you've been a wonderful audience, very warm and nice, and so I'll tell it."

And with that, out comes the most remarkable story of the evening. It involves the neighborhood in Brooklyn where King grew up, and a snowy night in November 1950, and two of King's boyhood friends. One was Herbie Cohen, who remains one of King's closest friends to this day. The other was "Sandy Koufax, later to become a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher."

"We were having a vicious argument -- about ice cream," King says. "I loved Borden's. Herbie loved Breyers. Sandy loved Carvel . . . Finally, we got to price, and Sandy says he knows a Carvel in New Haven, Connecticut, that serves three scoops for 15 cents. Herbie says, 'That's impossible, Sandy. I'll bet you.' I said, 'That's impossible, they can't serve three scoops for 15 cents.' So there's only one way to prove the bet: Three 17-year-old kids are going to drive to New Haven, Connecticut, on this Monday night to find this Carvel and check it out -- because we bet Sandy."

The story goes on from there. They drive and drive, Larry and Herbie up front, Sandy and another kid named Bernie in the back. They find the Carvel, where the price for three scoops is indeed 15 cents, and then they pile back in the car. "Sandy knew New Haven pretty good," King goes on. "He says, 'Listen, I'll drive you around. Cut down this street, and we'll be on Broadway, and I'll show you the main drag.' " Somehow, they end up at an election rally. Somehow, Larry and Herbie end up on stage introducing the mayor. "Sandy can't believe it," King says. "He collapses. He's on the floor . . . he couldn't stop laughing." It takes King more than 10 minutes to tell the entire story, and when he is done the ovation is loud and long. "Every inch of this story is true," he says. "It seems like it's not, but it's true. I swear to God."

But there's a problem.

"This is Sandy Koufax," the man on the phone says a few days later. "I've never been in New Haven, not to this day."

Furthermore, he says, he and Larry King have never been friends.

In fact, he says, even though they grew up in the same neighborhood, he didn't get to know King until long after both had left Brooklyn behind. King was on the radio by the time they met, and the Carvel story had already become a part of his life.

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© 1991 The Washington Post Company