Q: In (your) book, when you talk about your Miami experience, (you have) repeated references to (the importance you attached to) being a "big man" in town. You had a real need for that.
A: Yeah, I was like two people. I had total confidence in myself on the air. Man, when that light went on, I had no problems. It was when the light was off that I had the problem. Larry Zeigler -- I don't think (he) believed that Larry King was the same person. I didn't make a lot of money, and I had to live better than that. I was impressionable. I've talked to a psychologist friend a great deal about it who thinks that I ought to stop wondering about what I was trying to prove and just go on. But I changed my life considerably; Bob Woolf handles all of my funds. I don't see my paycheck. It goes to him. I get an allowance. I put a buffer between me and that tendency I have to overspend.
What's happened to me is that the two have come together. The Larry King who is on the air is the same as Larry King, off. And oddly enough, I appreciate adulation and it's really nice getting all these nice things said, but I was much more involved in it when I was making $25,000 in Miami and thinking that I had to be a big man.
Q: Did you think you weren't worth the adulation?
A: Yeah, I'm positive of that. I mean, I was a kid who didn't go to college. My father had died. I was poorer than the other kids growing up. We had moved to a neighborhood that was a little above us. My mother struggled a lot.
Q: Did you expect (The Larry King Show) to take off like it did? You were down and out in '78.
A: I wasn't down and out; I'd gotten back on the job in Miami. I was on the radio again.
Q: You were 44? You (were) on the verge of bankruptcy? (You thought) it was going to fly when it happened?
A: No. I thought that I was lucky enough to be back on the air in Miami. That I had found a straightening-out mechanism to help me with past problems. The call came from Mutual to come up to Washington to talk about this. I was semiexcited. You know, you're in your 40s. The dreams of networks were in your 30s. It ain't the same high it would have been at 35. At 35 you're still called "promising." At 45, well, you've had your shot.
Q: Were you afraid you were over the hill?
A: Oh no, no. I never thought that.
Q: Why not? You had plenty of reason to think so.
A: Because I knew I had talent. I always knew I could do it -- I think I do what I do damn well. I mean, I do.
Q: When you were in Shreveport, (La., in 1974, working as a public relations man for a race track), your career damn near bottomed out.
A: Yeah -- but I always knew I had talent. In fact, the worst part about being out of work, aside from missing what I did very much, was listening to inferior talent. You know, when you say, "Gees, how did that person get on the air?" When you know you're good. That part was tough.
Q: When you were in Miami with your bankruptcy problems, clearly you ended up becoming a gifted (liar). You had to because you had all these (creditors) hanging around. (Some of the anecdotes) in the book are almost too good to be true. I mean, a 35-year- old woman in a negligee.
(In his autobiography, King recounts a tale of a woman he did not know calling the station to invite him to an assignation while he was on the air. He says he went to meet her, after putting a long-playing Harry Belafonte record on the air. The album, of course, stuck, repeating the same phrase over and over. This required him to run back to the station to change it.)
Now is that really true, or are you making up your own life?
A: No, that exactly happened, and then you have to know Miami. There's no one in Miami who was surprised by that story. And of the 11 interviews I've done so far, eight radio people have told me that they had a similar thing happen. It's not unusual.
God, there are things not in the book that were bizarre. There was a disc jockey at the station I'm working at, and he's married. But he was also engaged to someone else. He was leading a totally double life. He saw his wife and he saw this other person, and he gave her a ring, and he knew her family and his wife's family. He was a disc jockey, and I would do the news on his shift. We all worked a lot of hours. One day his wife was at the station with his in-laws, and his fiancee came with her parents.
Q: You're not making this up.
A: No. The guy's name was (deleted). In the studio, standing -- are his wife, his fianc,e, her parents, the other's parents. He's on the air. A record is playing. I'm waiting in the corner because I got another 20 minutes until the news comes on.
He looks around and he says, "Sylvia, this is Sandy." And theyyboth look at each other.
"And who is Sandy?"
"Sandy is my wife."
"Your WIFE?" And the prospective father- in-law of the girl-friend starts to say, "I'm going to -- ." (King makes gesture with his hands as if going toward a throat.)
And (the disk jockey) goes, "HOLD IT! I'm on the AIR!" And he put the mike on and he said, "That was Perry Como." He just started talking.
They were all going to each other "Shhhh!, shhhh! shhhh!"
"HOLD IT, I'm on the AIR, man! WAIT!"
He's on the air. I mean, the guy was going to KILL HIM! All that happened.
Q: You're not reinventing your own life now?
A: No. (Name deleted). (Station call letters) WAHR.
Q: (In the book you wrote about) Milton Berle. Poor Jewish boy, suddenly makes success. There were these comments that you had in there. You say that he was "brash, egotistical, and yet charming," he's the kind of guy "who made (his) way out of poverty to become a big star," (who had a) "need for adulation and reassurance." I thought, "I wonder if he's talking about himself?"
A: They're true about me. They're true about Johnny Carson. I always love it when a guy says, "I don't need this business." Sinatra -- he quit, right? "I don't need it -- who needs it? I could do four specials a year, make $5 million and then work Vegas once in awhile." Why does he need it?
Q: He needs the reassurance.
A: Sure he does.
Q: And you do, too.
A: Everybody does. So do you.
Q: (You ask) a good question in your book -- I guess, again, it was to Milton Berle. I might as well ask you. Do you feel that your Jewishness had anything to do with your capacity to be funny or your capacity as a communicator, this need you've got to do this?
A: Yeah. I'm not religious. (But) that's instilled. It's very cultural. To make a mark. To make your place, to be on top -- be a doctor, be a lawyer, help your people, communicate, make people laugh. (Gaining) recognition is a byproduct of all these professions.
Q: You're a certified celebrity, you've got your autobiography out. You've got your television show. And yet, here you're setting in a furnished hotel apartment -- is this where you're living?
A: Well, I'm separated from my wife. This is a wonderful interim spot for me, while separated, because there's 24-hour switchboard service. They can do your clothes and your laundry and stuff. It's in a very convenient location. I've been here only six months. And that doesn't bother me.
Q: It doesn't bother you to live in a situation where you're --
A: Well, sure, I miss home -- but my life didn't revolve around that. You know, I'm a workaholic, and my life revolves around what I do outside.
Q: Well, you finally made it now -- how does it feel?
A: It feels very nice. There are moments that I feel bad because I could have had it all sooner.
Q: If you just hadn't screwed up your life in Florida.
A: Yeah. I mean, I was damn good when I was 30. Christ, I was good. I always had control of a situation. I knew pacing. One thing I'm glad I haven't lost is my exuberance. I'm still looking forward to doing tonight's show.
Q: Is being Larry King getting to be a role for you?
A: No. It was. But it's come together. I've imposed discipline. One of the things I used to need every two weeks was that check. Man, here it is, I've got to play with it, I've got to move it around. I don't have it any more. I mean, I don't have my income. I've given (Wolfe) power of attorney.
Q: It's like kicking alcohol.
A: Correct, correct. It's a very similar comparison. The first realization that the alcoholic has to make is that he is an alcoholic. The first realization I had to make was -- I can't handle money well. So I've hired someone who is brilliant at what he does -- and as he said to me, "I can't do your show." And I can't do his show.
Q: You began to take control of your life and start (taking) responsibility -- this was also about the time the (second) marriage started breaking up?
A: The marriage broke up for a different reason. I am a workaholic. I get an emotional release from what I do. I get a feedback from what I do. I have a daughter that I adore, living near me now. I think there 's such a thing as energy level. If you're giving a tremendous, intense energy level to other things -- . There's only so much energy. If we divide up a pie -- a happy marriage, let's say, would have 60 percent to the marriage, 40 percent to the job. I don't think I'm capable of that.
Q: So you're going to do five nights a week radio, and -- .
A: And one night television.
Q: That's insane! You were about to say there were very few good talk show hosts.
A: Very few. Sure. They can't do an intense interview. They haven't heard the answer. They don't listen. A good talk show host listens. Carefully listens.
Bob and Ray did a takeoff on one once.
"Here comes a gentleman -- what's your name?"
And the guy says, "John Smith."
And he says, "Where do you live?"
"Bay Shore, Long Island."
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a KGB agent!"
"Are you married?"
"What brings you to New York?"
"I'm here to blow up the U.N. Building."
"Have you seen My Fair Lady?"
That is so typical.
Q: (On the talk show circuit) you're going to encounter people there who've never read your book (the way you brag about not reading other author's books before you interview them). How do you feel about that?
A: It's the time factor (that gets to me). Everybody gets five and a half minutes -- don't matter. I was on ("Live at Five" in New York). I had the impression going back to the airport, that if Ted Kennedy were on for his five and half minutes, and at five minutes and 10 seconds into the interview, he said, "You know, it's gone on long enough -- I'm going to tell the truth about Chappaquiddick!" the host would say, "Thank you, Ted, but we've got Bonzo the Clown right behind you -- back in two minutes.
Q: Are there tricks of methodology to (interviewing)? Do you ever get some total turkeys on the air? Do you just think to yourself, "This guy is the most boring (idiot) in the history of Western man?"
A: Yeah. I get them. We're having a sound explosion in America. Stereos and hi-fis are the rage. So we book a guy who is a nationally renowned expert on sound. I try, of course, to keep the interview very non-technical. So I ask him, "What is stereo?" It sounds like a dumb question, but what is it? How do you produce it? How important is a speaker? It was wonderful interviewing. Now the calls. Every call was technical. I fell asleep.
Bill Macy came on, and he was inebriated, the actor. We start the show, and I ask him one question, and instead of answering it, he said, "May I take off my clothes?" And I said, "Sure." He stripped to his underwear. Now while he stripped, I said something about next week's show, and went back to him.
Q: On the air now?
A: Oh, sure. So I said, "Mr. Macy is now sitting in his underwear" and he said, "Yeah, it's radio, I'm more comfortable this way."
I do a lot of public speaking, I only do humor. I like being funny. Actually, the biggest kick I get is making people laugh. That's such a high. I've talked to comedians about this.
Q: You'd rather be a comedian than a -- .
A: Oh! A comedian or a baseball announcer. Baseball because I love it. Comedy because (of) hearing people laugh. There are a lot of people, if you just listen to the early part of the show, they don't know that I'm funny. There's a joy -- comics have told me about this for years -- when you make someone laugh, that's a kind of mass "I love you."
What you're trying to dissect is "celebrity.
There is a lot of lying about it. Shelly Berman was so honest to me about it once. Shelly got very famous at one time in the '60s with his comedy albums and Second City. He said, "I used to say I don't like fame. I want a private life. Two weeks ago I was in a Chinese restaurant, nobody came over. Nobody even looked. I panicked!" When people tell you, "I don't want to be well known," it's bulls - - -. Absolute bulls - - -. If Howard Cosell walked on an airplane and no one looked -- . The stewardess just said, "Now, your seat is here." He'd freak. Freak! It does bizarre things to you. You can't tell what it's going to do to you.
Q: Do you feel like you're performing?
A: You bet your a--.
3 Q:10 Are you performing right now?
A: No. See, you're asking me to separate me from me. If I was at dinner, I would tell that story the same way. How do you separate that? CAPTION: Picture, Larry King, 48, is the Washington-based host of "The Larry King Show," the Mutual Radio Network midnight-to-dawn national radio talk show that has become so successful, with 250 stations in all 50 states broadcasting it, and 3 to 4 million insomniacs listening to it six nights a week, that King has been referred to as the "Phil Donahue of radio."
King's success is even more remarkable because 10 years ago, he had so mismanaged his affairs as a Miami radio, television and newspaper personality that he had been accused of grand larceny in connection with $5,000 in cash he had received from a millionaire financier (in a case that was later dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out), was unemployed, divorced, and was on his way to a 1978 bankruptcy that would show him unable to repay over $300,000 in debts.
King, who was born Larry Ziegler in Brooklyn, is about to launch a weekly television interview show. His new book, "Larry King by Larry King," also happens to be by Emily Yoffe.