In this breezy chat, Larry King talks with Paul about his early days in Miami and encourages us all to keep on wondering.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is our great pleasure to welcome the one and only Larry King. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you, Paul. Good to be with you.
Who is Larry King?
He is a Jewish man from Brooklyn who got into broadcasting with a life-long wish and pinches himself every day over his success. He is a father of five: three grown and two little boys and he is, uh, one of the lucky people alive.
Going back kind of to the beginning, you’ve interviewed sixty thousand people. I want you to take us back. What’s your most vivid memory from being a radio personality in Miami Beach?
Well, it was where I started. It was where I did my first interview. It was in a restaurant. Bobby Darin walked in. He wasn’t booked. No one expected him and we became friends and that was my first ever major interview. It’s where my whole career started and spent the first twenty years of my life.
How did you feel when you were interviewing Bobby Darin?
Well, I was a great admirer of his. First, I flipped that he came in on his own. He had listened to the show. I was just a kid and ‘Mack the Knife’ had been number one, maybe one of the greatsingles ever recorded and I lov music and so I felt terrific. I asked him a lot of great questions. He had a poignant moment ‘cause he said he knew he was going to die young.
You’ve interviewed a lot of musicians through the years. Are you a music fan?
Oh, big! Yeah, I love music. Especially Sinatra, the Pops, Jazz, a lot of Country…yeah, but put me down as Sinatra and then the world.
You’re probably known as the most famous interviewer. Who do you think is the best interviewer or interviewers that’s out there today?
Well, Mike Wallace is very ill. Mike was one of my favorites and he was a good friend. He is a good friend but he’s not in good shape now. I like Ryan Seacrest a lot for what he does, especially hosting shows and asking interviews on the fly. I don’t like interviewers who interview themselves and there’s too much of that now. I don’t really see a great interviewer around.
Well, not just in terms of journalism, as people, what person has influenced you the most?
I’ve had a lot of influences on me in my life. The great attorney, Edward Bennett Williams befriended me. Jackie Gleason had a great affect on me; Red Barber the famed sports announcer, Arthur Godfrey. I couldn’t name one person that was a great influence. Arthur Godfrey gave me the best advice I ever had which was, uh, that the only secret in broadcasting is there’s no secret. Uh, be yourself. The best advice I ever got.
This question comes from Lana Hughes from the United Kingdom, and she asks: With all your experience, what has been your most valuable lesson both professionally and personally?
It’s my motto and it’s something I wish more broadcasters would take heed of, and the motto is: I never learned anything when I was talking.
To break it down, I leave myself out. I don’t use the word “I” in interviews. I askshort questions. I listen to the answer and I’m the conduit to the audience. I never learned anything when I was talking.
It has to be a great feeling when you have a guest come on that you’ve always wanted to talk to. How did you feel when you learned Frank Sinatra was going to be a guest on your show?
Well, it was a great moment. Jackie Gleason said he would get him for me since Sinatra didn’t do any interviews and he owed Jackie a favor. I didn’t know it at the time. Sinatra told me that when he came on and that began a long set…I interviewed many times. I did the last interview with Frank…last television interview…and we always got along and I found him a terrific interviewee because he had what you wanted in an interview subject. That is, he had passion, he had a sense of humor, he could explain what he did very well. He could literally put you on the stage. You felt the moments with him. But it was a great feeling just to be in his presence ‘cause I was a kid who use to stand on line at the Paramount Theater in New York and hope to get in to see Frank Sinatra. I was a great fan of his and to be in his presence and to get to ask him questions and have him reveal things to me and I’ve gotten letters from him over years. I put a couple of them in my last book. In fact, I’m looking at one now that’s framed on the wall. I have a painting that he did. He loved to paint, Frank. He was a special force in my life and I thank Gleason forever for making it possible for me to interview him.
The first time you interviewed, him were you nervous?
I was excited more than nervous. It was temporary…it made me nervous for a second but more than that, excited. I knew a long time ago there was really nothing to be nervous about in an interview because the interviewer controls it. I mean, I’m the one asking the questions so, once you get past that initial the first time in the White House interviewing a president…naturally, you’re in the White House…you’re a little bit in awe, you realize, you know, that everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time. That’s true.
Who have you always wanted to interview, but they’ve continuously eluded you?
Well, Dylan…Bob Dylan…he wouldn’t be number one on the list, but I’ve never been able to get him and Bruce Springsteen, you know. I think number one would be Fidel Castro. He led his country for more years than any leader ever led a country. Forgetting politics, he was a revolutionary, he was in prison, he was a baseball player. He never was in it for money. He continues to…I went to Havana two years ago to try to get him…We had meetings with people, still haven’t got him but I have not given up.
You mentioned Bob Dylan a second ago. When people like Bob Dylan are known for not doing interviews, would you say that makes you want to interview them more?
Sure. Of course. Someone who doesn’t want to do interviews…of course you wonder why they don’t want to do interviews. Why wouldn’t someone want to talk about the profession they’re in? Ninety-nine percent of the people I know always enjoy talking about what they do. They might not want to talk about who they’re married to or who they’re sleeping with or about their personal life, but I never met anyone that didn’t want to talk about what they do so Dylan has been a puzzle to me. Brando didn’t do interviews either, but then I did two interviews with him and found him delightful.
What goes through your mind when an interview starts to go bad or the subject won’t talk?
You know what goes through your mind, this is really true Paul…it ain’t brain surgery. All you can do is all you can do. It’s frustrating. You like to make more things happen but it’s…Tuesday will become Wednesday. It’s not the end of the world. You do the best you can. All you can do is all you can do.
Who has been the most entertaining person to talk to?
Comics. I like doing comedy, I do comedy myself. People who make me laugh are entertaining. Rickles is entertaining. Mel Brooks, the list is endless, Jerry Seinfeld, Carl Reiner…funny people are the best for me. I love to laugh.
Have you ever interviewed someone and you just knew during the interview that you were going to become a great friend with that person?
No. There haven’t been many that I’ve become great friends with because usually, an interview is passing in the night…they become acquaintances. Those who became great friends….Sinatra became a very good friend, I would say. Gleason became a great friend. Mario Como became probably became the closest. He was governor of New York and I got very close to him but generally that doesn’t happen, you know. It’s a moment in time…they’re the guest, you’re the host and you do the best. With politicians it’s not a good idea to become a good friend.
You’ve always been a guy who has embraced technology. You have over two million people following you on Twitter, and now the new chapter of the Larry King story is that you’ll have a show on…and everyone can visit this website…it’s spelled: ova…
Ora, yeah…”ora” means “now” and it’s funded by Carlos Slim…the Mexican who is the richest man in the world and who was a fan of mine. I spoke to him at an event of his and we got along. He came to my house for dinner. I interviewed him and we got the idea…he came up with…we both came up with the idea, “Larry King should not leave the airways,” so…and I’m not a technology freak but I aware that what’s going on in the world is going on so I know that social networking is the future and we’re going to do a internet television network. My show will be back. I’ll have more details on it as time goes by. We’re setting up the platform now so I’m very excited about it.
It’s going to be interesting. What is the best thing about being Larry King?
Uh…the best thing is fatherhood. You know, success is one thing and it’s really nice but having two young boys who you take to school every day and you pick up at night and you’re seventy-eight years old and you’re in reasonably good health having suffered a heart attack twenty-five years ago and had bypass surgery and you’re still around. You got a young wife and you live in…I’m looking out now on my pool and my guest house…I’m in Beverly Hills…(Laughs)…it’s not bad. That don’t mean everything’s right and that you don’t have some bad days and you don’t have some arguments and disagreements. That’s life. But boy….and I got it pretty lucky. Paul Newman told me once, “Any…any successful person who, in discussing their life and career, doesn’t use the word “luck” is a liar.” I was lucky…I was lucky that Ted Turner liked me. I was lucky that I made the left turn, the right turn…lucky that someone advised me to go down to Miami. But the best thing about being it is fatherhood.
The great thing about the internet is that this interview can be heard anywhere in the world. For anyone who is listening in, do you have any parting words of wisdom?
Bertrand Russell, the great teacher, philosopher, and Nobel Prize winner was once asked: “Dr. Russell, what do you know? You’re ninety-five years old. What do you know?” And he said, “The only thing I know is that I don’t know.”
And the truth of my life is, “I don’t know,” has led to everything that’s happened to me because I have never, ever lost my curiosity. So the word of wisdom I would give to people is: Don’t stop asking. Don’t stop wondering. And the best word you can ever use is “why.” Good luck!
TRANSCRIBED BY LORI DOMINGO