“You learn the secret of this business, which is there’s no secret. Be yourself.”

LARRY KING has been dubbed “the most remarkable talk-show host on TV ever” by TV Guide and “master of the mike” by Time magazine. He has done more than 50,000 interviews throughout his half century in broadcasting, including exclusive sit-downs with every U.S. president since Gerald Ford. Larry King Live debuted on CNN in 1985 and ran for 25 years. Described as the “Muhammad Ali of the broadcast interview,” Larry has been inducted into five of the nation’s leading broadcasting halls of fame and is the recipient of both a lifetime Emmy Award and the prestigious Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media. Both his radio and television shows have won the George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. He is the author of several books, including his autobiography My Remarkable Journey. He is currently the host of Larry King Now, produced by Ora TV.

Note from Tim: My friend Cal Fussman (TW: @calfussman, calfussman.com) is a New York Times best-selling author and writer-at-large for Esquire magazine, where he is best known as a primary writer of the “What I Learned” feature. He’s interviewed dozens of shapers of modern culture including Mikhail Gorbachev, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson, among others. Cal also has breakfast with Larry King nearly every morning in L.A. Since Larry can be hard to nail down and I was dying to have him in this book, Cal was kind enough to interview him in my stead. We also wanted to focus on some of Larry’s stories, so you’ll notice that the format and questions are different. Thanks, Cal and Larry!

Larry King’s first morning as a broadcaster:

Now it’s Monday morning, May first, 1957. I get there like six o’clock, I go on at nine. My uncle hugs me and kisses me. It was a warm, muggy, sunny Miami Beach morning. Eight 41st Street, right opposite the police station. I would visit that last year, by the way. It’s another station now.

But anyway, I walk in as a secretary comes in at about eight and say hello to the all-night guy and stack up my records. I’m ready to play and Marshall ‐ [Simmons, the general manager,] says, “Come into my office,” like quarter to nine.

And he says, “This your first day on the air, the best of luck to you.” And I said, “Thank you.” He said, “What name are you going to use?” “What are you talking about?” “Well, Larry Zeiger”—that was my name—“ain’t going to work.” Now, it would work. Now, any name would go. Engelbert Humperdinck. Any name would go.

So he says it won’t work, it’s a little too ethnic. And people won’t know how to spell it and we got to change your name.

I said, “I’m going on the air in 12 minutes.” He said, “Well . . .” He had the Miami Herald open, I would later write a column for them. All these things are like miracles. And there was an ad for King’s Wholesale Liquor on Washington Avenue. He looked and said, “How about Larry King?”

I said, “Okay, it sounds good.” [. . .] Anyway, so now I got a new name. I’m about to go on the air.

Nine o’clock.

I start the record, [hums] I lower the record, put on the microphone, and nothing comes out.

CF: Nothing comes out of your mouth?

LK: Nothing. I bring the record back up, lower down, bring up, lower down and I am panicked. I am sweating. I’m looking at the clock, and I literally said to myself, “I can’t do it. I can do a lot of things, but I’m nervous and maybe my whole career is done.” And Marshall Simmons, God rest him, kicked open the door of the control room and said, “This is a communications business, dammit. Communicate!”

He closed the door. I turned down the record, put the mic on, and said, “Good morning. My name is Larry King, and that’s the first time I’ve ever said that

because I just been given this name, and let me tell you, this is my first day ever on the air. And all my life I dreamed of this. When I was five years old, I would imitate announcers. [. . .]

“And I’m nervous. I’m very nervous here. So please bear with me.” And I play the record and was never nervous again.

And later in life that’s a story I told Arthur Godfrey, Jackie Gleason, others, and they said, “You learn the secret of this business, which is there’s no secret. Be yourself.” So what I did that day, I wasn’t conceiving this, carried through me for 60 years, which is, be yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask a question, don’t be afraid to sound stupid.

Cal Fussman’s favorite Larry King story:

I just started radio. I was on the air two months and working nine to 12 in the afternoon and I’m loving every second of it.

I mean, I can’t wait to get there. I can’t wait to be on. God, I loved it.

And general manager Marshall Simmons called me in and said, “Al Fox, the all-night guy, is sick tonight. Would you do the all-night show?” and I said, “Sure.” He said, “You’ll be here alone, you know. It’s a very small station. We don’t have an engineer at night. You just record the meter readings, play music, and talk. You are on from midnight to six. And then you’ll hang around, will be on again at nine and then get some rest.”

“Oh boy, sure, I’ll be fine.” Now I’m alone in the station, I’m playing records and I’m talking to people about the time and the weather and what’s going on in the world. And the phone rings and I pick it up and I said, “W-A-H-R.”

And this woman’s voice—I could tell you the truth, Cal, I can almost hear it now.

This sexy woman voice says, “I want you.”

Remember, I’m 22 years old. I think the pimples on my face are from Hershey bars. I am a Jew in heat. No one has ever said to me, “I want you.”

And I suddenly said to myself: There are more than two benefits to being in this business.

So I said, “Whoah whoah whoah whoah whoah. What do you want?” She says, “Come over. Come over to my house.” I said, “I’m on the air. I get off at six. I’ll be over at six.” “I live only ten blocks away. I have to go to work at six, so it’s now or never. Here’s my address. Try to come over.”

I’ve got this moral dilemma now. My career, my radio, but no one has ever said, “I want you.” So here’s what the radio audience heard: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m just filling in tonight. So I’m going to give you a particularly good time. I’m going to play the entire Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall album uninterrupted.”

I had 23 minutes, which is all the time I needed, which is still true to this day.

Anyway, I put the record on—we didn’t have tapes then—zoom out to the car, drive to her house, and there’s the car she described in the driveway. I pull into the house, the light is on over the door. I go into a little dark room, and there’s this woman in a white negligee sitting on the couch. She opens her arms, I grab her, I hold her, my cheek’s against her, and she’s got the radio on.

And I’m hearing Harry Belafonte and he’s singing “Jamaica Farewell” and he sings, “Down the way where the nights, where the nights, where the nights . . .” The record gets stuck. I place the girl back at the end of the couch, run out to

my car. Jewish masochism, I keep the radio on all the way driving to the station, “where the nights, where the nights, where the nights . . .”

I get in, and all the lights are going, flashing from people calling in. I’m totally embarrassed. I’m picking up, I’m apologizing to people, and the last caller was an older Jewish man. And I just said, “W-A-H-R, good morning,” and all I hear was “Where the nights, where the nights, where the nights . . . I am going crazy with “‘where the nights.’” I say, “Gee, I’m sorry, why didn’t you just change the station?” And he said, “I’m an invalid. I’m in bed and a nurse takes care of me. She leaves at night and she sets it to your station. The radio is up on the bureau, I can’t reach it. I’m stuck.” I say, “Gee, can I do anything for you?” He says, “Yeah, play ‘Hava Nagila.’”

Can you name one to three books that have massively impacted your life?
The Catcher in the Rye would be one. Lou Gehrig: A Quiet Hero, by Frank ‐ Graham.

What is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?

I try to total up words [or letters] in a phrase or a sentence and then divide it to see if I get an even number, like: “True love” divided by 2 is 4. Four letters in each thing. I don’t want an odd number, I want an even number. I do that a lot in my head.

Everyone has little unusual [things]. For example, my pills—I take a lot of prescription pills and vitamins—have to be in order in the closet. And when I lay them out for the next day, I have to take them in the same order. That’s a rule.

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