An excerpt of Larry King’s new book – Truth Be Told

Updated
 
An excerpt of Larry King's new book -- Truth Be Told
An excerpt of Larry King's new book -- Truth Be Told

Larry King was on the set of Morning Joe Tuesday to talk about his career, his favorite interviews, and new book, “Truth Be Told.” Watch the video.

Read an excerpt of the book, below.

Time

I’ve never  thought  much about  time, because  I’ve always been too busy looking at my watch.

That sounds like something Yogi Berra might say. But it’s true. You can’t be a broadcaster without being  extremely con- scious of the clock.  I’m never late. I remember a time after I had heart surgery. I was at the La Costa  Resort, waiting  for my surgeon  to meet me so  we could head to  the airport. I said, “Jeez, where  is he?” Somebody  who knew him said, “He can be late. He’s a surgeon. Surgery doesn’t start without  him.”

A broadcaster cannot  be late. Well,  he can. But he’ll be fired. For fifty-three years, my day has been planned around six o’clocks and  nine  o’clocks.  It’s hard to explain how conscious of the clock that makes  you. I can only give you a sense.

Not only are you always conscious of the hour when  you’re in broadcasting, but you also have a heightened  awareness of seconds. When you’ve repeatedly got to slide into a commercial break, you understand exactly how long five seconds lasts.

I used  to have a cheap little clock  on the set  of  Larry King Live. Every time Jerry Seinfeld came on as a guest he’d swipe it. It wasn’t  a case of:  The  show’s over, here’s your clock. He’d never give it back. I’d have  to go to Radio  Shack and buy another.

“Jerry,” I finally said—after he took it for the third time. “Give the clock back.”

“You don’t need it,” he said. “You’ve got a clock in your head.”

He was right. But the strange thing about the clock in my head is that it always seems to be in the future. This is how  it feels: Just say there’s a miracle and I landed an interview with God on Monday  night. It’d be on the front page  of every news- paper: LARRY KING  TO INTERVIEW GOD  MONDAY. You know what I’d be thinking? What am I going  to be doing on Wednesday  night?

For fifty-three years, that’s the way  my mind has worked: thinking about what’s next and constantly checking my watch to make sure I’m on time for it. But that’s very different from stopping  to think  about  time and the meaning of its passing.

As my CNN  show wound  down  the last two weeks  of its twenty-five-year run, a moment came that made me stop to reflect. During   the final minute of  a satellite interview  with Vladimir Putin, the Russian  prime minister  invited  me  to Moscow. Then, through his interpreter,  he turned the tables on me.

“Can I ask you one question?” “Sure.”

“In U.S. mass media,” he said, “there are many talented and interesting people.  But,  still, there  is just one  king there. I don’t ask why he is leaving. But, still, what do you think? We have a right to cry  out: Long live the King! When will there be another man in the world as popular as you happen to be?”

I’ve never taken compliments  well, and my head dipped. It’s OK in broadcasting  to look down  at your notes for an in- stant. But your eyes can’t become glued to your desk.  My head just wouldn’t come up. I doubt many broadcasters have  been faced with a similar situation. It wasn’t a mistake. A reaction isn’t a mistake. I was humbled.

For the first  time since May 1, 1957,  I was speechless. That moment with Putin connected me to my first moment on the air.

As I lowered the music to my theme song in the control booth  of a tiny  radio station in Miami Beach, my mouth  felt like cotton. I couldn’t introduce myself. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. WAHR listeners must  have  wondered what the hell  was going on when I took up the theme song again and lowered it once  more.  Again, no words came out. Maybe  the audience  could hear the pounding  of my heart—but that was about it. I  took up  the theme song  again, then brought  it down  for the third time. Nothing. That’s when the station  manager kicked open the control  room  door  and screamed: “This is a communications business!”

It was as if he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook the words  out  of me. I told  the microphone  how all  my  life  I’d dreamed  of being a broadcaster. I told it how  nervous I was. I told it how  the station manager had just changed  my name a few minutes  earlier and then kicked open the door. I let my- self be me, and the words started flowing.

So my career  had started with  an awkward moment of speechlessness. I couldn’t believe I was actually on the air. And now my television show was approaching an end with another speechless  moment. The  prime minister   of  Russia   has just called me a king.

The  same lesson I learned on my first day guided me through  the awkwardness fifty-three years later: There’s no trick to being  yourself.

My head came up to look at Putin in the monitor.  My words were not memorable, but they were sincere.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I told him. “I have no answer to that.”

In so many ways, the end has brought me back to the beginning. The  moment with Putin makes me look  back on everything that’s happened  since my mother came to America by boat from the tsar’s Russia. I can picture my mother. If I close my eyes, I can even hear her voice: “Again, you’re unemployed?”

She had a great sense of humor,  Jenny Zeiger. The clas- sic Jewish  mother. Truth is, only my mother would have be- lieved  that a kid like me, who never  went  to college, could have had such success. The more I look back, the more un- believable  it becomes.   There have been so many twists and turns.

I think  of my earliest memories  of the Russians.  As a boy I rooted for them when I studied World War II maps in the news- papers. They were fighting the Germans  on the second  front. Everyone I knew loved Joe Stalin. Papa Joe, we called him.

By the time I got my first teenage kiss, we hated him. Stalin had seized the Eastern bloc.

There was panic in America the year I started in radio. Sputnik had been launched. We were no longer in the lead. The Soviets could look down  on us. I was a married man with a young son when I saw tanks roll down the streets of Miami dur- ing the Cuban missile crisis.

Humor helps after moments  like that. The comedian Mort

Sahl did a funny bit on how things change:  An American soldier gets knocked unconscious during World War II and doesn’t wake up until more  than fifteen years later.

“Get me my gun!” he says. “Get me my gun! I’m gonna go kill those Germans!”

“No, no,” the  doctors try to calm him, “the Germans are our friends.”

“Are you crazy?” the soldier says, “We’ve got to help the Russians get the Germans.”

“No, no, no. World War II ended years ago. The Russians are our enemies.”

“I’ll  tell you what then,”  the soldier says. “Get  me my gun so I can help the Chinese  wipe out the Japs.”

“No, no, no, no. The Japanese  are now our friends. The Communist Chinese are our enemies.”

“What a crazy world.” The soldier shakes  his head. “I’d better rest. I think I’ll take a vacation. Maybe a couple of weeks in Cuba.”

By the time the Vietnam War started, I was interviewing everyone  from generals to Soviet defectors on local radio and television. I was Mr. Miami. We were told the war would stop the domino  spread of Communism. Not  long after we figured out our mistake,   the Soviets made one of their  own and in- vaded Afghanistan. By then, I was on all night, coast to coast. President Carter came on my Mutual Broadcasting radio show to explain  the U.S. boycott of the Moscow  Olympics.

I couldn’t even  get CNN  on my television in Washington when Ted Turner started it. Ted didn’t see the satellite as an enemy. One of the few rules he had when I joined CNN  in 1985 was that we couldn’t say the word foreign. Borders were crazy to him. He wanted to use  satellites to bring people together.

By the time the Berlin Wall came down,  the backdrop  of my show was known around  the world.  Mikhail Gorbachev came to meet me for lunch  wearing  suspenders.  Boris Yeltsin watched me announce  that OJ was heading down the freeway in the white Bronco. When he arrived in the U.S. for a presi- dential  conference,  the first question   Yeltsin  whispered  into President Clinton’s ear was: “Did he do it?”

I think back to my mother and all those Jews  who  left the pogroms and Russia  at the turn of the twentieth century.  And I think of the irony of Putin  telling me in our  first meeting that his favorite place in the world to visit is Jerusalem.

How could it be that so much time has passed? Seems like I was just running  down  the streets of Bensonhurst   with  my friend Herbie  to celebrate V-E Day. Suddenly, I’m celebrating my show’s twenty-fifth anniversary? Then I’m announcing that my show  is going  to end? When I did, the most popular sports star  in Washington,  D.C.,   was the Russian  hockey player Alexander Ovechkin. And Putin  called to ask if he could make a final visit before I signed  off. Maybe this is what  Ted Turner had hoped  for when  he started the network.

Yes, we have come full  circle.   Once again, we can be friendly with the Russians. Everything  changes, and everything stays the same. Again, you’re unemployed?

Why is the world like this? I have no idea—only  another good joke that confirms it.

A guy living in the Bronx takes his shoes in for repair. It’s December 6, 1941. The next day, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and he enlists.

He goes overseas. He fights the war, meets a Japanese girl, marries her. He goes into business, lives in Tokyo for twenty-five years. One day he comes back to the United  States for a busi- ness meeting. He’s going through an old wallet and finds a ticket stub for that old pair  of shoes. It’s marked December 6, 1941.

He wonders if the shoe store  is still there. So he asks his limo driver to take him up to the Bronx.

There  it is! John’s Shoe Repair.

“I’m gonna go in with the ticket,” the guy tells the driver, “just to see what  happens.”

He walks in. It’s the same repairman!

The guy hands John the repairman the ticket. John the repairman turns and shuffles to the back.

A minute later he returns to the counter and says, “They’ll be ready next Tuesday.”

From “Truth be Told” by Larry King. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted with permission of Weinstein Books.

An excerpt of Larry King's new book -- Truth Be Told

Updated