King tells us more, but little of substance

September 23, 1990|By MIKE CUTHBERT

Tell Me More.

Larry King with Peter Occhiogrosso.

Putnam.

302 pages. $19.95. Larry King is a storyteller by preference. He discovered, 30 years ago, a perfect way to find sources for stories: talk to people. And he has talked, first on radio and now on television, and he has told stories in print (this is his fourth book) and in USA Today, where he has a weekly column of tidbits.

Much of his work is based on asking what he calls the "dumb question," which, to Mr. King, is the best kind to ask since it gets at basic information. The problem is what to do when interviews and books never get beyond the "dumb question."

Mr. King's busy schedule for radio, TV and print is made possible because he rarely, if ever, prepares for any of his shows. He takes pride in the fact that he often knows nothing about his subjects or his guests. "I've admitted my ignorance up front," he says, and feels that this is why guests talk with him so honestly.

For him, it seems enough to know the celebrities he meets and talks with, and he seems honestly and somewhat innocently to enjoy their company, particularly since he has become ......TC celebrity himself. That is perhaps what is, at bottom, the most frustrating thing about "Tell Me More." We are left hoping that this man, who has audiences in diverse media, cares about more than celebrity. But Mr. King seems more interested in asking "dumb questions" than in going beyond them to substance.

"Tell Me More" is curiously dated. Most of the stories are the kind one would hear from the guys at the corner bar (if anybody went there any more): the Borscht Belt and old comics, sports, gambling and wild women. There are some gems, such as the story told by Bob Costas to Mr. King about his father and a bet on a Tigers game when Mickey Lolich was pitching, but others seem virtually to celebrate a rejection of the present. Here's Larry King on music: "I started in the business in 1957, and I never left Sinatra, Basie, and Ella. Presley was all right. I thought the Beatles were crazy, and then Arthur Fiedler convinced me they were good."

Mr. King has become a widely watched and listened-to talk show host, and he enjoys his work. You probably will enjoy his stories in "Tell Me More" as well, although you will not discover much of any depth here. For Larry King, it is enough that "from the general public, I don't get much flak" and the new president of El Salvador, among others, is one of his biggest fans. Maybe that, and surviving for 30 years on radio and television, should be enough for anybody.

Mr. Cuthbert is the host of an issue-oriented nighttime talk show on WAMU-FM in Washington.

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