Larry King's wish list of top interviews throughout history

September 27, 1990|By Bill Bell | Bill Bell,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- Larry King sits on a flowered sofa in a swell hotel suite, overlooking Central Park, doing something out of character. He's answering questions.

Here's one: Which 10 historical figures does he wish he could book right now -- tonight -- for his coast-to-coast weeknight radio or TV talk shows?

"Christ," he says.

"Lincoln. Hitler. Washington. Dickens. Garbo." Pause. "I would ask her only one question: 'Why?'" ''Sir Laurence Olivier." Pause. "The only one I missed when I had a chance: Gorbachev. But for this one, I pretend he speaks English.

"Eugene O'Neill. Babe Ruth."

It's got King thinking about the art of jump-starting an interview, which he mastered, oh, a lot of years ago -- long, long before the 378 stations along the Mutual Broadcasting System and the nightly "Larry King Live!" on CNN made him a star.

Take the imagined interview with Jesus Christ.

"The first question I'd ask is, 'You really believe that your mother and father did not sleep together before you were born?'" He shakes his head. "Sure, it'd light up the switchboard, but it gets to the heart of the theological point, doesn't it?"

Ah, at play with the master of the Art of the Spiel.

He is promoting a new book, "Tell Me More" (Putnam), which drops more names than the Census Bureau. He writes a column for USA Today. He is part of the TNT pro-football broadcast team. And coming soon: the pilot for a weekly NBC interview and entertainment show. "Yeah, life's a bowl of cherries," King says. "I've never had so many things hanging together so right."

On radio, King says, he wings it. No preparation, no talking over topics with guests. He hits it cold. But, on television, he says, he prepares a bit, because the format demands it. (His own homework includes scanning five daily newspapers, three from New York, which are delivered by breakfast to his home outside Washington.)

"Every night, I learn something new," he says.

Guests are booked three weeks ahead on radio, one week on TV. Surprisingly, he does not select guests. "My staff does it," he says. "I have some input, sure, and if I insisted, sure, I could get anyone I wanted. But, my job is interviewing."

There is no set formula. But, there is some talk, then it's to the phones to hear from listeners, some of them holding on for hours. "How do I know when to go to the phones?" he says. "It's a gut feeling. I don't say, 'This guy's getting boring, let's take some calls.'"

But, with some people, he takes calls right away. "Cosby is one. I sense people want to talk to him more than they want to hear me talk to him."

King fetes his 57th birthday Nov. 19; he has been at this for 30 years and has no intention of stepping -- or slowing -- down: "It's still fun."

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