Using only his head, Gabby doc tells all

Russell Baker

November 09, 1992|By Russell Baker

DOCTOR Harold J. Liverworth, world-famous expert, makes some startling confessions in his newest book, "Stop My Head Before It Talks Again."

"It was greed and vanity that made me a talking head," his book begins. Before conquering these vices, the doctor was talking on as many as eight television shows every Sunday.

Worse, he began nursing homicidal fantasies involving competitive talking heads like Sam Donaldson and George Will of David Brinkley's Sunday show and Bob Novak, the famous all-purpose talking head.

"I hated it that Sam could talk louder, longer and raspier than I," writes the doctor. "I hated it that George could talk more aphoristically than I. And I hated it that Bob could not only talk more menacingly than I, but could also look twice as terrifying as I."

These professional jealousies arose from the fact that Dr. Liverworth was a respected talking head years before his rivals were anything more than obscure Washington salon talkers.

He had been a frequent guest on "Ask the Experts," a 1953 TV panel show that talked to parents about adolescent children. "It was easy work in those days," he writes, "since most teen-agers did not yet carry handguns. As a result, experts didn't have to worry about being gunned down if they said children who failed Latin might justifiably be forbidden to use the family Buick on Saturday night."

The present book, Dr. Liverworth's 113th, is the first in which he has tackled the confession form. Previously he has confined himself to scientific, technological, sociological, horticultural, psychological, medical, family and automotive-and-watch-repair themes, which are his chief areas of expertise.

He tells us, in fact, that he was putting the finishing touches on a new self-help text titled "Coping With Post-Carjacking Grief," when President Bush's attack on talking heads knocked carjacking out of the headlines.

The doctor told this reporter, "I had always wanted to write a great confession, as lofty as the confession of St. Augustine yet animated with the up-to-date zest for triviality which suffuses the confessions of Jerry Lewis and Shelley Winters."

He had started two or three confession books, but put them aside. The usual ingredients -- hundreds of shamelessly squalid pages about being reduced to the gutter by gin and drugs, thousands of salacious anecdotes of adultery and fornication with celebrities recognizable by the "Entertainment Tonight" audience -- "just didn't work for me," said Dr. Liverworth.

"My history of alcohol and drug abuse did not approach the unique," he told us, "and my record in the adultery-and-fornication department left my publisher distinctly unimpressed." An agent, whom he has since fired, suggested he invent steamy tales of debauchery with famous Hollywood stars now safely dead, but Dr. Liverworth feared that fictionalizing might spoil his scientist's passion for truth.

President Bush's attack on talking heads solved the problem. American literature hadn't a single talking-head confession. Dr. Liverworth, who boasts that he could write three books faster than Isaac Asimov could write two and a half, started "Stop My Head Before It Talks Again" on Wednesday and finished it Sunday afternoon.

Does he expect to be beaten by mobs incensed by the president's attacks on talking heads? "My publisher's publicity people hope so, of course, as it would do wonders for sales," he said.

"As a scientist, if it happens, I must accept it as well as any fruitful publicity that may ensue. However, I rejected my publisher's proposal that I crash the Bush family's election-night party wearing a sandwich board saying, 'I am a talking head.' "

I noted that the president seemed squeamish about pointing vengeful mobs toward any particular talking head. Interviewed Sunday by CNN talking head Frank Sesno, the president declined to finger even Sesno and said, "I'm very selective who I put in that category."

"If the president were to make me one of those selectees, I should be deeply honored," said Dr. Liverworth, "no matter how cruelly the mob beats me." He paused, then said: "That's not me talking, of course. It's my head."

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