“Anything Goes!” by Larry King

In his new book, the CNN host reveals what it's like to talk policy with presidents and sing show tunes with Marlon Brando.

Topics: Larry King, Books,

"Anything Goes!" by Larry King

Larry King could have given his new book, “Anything Goes!” any number of subtitles: “A Man and His Clicker,” “My Strange Love Affair With President Clinton … and Marlon Brando,” “Everything I Know I Learned at Lunch,” “Folksy Talk From the Guy Who Took Off the Filter.”

But here’s what he did subtitle it: “What I’ve Learned From Pundits, Politicians, and Presidents.” As it turns out, the host of CNN’s “Larry King Live” hasn’t learned a whole lot. And, bless his heart, he’s not afraid to admit it. “Always having an answer isn’t a good thing,” King writes. “Sometimes, you just gotta say ‘I don’t know.’”

There’s a lot King confesses he doesn’t know. (“I should look into owning the words ‘I don’t know,’” he muses, “since I use them all the time.”) In fact, he seems to revel in his own innocence. His political predictions, he admits, are nearly always wrong. And his news instincts are faulty at best: He never thought Clinton had a chance at the presidency, figured the O.J. Simpson case for a “two-, maybe three-day story” and “saw the Elián story as a 10-minute Judge Judy.” King depends on the fellows he frequently lunches with — some of whom are buddies from his Brooklyn, N.Y., childhood — to tell him when a news story is “a miniseries” or a flash in the pan.

Even as the talk show host is making news on his own show, he often hasn’t a clue that he’s doing so. Remember when, back in 1992, Dan Quayle told him he’d “support [his] daughter” if she ever decided to have an abortion and incited a major media pile-on? King still doesn’t think that was news. Or when Marlon Brando appeared on his show to take “the Jews [who] run Hollywood” to task about stereotyping minorities: “We’ve seen the nigger, we’ve seen the greaseball, we’ve seen the Chink, we’ve seen the slit-eyed dangerous Jap, we’ve seen the wily Filipino. We’ve seen everything, but we’ve never seen the kike”? King says he “never thought the exchange was going to create a problem for anyone.”



King seems to take a certain pride in having experienced so much and met so many people — interviewing world leaders, despots, comedians, movie stars — and having learned so little. He just asks the questions; he doesn’t have to understand the answers. “When you don’t have answers,” he writes, “there’s not much to say, unless, of course, you’re on a TV program.” Or, he might have added, writing a book.

King’s big revelation is this: “The most important invention of the twentieth century wasn’t the cure for polio or the Wright brothers’ flight or unleaded gasoline or talk shows. It was the remote control.” He learned this lesson from “60 Minutes” executive producer Don Hewitt. “Control is moving away from the outside and toward each of us,” King continues. “The clicker was the first step in that direction.” And while King admits that he couldn’t grasp this deep concept when Hewitt first conveyed it to him in the late ’80s (“I thought … he was crazy”), he has since seized upon it with impressive vigor, bringing it in as a leitmotif throughout this story and carrying it just that much farther.

“When I got back to my hotel that evening,” he writes, “I followed what has become a routine whenever walking into a room: Turn on lights and pick up the clicker and turn on the TV (I’m able to do this in any city and with any television: Sony, Philips, Magnavox, Panasonic — doesn’t matter).” He can use the clicker in any city, with any kind of TV? Amazing!

If all this clicker talk has images of Chauncey Gardner dancing in your head, you’re not the only one. King’s “Being There”-esque “Forrest Gump”-iness is his stock in trade. Those world leaders, despots, comedians and movie stars talk to him because he’s just a regular guy, a self-described Jew with a “simplistic view of the world via Brooklyn,” who can’t quite believe his good fortune in being able to sit across from them and — well, golly! — talk to them about stuff.

Consequently, these friendly folks open up to him like Forrest’s box of chocolates. He never knows what he’s going to get. One minute President Clinton is talking to him about loneliness, dating and his own interest in having a baby late in life, the next Bob Dole is confessing that he’s “in trouble” midcampaign. One minute he’s cruising the streets of Beverly Hills in Brando’s white Chevy, singing show tunes and swapping acting tips with the big man, the next he’s running into O.J. outside the courtroom in which he’s being tried for murder (“Juice, good to see you!”) and the next Slobodan Milosevic is congratulating him on the birth of his son, Chance. As King notes at the end of almost every chapter — and sometimes in the beginning and the middle, too — in these wacky times “anything goes.”

King has never claimed to be the brightest tube in the TV set (“Folks, it’s a talk show. It ain’t rocket science”), but he does claim to have changed history — with a little help from Clinton. “You know why I can stiff you on press conferences?” the president asked a roomful of radio and TV correspondents back in 1993. “Because Larry King liberated me by giving me back to the American people directly.” Things were different after the 1992 election, King says, because he removed the journalistic filter between the candidate and the public.

If King’s self-effacing formula works on TV, it’s less successful on paper. Viewers tune in to King’s show to hear what his guests have to say, but presumably they’re reading his book to find out what he has to say — and “I don’t know,” while honest, is not a particularly satisfying answer. The on-air interludes King relates in great number may be entertaining (Al Franken’s comments on the Monica Lewinsky scandal are classic), but on the whole, they’re not particularly fresh. The off-camera dish is a little bland and skimpily portioned. And the proposed solution to media overload he offers as dessert is less than wafer thin.

The boundary of when “too much” begins has disappeared. I grew up when there were three networks. Today we have hundreds of satellite-delivered networks, cable, the three original networks, and PBS. And we’re trying to learn how to make it all work. The first step, of course, is to put ESPN on the same cable or satellite channel in every city. Once we do that, the rest of this is a piece of cake.

I could be wrong, but I think he might be serious.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>