May 21, 2009

The Larry WE Know!

Posted: 04:30 PM ET

The release of Larry's autobiography got us on the staff to thinking: What's our favorite Larry story.  Here are some of them, and keep checking our blog for more throughout the week!


(John is far left in this picture.  He's Irish if you couldn't tell)

My first recollections of Larry go back to the Los Angeles bureau when I was a boy in short pants,
or so it seems to me now!  It was '86. I had just started with CNN working on the assignment desk, young and green.  What a thrill to see the parade of guests arrive for Larry's show.  And I still recall Larry interviewing the first big celebrity I ever saw up close, Sammy Davis Jr.

I also remember answering the phone one morning around that same time.  On the other end, this gravely voiced woman telling me she was on the Larry King show the night before  and wanted a tape.  When you work in busy bureaus like LA you get your fair share of crazies and I'm thinkin', 'yeah, right lady,' when she drops it on me.  "This is Betty Davis and tell Larry I want a copy of that show." And, yes, it was Betty Davis.

So I am figuring out early on in my career, this Larry King guy is cool. Gets to go face to face with legends.  It might be an interesting place to work! Didn't happen though but when it did years later it was a pleasure  to watch the master of the mic up close.

I've always loved the voice. Rich. Classic. His radio days stamp it. It's a gift.  And I still marvel when he reads scripts. Nobody does it better. Watching him in full flight still makes me nod in appreciation.  He reads it cold. Usually gets it in one take. Sometimes even freelancing off the script effortlessly as he goes.  Yes, he's a great interviewer. But, he might be even a better story teller. He could have done stand-up.  Made me laugh a million times.

We're both sports nuts. I could listen to him for hours talking baseball.  Throw him a name from left-field and he'll give you the career batting average even if the player retired in the 70's.

I love messing with him during breaks. "Hey Larry, line 2, Kurt Bevacqua and he wants to come on with Lasorda."!!! He always cracks up and has a better comeback.  Larry may be 75 but he's still got IT. He is star quality. And, every time I travel with him, you can feel it and  see it.

Quick story. Just before the election last November I flew with Larry to Florida where he interviewed
John McCain. We did it at the University of Tampa. We roll up in the car, head for the entrance and immediately we're hit by a wave of college kids screaming "Larry, Larry."   I felt like Bono's bag man.
We all loved it. Larry was thrilled. And so he should be.  As Larry often says: "Hey, not bad being the King."


The first time I met Larry I was in college. With a group of Broadcast Journalism students, we drove from the University of Florida to Miami for an RTNDA conference.  Larry was one of the keynote speakers.

We went to hear him speak, and loved his stories.  Sure, I'd watched all the famous interviews, but for the first time I was seeing Larry King Live!  It was truly a thrill.  His jokes and stories were fantastic -  I had no idea he was a genuine raconteur.

After his presentation, I bought his book, and stood in line to have it signed, and take my picture with him.

Three years later, I was hired at CNN in Atlanta, where I was assigned to run tapes for the show.
After months of this assignment, the Atlanta producer approached me about applying for the associate producer position.  I did, and luckily got the job!

After working in Atlanta for many years, I eventually moved to Los Angeles to work with Larry in person.  We became fast friends, and there's not a day where I don't talk to him.  He's been gracious enough to make me a part of the family.  I spend many days and nights with his entire family, and they are a generous, kind, loving, inclusive group.

It's funny when I look back at the photo I took with Larry in 1993.  Never would I have guessed 16 years later, we'd be so close. I realized this week, we've traveled on over 100 flights together!
We've been everywhere from the White House to Graceland and every place in between.

While Larry's new book is "My Remarkable Journey," Larry has provided me with my own remarkable journey.  He's one of my best friends, a tremendous talent, and a class act.


It was 1998.  Larry, the crew and I had just completed an on-site Texas prison interview with death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker.  I don’t remember why, but after the interview, the executive producer told me I was going to the airport with Larry and would fly back with him.  This was the first big remote show I had directed, and I had never traveled with Larry, so I was a bit nervous.

We were on a really tight schedule to catch a commercial flight, so as soon as the interview ended, we headed out to a waiting limo.  At that time, I don’t think I had ever traveled in a limo, so the thought of traveling in a limo with Larry seemed like a great adventure. Well, the limo itself, along with the driver, looked like they had just driven off the set of a bad 70’s movie.  The first thing Larry said to the driver was “let’s go, we’re in a rush”. The driver for some reason didn’t even know where he was supposed to take us.  After we told him that we needed to get to the Dallas-Forth Worth airport with no time to spare, he told us we were never going to make it.  This was not what Larry wanted to hear. It was at this point that I realized I would be spending the next 2 ½ hours keeping Larry calm.

At first, traffic was not bad, but as we got closer to the airport, it was not looking good. Larry kept looking at his watch every few minutes and asked the driver to speed it up. The driver seemed annoyed, but stayed calm. He would just say stuff like, “I can’t speed it up; there’s too much traffic; I told you we can’t make it.” Meanwhile, I kept ensuring Larry (in as calm a voice as I could) that we would make it. Actually, I didn’t think we would, but thought it best to keep that to myself. This had turned into more of an adventure then I had thought - and it was about to get even better.

By some act of God, traffic began to clear and we arrived at a crowded airport with only about 20 minutes before the flight was supposed to take off. Larry looks at me and said, “You don’t have a bag do you?” By the expression on my face he realized I did and told me in a very optimistic and positive tone that he would meet me at the gate and he’d hold the plane for me. Larry then immediately jumped out of the limo and headed into the airport, while I was pessimistically thinking we would never make it and would need to book another flight.

As I checked-in for our flight, the airline carrier representatives told me I could actually still make the flight if I hurried. They told me to run and follow the gates to the left. So as I was running down the hallway, I saw Larry.  Larry’s hands were in the air and he was yelling at an airline carrier official. My first thought was to turn around and go the other way, but Larry caught sight of me and signaled me over. Apparently, we had been sent to the wrong gate. The correct gate (as the airline carrier official was trying to explain) was at the other end of the airport. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a handful of airline carrier officials came over to us, all with walkie-talkies in hand, to try and help us. Just then, an airport transport cart pulled up and one of the airline carrier officials told us to get in the cart to take us to the correct gate. Larry sat in the front seat and I got in the back. Then, the driver pressed down hard on the gas pedal and the cart took off. It raced down the hallway while beeping the horn none-stop so that people literally had to jump out of its way. People were pointing at Larry as we drove by; meanwhile Larry kept continually telling the driver to hurry. The driver looked very nervous because he was not sure if he, himself, was heading to the correct gate. As we got into the airport rotunda with all the flight boards in front of us, the driver nervously asked Larry what his flight number was. Larry told him. The driver then stopped the cart in the center of the airport and pointed to the big board with all the flight numbers and said, “Mr. King, your flight is not at this end of the airport; it’s back at the other end where we came from.” Larry stood up and audibly expressed his displeasure. The driver stepped on the pedal and took off which threw Larry back into his seat. As we were speeding down the hallway that we had just come from, we approached about 30 airline carrier employees walking in a group towards us. No one could miss us at this point with the non-stop horn blowing. They saw Larry and with big smiles, all waved to him. By this point, Larry had about all he could take. He saw the group; did his best to stand up while the transport cart was moving; pointed his finger at the airline carrier employees; and said, “Fix your damn airlines!”

As unbelievable as it may seem, we actually made the flight. I’m sure the airlines must have delayed the departure just for Larry. As we walked through 1st class, Larry found his seat; he asked me where I was sitting. I told him I was in ‘couch’ and that I’d be fine. When I got to my coach seat, to my great surprise, I had 3 seats to myself and as soon as the plane took off, I laid across them all. I could not have had my head down for more than 2 minutes when the flight attendant tapped me on the shoulder and said, “are you Chip? Come with me.” I nodded and grabbed my stuff while the attendant then took me up to 1st class. The seat next to Larry was taken, but there was an open seat across the aisle. As the flight attendant told me to sit in the open seat, Larry got up and grabbed the man next to him and told him, “You don’t mind sitting over there do you?” as he pushed him along to that open seat.

So that was my first big adventure with Larry. As manic as it was, Larry treated me like an equal and made a point to look out for me the entire time, including making sure I was up front in 1st class with him. In general, of my 17+ years working with Larry and directing his shows, Larry has always gone out of his way to make sure his staff are taken care of as well as he is one of the most generous people I have ever known.


(The story behind the bee picture, from the guy in the bee picture)

Friends and family always ask exactly what it is I do at CNN – so earlier this year I decided to start telling them the truth.

“Well, last week I put Larry King in a bathtub with Jim Carrey.”

You really should see the facial expressions people give me…

Everyone always tells me again and again that Larry is unique in that he removes himself from interviews. He has the ability to contextualize moments in history, politics and pop culture. I hear it daily and to tell you the truth, I couldn’t agree more!

However, while we cover anything and everything on the show, I often think the more interesting story is the Larry you don’t see on TV. Sure, there are always those great moments, especially on the road, when Larry will start to tell stories of Sinatra, moments he’s had with presidents and world leaders, or his cameo appearance in “Ghostbusters.” But the thing that always surprises people most when they meet Larry is that the man has a hell of a sense of humor.

Nothing reaffirmed that notion for me more than on Halloween 2007. "Bee Movie" was about to release and Jerry Seinfeld was set to be on the show later in the week. In collaboration with Dreamworks CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg (who happens to be Larry’s neighbor), we were able to use the large bee costume Seinfeld had been wearing to promo the movie. The plan was to shoot 10 to 20 minutes of Larry walking up and down the streets in the costume telling people to go see "Bee Movie," and watch Seinfeld on the show later in the week. However, once we got him in the costume no one could stop laughing long enough to actually do any work (especially Larry). Needless to say, the picture turned into what I would consider one of the best Christmas card pictures of all time and will forever sit framed on my desk.

Beyond the high profile interviews, flashy hype and dazzling suspenders – you’ll find the Larry we know and love. A good man, who loves his family, would do anything for his boys and never loses the count at a baseball game. I will always be so grateful for the generosity, kindness and experiences he continues to show me in my time at CNN.

CLICK HERE to read more stories.

Filed under: Larry King Live

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sandy   May 20th, 2009 9:20 pm ET

I'm concered about Mike Vick. Heard he might have a show of some kind. Ihope not! As a dog trainer and member of the SPCA, I apposed to Mike Vick being able to do any thing having to do with dogs.
He miss treated dogs in such a brutal way.
He may have payed his dues with the law but not with many people in the dog world.

Don Robertson   May 21st, 2009 12:32 am ET


I really enjoyed your interviews last night!! Congratulations on your new book!

Your friendship with Jackie Gleason caught my intererst. Did he ever talk wit you about his visit, with President Nixon, to Homestead Air Force Base, in Florida? Did he give you any details, or was he unwilling to share his experience with you?

Don Robertson
Ventura, CA

Don Robertson   May 21st, 2009 12:40 am ET


Our congratulations to Natalie Cole!

God Bless the donor and she...we hope all goes well and will have a long and happy life.

More people should donate their bodies to medical study. I plan to do just that.

Elaine & Don Robertson
Ventura, CA

shirley Bottolfsen Bodø Norway   May 21st, 2009 4:04 am ET

Dear Larry King. From my home way up above the Arctic Circle in Norway- I am writing to tell you how much pleasure your shows give to this 75 year old irish lady- Have lived in Norway the last 52 years- One of the most important part of my day is sitting down with a cup of tea and watching you Larry King.through television you have become part of my life.Thank you so much for all the enjoyment.suspence,sadness.and your sence of humour. Your guests on the day,have come into my home and I learn more about them. God bless you Larry, hope that you will continue for many many years. Shall send for your book and look so forward to reading it.

Larry :Simply the best.
Shirley from Bodø Norway

Linda   May 21st, 2009 9:23 pm ET

I'm so glad Idol is over.......and I mean saddens me more that anyone would vote against a contestant for his personal preferences than for his talent........I truly liked them all and believed they would all be true to themselves. I was wrong. Some were selfish and deceitful. Although I wish them all success, most will be forgettable by the end of the year. What you what you get.

lola   May 21st, 2009 9:46 pm ET

L arry King, Jr. is adorable ! his Mom must have been very special ...

Terry, TX   May 21st, 2009 10:02 pm ET

Good for Natalie.
Larry what is with this homage to Larry King...weary.

Gilly   May 22nd, 2009 12:48 am ET

Judge Judy,
You’re one of the greatest examples of how women should be. Very out spoken, assertive, and tell it like it is. Has anyone approached you about becoming a Supreme Court justice? You would be the best pick in my opinion.

Purple Spider   May 23rd, 2009 1:50 am ET

Great man – great humanitarian – wonderful guests!
Look forward to reading your new book!

Dodie ~ California   May 23rd, 2009 2:36 pm ET

Chip Hirzel’s airline story about racing down the hallway beeping the horn none-stop so that people literally had to jump out of its way was hilarious. And the heart felt kindness of Larry moving you up to first class while being steadfast and assertive in moving the person next to him into the open seat was very humorous and kind.

Greg Christensen ‘s story about obtaining your autograph and picture to working with Larry King is just amazing. You just never know what the future brings.

Reading these stories from the people who know him allows me some insight into Larry King, who is obviously steadfast with his persistence while loving and caring for others. Such humorous and heart felt stories were wonderful to read. Larry, you are an epitome interviewer as well as person!

Thank you for the privilege and opportunity to experience a glimmer of Larry King’s life!

Irvine, CA

Margaret   May 24th, 2009 9:40 pm ET

You're a living legend and I've enjoyed you very much. thank you.

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LARRY KING LIVE'S Emmy-winning Senior Executive Producer Wendy Walker knows what it takes to make a great story.

With anecdotes, provocative emails, scandals, show transcripts and insights into Walker's long working relationship with Larry King, her new book PRODUCER issues readers an invitation to listen in on the most intriguing conversations on the planet.

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