Larry King was a broadcasting powerhouse on CNN for twenty-five years with his program “Larry King Live,” the network’s highest rated show. the Emmy-winning King also founded the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars and provided lifesaving cardiac procedures for needy children and adults. Now, he’s written a new book, “ Author of Truth Be Told: Off the Record about Favorite Guests, Memorable Moments, Funniest Jokes, and a Half Century of Asking Questions.” In this excerpt, he remembers some very special interviews.
I'm often asked who's been my favorite interview. There's just no answer to that. I'm proud of so many of them.
But a guy recently came at me from a different angle. What's the one interview, he wanted to know, that I'm most asked about?
It ain't even close. The one where Marlon Brando kissed me on the lips.
We were comparing that interview to the one I did with Al Pacino that aired as the show began its final two weeks. Then the guy asked, Would you be happy if the only work you'd left behind were your interviews with Brando and Pacino?
No, I wouldn't. What's important to me is my body of work. But I understand where his question was coming from. It was really about legacy. How would I like to be remembered?
My favorite way would probably be: Larry King. One hundred and eight years old and still going strong. But I think George Bush 43 had the best response to the legacy question. That is: "I'm not going to be here, so why worry about it.”
The guy who asked about Brando and Pacino does make a good point. The interviews with those two actors will live on long after I'm gone. I doubt that many people are going to look back to see me ask Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann about her views on immigration in the early part of the twenty-first century. But a hundred years from now, when people watch “The Godfather” and want to know about the actors, they'll be able to find out through the archive of “Larry King Live.” So I know I've left a mark. There aren't many places where you can find Al Pacino sitting for an hour and talking about what he does.
Jay Leno told me it drove him nuts to watch my interviews with Brando and Elizabeth Taylor because his show always tried to book them and could never get them. There's a reason that Pacino doesn't do many interviews. Al doesn't like to be seen on screen as himself. That way, it's easier for the audience to suspend its disbelief when it sees him as Jack Kevorkian.
It took me years to convince Al to come on my show -- and he's a friend of mine! When I say friend, I don't use the word lightly. He was best man at my wedding to [King’s wife] Shawn.
I think the reason he came on as my show approached its close was out of respect for my body of work. We taped it in his backyard and held it for the last couple of weeks of the show because we wanted to go out with the greats. It was one of those interviews you didn't want to end -- like when I sat down with Nelson Mandela. But at the same time it was difficult. It was hard because, for me, friends are the toughest people to interview. You know too much. You've got to search for new areas. If I ask questions that I already know the answer to, then I'm acting.
It wasn't easy for Al, either. His girlfriend told me he was anxious the whole week leading up to it. Al is a quirky guy. If I'm going to see him perform on Broadway, he'll want to make sure I have a ticket, but he won't want to know what night I'm in the theater.
My friendship with Al is easy to understand. We both came up poor, as street kids. Me in Brooklyn, Al in the Bronx. But Al is much more complicated than me. He's been living inside many people. He's been Jack Kevorkian and Frank Serpico. That's different from acting out Shakespeare. He's had to turn himself into people who are alive, people who'd be watching him. And when he is acting Shakespeare, he has to choose which of the many different ways to play his role. I remember Charlton Heston telling me there are ten ways you could play Hamlet -- from brave to psychotic. Me, I just show up on time and ask questions that pop into my mind. Al is constantly searching for ways to get inside these personalities.
Brando once did some sessions at the University of Southern California in which he called acting "Lying for a Living." "Isn't that a good description?" I once asked Al. "Absolutely not," he shot back. "I'm not lying at all. That's who I am. I'm Al Pacino, but I'm also Shylock. I am Shylock." Al thought the better the actor, the more truth you see, because the actor is letting himself out. The irony is, nobody let himself out better than Brando.
Maybe the difference between Marlon and Al was that it came easy to Brando. Al has to work at it. People who have to work harder are amazed at people who don't.
I've talked to so many actors over the years and heard so many different approaches. I guess that's why they make such a unique breed.
The above is an excerpt from the book Truth Be Told: Off the Record about Favorite Guests, Memorable Moments, Funniest Jokes, and a Half Century of Asking Questions by Larry King. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2012 Larry King, author of "Truth Be Told: Off the Record about Favorite Guests, Memorable Moments, Funniest Jokes, and a Half Century of Asking Questions."
Cal Fussman is a writer at large for Esquire magazine. Fussman is the author with Larry King of "My Remarkable Journey," a "New York Times" bestseller;" Double or Nothing," a "Wall Street Journal" bestseller; and "After Jackie," an "Entertainment Weekly" pick of the week.
For more information, please visit www.weinsteinbooks.com, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.