Howard Rubenstein threw a cocktail party for Larry King last night. The PR guru’s elegant Fifth Avenue apartment was so jam-packed with bold-face names it might have been the green room of Larry King Live on a night when an overzealous segment producer had quadruple-booked the show.
There—to celebrate Larry’s autobiography, My Remarkable Journey, in Howard and Amy Rubenstein’s art-filled living room—was Diana Ross making small talk with Anderson Cooper; Barbara Walters playing kissy-face with Donald and Melania Trump (oh, blessed are the peacemakers!); Phil and Marlo; Regis and Joy; the other Joy (Behar); Larry’s (and David Letterman’s) heart surgeon, Dr. Wayne Isom; real-estate mogul and Daily News proprietor Mort Zuckerman; Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein; Time Inc. editor in chief John Huey, and People Group editor Martha Nelson (Rubenstein’s co-host). Also in attendance, and wearing nametags, were Sid Young, Larry’s oldest friend from the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn; Larry’s kid brother Martin Zeiger, and even Larry King, Jr.—the product of the first of Larry’s eight marriages to seven different women. The current Mrs. King—the glamazon singer Shawn—was back in L.A. with their two young boys.
“You know what Jackie Gleason told me once?” Larry King said. “He said, ‘I can put a young couple having intercourse on the air—and I’ll win the night.’ See what I mean?”
“If you had told me when I was a little kid in Brooklyn that I would be in an apartment with an art collection like I’ve never seen in my life, hosted by a famous Jewish guy who gets other people out of trouble...” the proud author kvelled in his remarks to the crowd. “That the police commissioner would be here! In my neighborhood, if you said the police commissioner would be here, they would not show up!” Larry went on: “To be here, in this kind of surroundings, is one of the great thrills of an enormously thrilling life. Here we are on Fifth Avenue! By the way, when we were kids, you couldn’t say ‘Fifth Avenue.’ We were too poor. We didn’t say ‘Fifth Avenue,’ it was ‘Let’s go near the Park and then go over to Madison—it’s a block.’ Now, to be here, I don’t know what to say—and I’m rarely at a point where I don’t know what to say.”
Never mind the less-than-credible disclaimer, the talk-show maven did what he does best. He reminisced about his childhood, told a Jewish grandmother joke complete with Yiddish accent, told as a battle-of-the-sexes joke, told as couple of other jokes (“Whaddya gonna do to me?—I’m 75!”), plugged his standup act in Las Vegas (“If you’re around Vegas on June 19 and 20, come to the Encore—Shawn will be opening for me”), and otherwise did that patented Larry King shtick that is so well known to the people of planet Earth (through CNN International) that his publisher just sold the Chinese rights in the People’s Republic and Taiwan.
And after half a century in the business—not counting long-ago legal trouble for writing bad checks and quintuple-bypass surgery—Larry just keeps on going.
“He doesn’t want to stop,” Sid Young told me as his old friend worked the crowd. “He wouldn’t know what to do with himself. He loves working… Me? I’m retired.”
Meanwhile, Larry was talking to Barbara about overwrought Fox News personality Glenn Beck’s uncomfortable appearance on The View earlier in the day.
“Did you hear that he didn’t do his show today? They said he had a cold?” Barbara said happily.
“Glenn Beck—that don’t impress me,” Larry scoffed. “You know what Jackie Gleason told me once? He said, ‘I can put a young couple having intercourse on the air—and I’ll win the night.’ See what I mean?”
Off in a corner, 47-year-old Larry King, Jr. (“It’s a hard name to have—usually when I introduce myself I just say, ‘Hi, I’m Larry,’”) watched his father’s expert schmoozing. Larry Sr. was an absent dad for the first 32 years of Larry, Jr.’s life—his mother Annette and Larry were married for just a year. “When my mother was dying of lung cancer in 1994, she told me, ‘OK, it’s time now that you got close to your father.’” Now the son, who has a wife and three kids of his own in Tampa, is reconciled to the old man, and serves as president of the Larry King Cardiac Foundation.
“Now when we go to a ballgame with the two boys, and my dad says, ‘You want a hot dog?’” Larry, Jr. told me. “And I feel like I’m eight years old again.”
Lloyd Grove is a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.