Interview by Cal Fussman
Cal interviewed Larry King for one of his regular “What I’ve Learned” pieces in Esquire. The conversation was recorded on microcassette tape in Los Angeles in 2001
The Animated Transcript
Cal Fussman is a New York Times bestselling author and a writer-at-large for Esquire.
All these tales, any of the stories were not funny when they were happening. I was scared to death going to the principal’s office. Having firemen come running in when you’re asleep on the air. Scared to death. The night I went to the lady’s house. I mean, I mean, I was petrified.
I’d been in radio two weeks. I was 23 years old. And I did everything because I did sports, I did news, I did disc jockey. And one day—they knew I was a glutton, because “Larry will do it”—and the station manager calls and says, “The all-night guy is sick. Would you like to fill in tonight?” “Sure! No problem.”
Now I’m in the station all alone. It was a small station. I’ll never forget this: I’m playing these records, and the phone rings and I pick it up and say, “WAHR” and this lady’s voice—I can still hear her voice—she goes, “I want you.” [Laughter] I go, “What did you say?” “I said I want you.” And I said to myself: there’s a couple of extra pluses to being in this business. So I said—the immediate thing, I swear to god—“I get off at six!” She says, “Naw, that won’t do. I’ve got to go to work. You gotta come now.” I said, “But I’m on the air.” She says, “I’m only 12 blocks from the station. Here’s my address. If you can make it, please. I really want you.” Hangs up.
I got her address. I’m the only one in station. So here’s what the audience heard: “Ah folks, I’m only sitting in tonight, so I’ve got a real treat for you. You’re going to hear the entire Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall album uninterrupted. I had 33 minutes, which is all the time I needed. To this day that’s still true.
So I put the record on. I get in the car, I swear to god. I rushed to her house 11 blocks away. I pull into her house. The light is on. The Volkswagen was in the driveway. She said the door would be open. The door was open. She was sitting— She wore a white negligee. I never saw her face clear. The little lamp was on.
The radio was on. Belafonte’s singing. She opens up her arms. I run into her arms. I put my arms— My cheek goes against her cheek, and on the radio Belafonte is singing “Jamaica Farewell.” “Down the way where the nights—”
“Where the nights—where the nights—” The record gets stuck. I push her back. I jump in the car. I drive to the station. And this is Jewish masochism: I keep the radio on. “Where the nights—where the nights—where the nights— where the nights—” and I was petrified. I come back. All the phones are ringing. I’m apologizing to people.
And the last call I never forgot. An old Jewish guy. “WAHR” and I hear this guy go, “Where the nights—where the nights. I’m going crazy. I’m going crazy.” I said, “Sir, I apologize. Why didn’t you change the station?” He says, “I’m an invalid. They set the station for me on top of the bureau and I can’t reach it.”
Harry Bellafonte “Jamaica Farewell”