Briar Patch

HARD-SCRABBLE NOTES

1. The Once & Future Larry King

A FEW YEARS AGO, IN a brief but characteristic moment of reflection, Larry King attempted a survey of all that he had mastered, and he was not greatly reassured. “Success and I are strangers,” he said. “Failure and I are such old friends he drops by the house for coffee. I have wearied of his company and bid the stranger come in…”

To lend some sense of proportion to this austere summing-up, it is necessary to remind oneself that King’s standards and his hard-scrabble work ethic compulsions are seldom fully satisfied. He was the son of an impoverished West Texas dirt farmer, blacksmith and occasional fundamentalist preacher. The most money his father ever had at any one time in those early years was $88, after he’d sold an unusually good crop of turkeys. “He was on the fringe of solvency for exactly two hours before some city slicker from Cisco picked his pocket of every last dime.” Worse than poverty and endless farm demands, King remembers “eternal days of rain and cold with nothing to do but huddle by the open fireplace where your front roasted while your rump grew icicles, or vice-versa should you turn around.” But the primary agony was “the awful grinding boredom…nothing to read, no radio, nobody to talk with. The isolation was close to maddening.”

All of which might give some hint of the nature of King’s energy reserves, propelling him through some improbable adventures as small town football star, postman, oilfield roughneck, reporter, broadcaster, political aide to Congressmen and future Presidents. After ten years of hunkering up at the feet of the mighty in Washington, D.C., he concluded that he might as well step on a few as well. He became one of the country’s most successful magazine writers and a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine. Not long

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