Arrivederch', Larry King...
Updated: Jan 29
I had just graduated from Georgetown Law with my law degree in hand but with doubt in my mind about my future. At the time, I had no desire to be a lawyer and was desperately seeking an alternative career. There were times as a law student when I’d peer out the window of my classroom and see the red “CNN” logo atop the Union Labor Life building across the street seemingly beckoning me as if it were a siren call. It was the home of CNN’s Washington Bureau.
Then one day, on a lark, I decided to cross the street. I pressed the intercom at the entrance of the building and inquired whether there were any jobs available. A voice responded, “Come on in.” I was welcomed by a warm and friendly man I later learned was head of internships for CNN. He asked what I wanted to do. I said, “Anything really,” while thinking more along the lines of writing news copy or doing research. He responded, “How would you like to be a camera operator? Come, I’ll introduce you to the guys in the control room.” Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, I was inside a studio behind a camera listening to directions being barked at me through a headset. “Pan left, now pan right... SLOWLY... zoom in, zoom out… Good!” No sooner had I learned the basics of being a camera operator than I was asked whether I could begin work at 5 AM the following morning.
I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, but I was excited. I dutifully showed up the next morning and found myself operating the camera for the morning news broadcast. With headset on, and only minutes until airtime, I audibly blurted out a wish that I could call my Dad in California to let him know what I was doing. The Control Room responded in my headset. “It’s 3 AM in California right now and how in the world would he know it’s you anyway? Are you planning to signal him by shaking the camera or something?,” I heard over laughter.
That was the beginning of my brief adventure into television. Although it lasted only a short time, it remains a fond memory. Aside from being the camera operator for the morning news broadcasts, I was also a researcher, teleprompter operator, occasional floor director and field producer for CNN’s “Newsmaker Saturday,” “Newsmaker Sunday,” and “Crossfire” shows. Of course the star of the network at the time was Larry King. His “Larry King Live” shows were broadcasted from the building. His studio was separated from the news area, but on late nights before his 9 PM taping, I’d occasionally catch a glimpse of him, his producer, Tamara Haddid, or a guest walking down the hall.
I have two favorite Larry King stories. One time, I was tasked to reach out to my former college housemate from Berkeley, Kevin Sweeney, to invite him to be a guest on Larry’s show. You see, while I was slaving away in law school, Kevin was deftly working his way up the ranks on Capitol Hill. By the time I had graduated, Kevin had become Colorado Senator Gary Hart’s press secretary. During my stint at CNN, the Donna Rice news broke forcing Hart to terminate his run for the presidency, and Kevin, an intimate witness to this historic political debacle, suddenly became a hotly sought-after guest for all the news shows --- ABC's Nightline and CNN's Larry King Live, among them. When I revealed that I knew Kevin, I was thrust into the effort to get him on the show. Kevin ended up being a fantastic guest, but I’m sure he would have preferred the subject matter to have been less heart-breaking for him.
Another time, word got around the bureau that Chuck Conconi, a columnist and editor of the Washington Post’s Style Section, and a friend of Larry’s, was going to attend a taping of the show. It so happened that I had dated Chuck’s daughter while in law school and we had remained friends. As a result, I was able to arrange to be floor director for that one show of Larry King Live. Also, Chuck kindly made a special effort to personally introduce me to Larry prior to the taping. That was my one and only time meeting the man. Larry turned out to be very warm and kind to me and we chatted some before he had to assume his place behind his famous microphone and desk. I too assumed my position. The floor director counts down and cues the host when the show goes live, cuts for commercial breaks, comes back from commercial breaks, and when the show ends. I was understandably nervous but was put at ease when Larry looked at me and smiled. I believe the guest that night was either Vanna White or Huey Lewis, of Huey Lewis and the News, but I can’t remember now. However, I do remember counting down the end of the show and hearing Larry’s signature sign off of that time, his coded “I love you” message apparently directed to his then paramour, Angie Dickinson (“1-4-3, Arrivederch’...").
The news of Larry’s passing yesterday has brought back these memories of CNN and of my momentary brush with the man. He was a fascinating person and a legend in the business. And on that night, many years ago, a very kind man.
1-4-3, Arrivederch’, Larry.
Lindsay Spiller is a San Francisco business and entertainment lawyer.