The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Larry King’s hard-hitting final days: A Barbra Streisand infomercial

December 16, 2010 |  1:03 pm

Larry_king The CNN days are dwindling down to a precious few for Larry King, who does his last regular show Thursday night after 25 years and nearly 50,000 guests. I've been watching or listening to King all my life. When I was a kid in Miami, I used to stay up late listening to his local radio show, which was often broadcast from the lobby of a Miami Beach hotel. It hardly matters that King has been coasting for years, always relying on the same dreary, prepared questions, sometimes appearing to forget who's sitting across the table from him; when you have a childhood idol, you rarely focus on the feet of clay, which is probably why millions of middle-aged guys still buy Mickey Mantle biographies.

At any rate, I had to tune in Wednesday night to see King's penultimate show, with the wizened 77-year-old icon sitting opposite Barbra Streisand. The show was a classic example of celebrity-style barter: Barbra was selling and Larry was buying. It seemed pretty clear that in return for "the get" of having Streisand grace his next-to-final show, King had to turn the program into a virtual Streisand infomercial. The first 20 minutes were devoted to Streisand's snoozy thoughts about design and architecture, all a convenient way of plugging her new book, "My Passion for Design." Later in the show, we were also treated to a lengthy segment highlighting Streisand's fight against women's heart disease as well as a nice pitch for La Barbra's new film, "Little Fockers."

The plug for "Fockers" was almost an afterthought, because Streisand clearly doesn't have much ego invested in the film. When King asked her why she did it, she replied: "Because it was a short-term job." Dressed in black with knee-high leather boots and wearing what we used to call granny glasses, Streisand looked marvelously well preserved, her face unlined, her hair long, straight and sleek. Wearing his trademark suspenders and a very red shirt, King looked almost mummified, as bony and gaunt as Christian Bale in "The Fighter."

It was clear that Streisand was in total control. She would give long answers and King would nod, either saying "You're right" or "That's true." When they would come back from a commercial break, King would go back to subjects they'd already covered, it being obvious that Streisand had told him she had more to say on the matter. Streisand fancies herself a political activist, so she was most animated when talking about politics. Put it this way -- while King quoted Frank Sinatra, Streisand quoted Teddy Roosevelt.

She spent much of the hour complaining that the public doesn't have more appreciation for President Obama, whom she compared unfavorably to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, noting that they were popular presidents because "people admire real strength, even if it's misguided." King finally asked one probing question: Noting Streisand's involvement with politics, he wondered why she is so often singled out by conservatives for criticism. Streisand paused for a beat. "Woman?" she finally said, adding with a laugh, "Big mouth?" When she asked King what he thought, he took the opportunity to provide some shameless flattery, saying, "Maybe it's because your talent is so overwhelming."

It went on like that for an entire hour, concluding with King kissing Streisand's outstretched hand, which seemed to perfectly symbolize the transaction that had just transpired. Near the end of the show, as the twosome were pondering some important issue, King delivered a line that would fit perfectly on his showbiz tombstone. Clearly puzzled, Streisand asked King, "Do you know the answer?" Without a moment's hesitation, King responded: "I just ask questions. I don't have answers."

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: CNN's Larry King walking down Pennsylvania Avenue after visiting the White House in 2008. Credit: Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images

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