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Larry King as you've never seen him -- suspenderless

December 16, 2010 |  6:12 am

Larry King.

When he was a little boy growing up in Brooklyn, Lawrence Zeiger used to fantasize that he was Arthur Godfrey or some other famous broadcast personality in an age when people set their daily schedules by when their favorite programs were on the radio.

Or the little Jewish boy would go up in the bleachers at Ebbets Field and pretend he was chatting on-air with Red Barber or other household sports names.

This is way back, mind you, back in the 30's, even before Joe Biden was born.

Today, fewer remember those other guys. But pretty much everyone knows Zeiger, now better known as Larry King. (An early boss deemed Zeiger too ethnic for show biz.)

Tonight is the last show on CNN for the 77-year-old broadcaster who has....

...interviewed pretty much everyone on this planet worth interviewing -- many of them several times -- and, to be honest, a fair number of people who weren't worth interviewing. No matter, you always came away feeling you knew a little more about the person thanks to Lar's curiosity.

Ross Perot announced his presidential candidacy on Larry's show. Lucille Ball seemed to have her own chair there. Maureen O'Hara, of course. Merv What's-his-name. Elizabeth Edwards talked of her personal sadnesses. One show a straight-faced Biden declared the Iraq war one of Barack Obama's "great achievements."  Al Gore helped put America to sleep one night.

Larry also interviewed countless aspiring authors hawking books that the host would never read, and he's had on pretty much every single American who has ever had one thought about the O.J. Simpson trial. Also Anna Nicole Smith. And relatives of most recent kidnap victims.

Larry got his start when he wandered down to Miami where they didn't know talent from coconuts and some little radio station next to a minor swamp hired him for the overnight show, talking to insomniacs and nut jobs all over South Florida and eventually America. There, Larry perfected his trademark phrase, "Line 4, Seth in Homestead. You're on the air." Even though there really were only two lines.

In the early 80's C-SPAN broadcast the occasional all-night King radio show from Mutual's Washington studios where so many guests got locked out of the lobby by a vigiliant nightwatchman. Then, in 1985 Larry went on CNN TV. The ratings were sky-high. And the rest since then is about to become history when his dark studio really goes dark for good.

To celebrate Larry's many years in our living rooms, we dug into the amazing video archives of C-SPAN for two brief LK chapters. Both are from 1982, a time when people could smoke in public before Larry donned those trademark suspenders that so many of us have so badly wanted to snap all those years. Larry had more hair back then, but he still wore those Carol Channing glasses.

For years Larry also found time to sell us the health benefits of garlic tablets and to watch and positively review virtually every movie ever released--"a must-see adventure for the entire rollicking romantic comedy-loving noir thriller set." He was married seven times to six different women (don't ask), and there were several aborted engagements.

First, in the top video here, the tables are turned and Brian Lamb interviews Larry about his early days and dreams.

Then, scroll down to watch Larry do his radio thing from one late night late in August, 1982, when his guest was veteran Washington reporter Sarah McClendon.

They'll probably replace Larry with some tea-sipping sap from another country who won't know Don Newcombe from Yorkshire pudding. And if he ever does go to the phones, the new host won't know that Missouri ends with an -ah. Or he'll say Pierre, S.D., as if it's French.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Videos courtesy of C-SPAN