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Larry King, dreaming big

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The Navy classified Larry Zeiger 4-F because of his bad eyes. His friends had all joined the service, so he was left behind, wandering aimlessly.

Zeiger’s father was dead, so his best friend’s father would take him on walks around their Brooklyn neighborhood to dispense guidance. He asked Zeiger what he wanted to do with his life.

The young man wanted to go into broadcasting.

“What are you, a pipe dreamer?” the man asked. “What are you, Arthur Godfrey? What are you, nuts? Get a job!”

Zeiger ran through odd jobs but still wanted to be a broadcaster. He would go over to Manhattan sometimes and hang around CBS, where one day he ran into an announcer who recommended that he move to Miami and give it a shot.

In Miami, Larry Zeiger landed a job as a radio disc jockey and a new name five minutes before the show: Larry King.

He made friends quickly, worked hard and had some luck, including a favor from Jackie Gleason that secured him a three-hour interview with Frank Sinatra, who never interviewed with anyone.

That show launched King into the big time, but he’s tried not to get a big head. To illustrate, he tells this story:

Once, before giving an award to King, then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo told a joke. Cuomo said somebody had given Larry King a length of cloth to make a suit. King took it to his tailor in Miami and asked for a suit with two pairs of pants. The tailor apologized and said there wasn’t enough material for two pairs of pants. So, King took it to a tailor in Washington who shook his head. Not enough material for extra pants. Same story in Los Angeles.

Finally, King went to his old tailor in Brooklyn. “Sure,” said the man. “I’ll make you a suit with two pairs of pants and a vest.”

“How can you do that?” King asked.

The tailor said, “Because in Brooklyn you’re not that big.”

Lesson: Dream a little but always remember: You’re not that big.

— Adapted from My Remarkable Journey, Larry King with Cal Fussman, Weinstein Books. Photo by Angela George, 2010, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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