Larry King on his lucky heart attack and love of smoking

Larry-King

By Ray Bennett

Longtime TV interviewer Larry King, who died today aged 87, almost didn’t make it to 60. He told me: “I got a lucky break. I had a heart attack.”

One dark February morning in 1987, King signed off his overnight national radio talk-show feeling uncommonly sluggish. Worried, he cancelled a date and drove home through the Washington, DC, snow. His doctor told him to take some Maalox and go to bed. Pain soon awakened him. Pain in his right arm and shoulder that fast became ferocious.

He went to the hospital where doctors told him that right then and there he was having a heart attack. King said,“I was lucky because it would have been unlucky not to have the pain because then you have no warning.”

In fact, he had plenty of warnings but he ignored them. He said: “I was 54. I ate what I wanted and I smoked heavily. I knew my father died of heart disease. I knew I had a heart problem. I just never thought I’d be going into an emergency room.” Continue reading

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Why Robert MacNeill stopped getting angry about poor English

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Canadian newsman Robert MacNeill, who turns 90 today, shared my fascination with how English was used on radio and television. In 1986, the urbane and articulate co-anchor of the news programme ‘The MacNeill-Lehrer Report’  on America’s PBS-TV had spent the previous three years exploring the impact of the English language around the world.  MacNeill was co-writer and narrator of ‘The Story of Engish’, a $3 million BBC co-production that remains available on DVD along with an accompanying book with the same title. Continue reading

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Mel Gibson, great filmmaker, shame about the demons

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – I’ve spent time with Mel Gibson, who turns 65 today, and always found him to be genial, open and likeable even though he gave me a clue about his demons in an interview in 1984. It’s a shame they got the better of him as he is a good actor and a formidable filmmaker (‘Braveheart’, ‘Apocalypto’). Continue reading

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Jack Elam on westerns, auditing, acting … and that fly

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – With his blind left eye, American character actor Jack Elam, who was born 100 years ago today, made a perfect villain in hundreds of TV shows and feature films but he told me he was a better auditor than he was an actor.

He started out in the film business as a chartered accountant and worked as an auditor for Samuel Goldwyn Studios and General Services Studios: ‘I do believe that I was as good an auditor as there was when I was an auditor. I was as high a salaried auditor as there was so I knew my business. I felt a very great self-respect as an auditor, which as an actor is pretty hard to feel because you might like what I’m doing and the other fella doesn’t like it at all. You say, jeez, I thought you were great in such-and-such and he says he thought it was a terrible fucking thing and you were awful. There are no matters of opinion in audting. If the sonofabitch balances, you can shove it up your ass, your opinion. You can go fuck it, you know?’ Continue reading

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My chaotic encounter with composer Ennio Morricone

By Ray Bennett 

LONDON – The late Ennio Morricone was a giant in film music but the Italian composer could be a difficult man as I found out when I went to interview him in London.

He was in town for his 75th birthday concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2004 and he also had a new album to promote. Titled ‘Focus’, it featured Morricone and the Portuguese Fado singer Dulce Pontes and so I was to interview the two of them. Continue reading

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Recalling Dan Tana’s barkeep Mike Gotovac, an L.A. legend …

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Legendary Dan Tana’s barkeep Mike Gotovac died aged 76 on May 15 following complications caused by Covid-19. He was among the many rich characters I encountered in my time in Los Angeles and I recall clearly the first time we met.

The evening after the Los Angeles Herald Examiner folded in 1989, a group of us from the paper went to Dan Tana’s, the fabled West Hollywood restaurant for a meal. As we waited just inside the door, somebody recognized columnist Gordon Dillow from the photo on his column and Jimmy Cano, the city’s best maitre’d, asked if we were all from the HerEx. When we said we were, everyone in the place applauded and we weren’t allowed to pay for anything. Continue reading

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When Kenny Rogers welcomed me to Los Angeles

By Ray Bennett

We flew into LAX from Toronto, checked into the Sportsmen’s Lodge in the Valley, went directly to the then open-air Universal Amphitheater and were led to seats in the front row just as the biggest entertainer in the world strolled onto the stage: Kenny Rogers, who died today aged 81.

It was in early May 1978. TVGuide’s Canadian editions had just been purchased from the US parent company and art director Brian Moore and I were in Los Angeles to talk to freelance writers and photographers as we began to establish our own identity. Continue reading

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My wish list for the 2020 Oscars: ‘Little Women’

Best Picture

My favourite film of the year is Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ with its splendid filmmaking, intelligent update of the story and wonderful performances. The film I admire most is Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’ with its biting satire, great comedy, astute insight and rollicking surprises.. I enjoyed some other nominated films:  Sam Mendes’s ‘1917’, James Mangold’s ‘Le Mans’66 (Ford vs Ferrari)’ Todd Phillips’s ‘Joker’ and Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’. Three I thought were awful … Quentin Tarantino’s ‘ Once Upon a Waste of Time in Hollywood’, Martin Scorsese’s ‘Geriatricfellas’ and Taika Waititi’s ‘Jojo Duck’.  I would have liked to see nominations for Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’, Josh and Benny Sadfie’s ‘Uncut Gems’, Celine Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady On Fire’ and Chinonye Chukwu’s ‘Clemency’. I also enjoyed Gavin Hood’s ‘Official Secrets’ and Todd Haynes’s ‘Dark Waters’ Continue reading

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Martin Shaw hasn’t always been a TV copper

Martin Shaw as George Gently x650

By Ray Bennett

Martin Shaw, who turns 75 today, is known best for playing TV coppers in “The Professionals” and “Inspector George Gently” but he also has had a long stage career in roles from Stanley Kowalski to Lord Goring to Elvis Presley, and he loves to fly.

The Birmingham-born actor is regarded as a prickly interview subject but when we chatted in 2011 for a story in Cue Entertainment, we got along fine, possibly because we’re about the same age. Continue reading

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It’s the ‘Royal Toy Story’ for Harry and Meghan

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – In ‘Toy Story 4’, the beloved cowboy action figure contemplates leaving the old gang to go off with a beautiful outsider. In the United Kingdom’s version, the monarchy, a much-loved prince wants to do the same.

Think of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as Woody and Bo-Peep. Continue reading

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