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Larry King Live Weekend
GaWaNi Pony Boy Discusses 'Of Women and Horses'; Rich Cohen Discusses 'The Avengers'Aired October 14, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, actress and equestrian Bo Derek joins us in L.A. for a special look at women and horse.
From Minneapolis, Minnesota's first lady Terry Ventura, contributor to a remarkable new book "Of Women and Horses."
Another contributor and horse woman, my daughter Chaia King; and with her in Los Angeles, the renowned horseman, author and creator of relationship training, GaWaNi Pony Boy.
Then author Rich Cohen tells us about "The Avengers," a stunning, true-life tale of Jewish partisans in World War II.
And then later, the man some call the Mr. Glamour of the Formula One racing world, Flavio Briatore.
They're all next LARRY KING LIVE.
There's a terrific new book out, it might be called a coffee- table book, but it's a wonderful read, called "Of Women and Horses." It's now available everywhere. We have two of the contributors, one person who really put the whole thing together, and Bo Derek. Bo is not directly involved with the book, but she's certainly involved with horses. My daughter Chaia is in the book, and we thought you might like to get a look at her as well.
Was this your concept, Pony Boy?
GAWANI PONY BOY, AUTHOR, "OF WOMEN AND HORSES": It really was. I wanted to explore a little bit deeper into that relationship that we all know about -- girls are horse crazy, and I'm sure you went through it.
L. KING: Wouldn't it be better -- you'd think a woman would write this back?
PONY BOY: You'd think they might, but there wasn't a woman that could organize all of these women and get them together and get them on the same page.
L. KING: Each of these women, Chaia and Terry Ventura, they do chapters, right?
PONY BOY: Right; they wrote essays.
L. KING: Pictures of their horses?
PONY BOY: Yes; I presented the question, give me your thoughts and they all wanted hints and I gave none. So we got thoughts from all different areas, it's wonderful.
L. KING: You're a Native American, right?
PONY BOY: Correct.
L. KING: You grew up around horses?
PONY BOY: Yes.
L. KING: Knew horses as a kid?
PONY BOY: We rode them, parents had them, trained them, yes.
L. KING: Bo, how did you get interested, Bo, in horses?
BO DEREK, HORSEWOMAN: I think I was born -- I think they'll find, someday a genetic code, something that little girls are born with, because there's no logical reason why I loved horses so much.
I was brought up in the suburbs of southern California -- surfing, sailing, but I was -- the first time -- my mother said when I got my rocking horse I would just go on it for hours and hours. I was just born horse crazy. We took a lot of road trips. Everyone would have to wake me if I was asleep in the car to look at the horse if we went by a horse.
And there was something about -- there is something that I think is different from girls than from boys when they're born that way.
L. KING: And Chaia, when did you get interested in horses for like a living -- I mean, you're involved with them all the time?
CHAIA KING, HORSEWOMAN: Yes, always, since I was a little girl. I also read the Walter Farley "Black Stallion" series, which got me interested in Arabians in particular. But I think all girls love horses in particular, and all animals.
L. KING: What is it about a girl and a horse, though?
C. KING: I think, besides the obvious answer, which would be that the freedom and the strength, I mean the horse's is the great equalizer, it's one of the few situations in which women and men can compete on equal levels.
Beyond that, I think that women are generally considered more intuitive than men. I don't think that's true of all men, I think Pony's one of the few exceptions to that. But I do think that horses allow an outlet for that, because as you're socialized, you're taught the social mores of behaving and your persona, so to speak.
With a horse, you cannot play the persona, so to speak. You are who you are.
L. KING: Tell me Pony Boy, about the horse? What makes the horse different? The horse is different from all creatures of the kingdom.
PONY BOY: They are. Really, it's tough to understand. If you watch horse body language and watch human body language, they're so close -- which doesn't make any sense at all because cow body language and human body language is nothing alike. But we connect with them. I'm not sure why, but we can make a connection with the horse.
L. KING: Whether they race or stroll or do anything, right?
PONY BOY: Yes, it doesn't matter what they do, we can connected with them.
L. KING: We touch in with them.
They are not, though, Bo -- are they a bright animal? Or am I wrong?
DEREK: They're different. They're intuitive.
L. KING: They're all mad at me.
DEREK: No, I'm not angry, because it depends how you define intelligence.
But they're very intuitive, they learn very quickly. It's interesting because they -- in our modern society, except as a beast of burden in third-world countries they serve no purpose, no practical purpose.
If we are not moved by them, attracted -- it's a pure attraction, they're gorgeous animals. If we're not attracted to them, if we don't want to use them in sport, they pretty much would not exist.
L. KING: Let me check in with Terry Ventura now.
When did your interest in horses begin?
TERRY VENTURA, FIRST LADY OF MINNESOTA: The earliest I can recall was when I was 2 years old and my grandmother put me on a horse, an old draft horse type at her farm in southern Minnesota. And that's the earliest I can remember thinking about horses and I was stuck ever since then.
L. KING: Did you go to pony rides as a kid?
VENTURA: Oh yes; in fact, my mother used our grocery money one time and bought me a pony for $28 when I was 12 years old, so I'm forever grateful to my mother.
L. KING: Now, as the first lady of Minnesota -- does Jesse ride horses? VENTURA: Jesse used to ride with me all the time, but now he's kind of -- his love has gone in another direction. He just enjoys hanging out in the barn and petting and brushing and talking to the mothers and babies and things that we raise on our ranch.
L. KING: Do you get to ride horses and still be first lady?
VENTURA: Absolutely; I make it a point. It's what keeps me sane.
L. KING: What do you think, Terry, is special about the horse?
VENTURA: I think because we have a relationship that goes back to prehistoric times. They first were our food and then they were our beasts of burden and then they helped us conquer other nations; and so I think that it's a bond that goes back way before we were probably totally the way we are now and how we evolved.
And I don't think that that bond ever goes a way. I think that man, in his quest for perfection comes up with machines because we can so dominate a machine.
L. KING: Pony Boy, to the Native American they were essential, were they not?
PONY BOY: Absolutely -- they weren't essential, prior to their introduction, but they changed the way of life for the Native American, certainly.
L. KING: Gave them movement...
PONY BOY: Expanded their hunting range, their trading range. Could build larger houses because they could now transport them. Really changed the face of the American plains.
KING: How many different breeds are there?
PONY BOY: Hundreds and hundreds. There are breeds around the world, but there's only six remaining individuals of a particular breed.
KING: Really? Like extinct?
PONY BOY: Oh yes. There's 40 endangered species of horse.
L. KING: The book is "Of Women and Horses;" and we'll talk more with our outstanding panel and Rich Cohen. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
L. KING: By the way, Bo Derek has a pet-care product line called "Bless the Beasts" coming in Pet Co. stores all over the country in October.
All sorts of products? DEREK: Yes, and for horses too -- horses will be next spring -- I'll release the horse products.
But it's a passion of mine I've been working on for four years.
L. KING: Now Pony Boy, "Of Women and Horses" is your baby, right, it's your project. What is relationship training?
PONY BOY: It's -- relationship training is what I teach people. I travel around the world teaching people how to better their relationship with their horses.
L. KING: People have training problems with them?
PONY BOY: Oh, yes, tremendous amounts of training problems.
L. KING: Are they in a bad mood today...
PONY BOY: No, like biting and kicking and falling off and my horse won't move forward and my horse doesn't get into trailers -- and any number of problems that people experience with horses.
And nine out of 10 times it's due to something wrong with the relationship. Horses are heard animals and you have to remember that. And when you're in a herd, you're either the leader or the follower. And if you're the follower and your horse is the leader, you're going to run into difficulties.
L. KING: And how did you get to do something like this? I mean, I grew up with a hundred guys. Not one said I want to teach people how to relate to their horses.
PONY BOY: I didn't say that either, Larry. I grew up with horses, went away from them for a while, came back to them, and just found this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm good at it, so that's what I'm doing.
L. KING: Now, Terry, you write about breeding experience, right?
VENTURA: Yes, I did.
L. KING: And your -- in other words, you do a lot of breeding?
VENTURA: Oh, I wouldn't say that I was an expert. I think that the only expert that we're even considering at this table would be Pony. But I have been very successful. My first two babies that -- we picked out the stallion, and they were born and raised on my ranch by me -- were both champions. One was a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) champion his first time out, and the other one was a champion with her mother.
L. KING: It is, though, Terry, is it not -- I know from horse- racing knowledge -- a very inexact science? You could take with the best with the best and not get the best?
VENTURA: Absolutely, absolutely. In fact, the second one that became a champion with her mother was bred -- her mother is a blue blood, her father is a blue blood, but she is very small. So how do you figure that when most American saddlebreds end up between 16 and 17 hands? This poor little thing will be lucky if she reaches 15. But she's still beautiful and she can still trot, so I don't care.
L. KING: And Chaia, you write of the beauty and potency of the bond.
C. KING: Yes.
L. KING: Meaning what? Potency?
C. KING: How inspirational it can be for your life. And Pony refers to horses as healers. They teach us and...
PONY BOY: Yes.
C. KING: They teach us and they heal us, and I believe that they do serve that role in your life.
L. KING: You mean you feel better when you go to your horse? You can be having a bad day...
C. KING: Exactly, and I think things get worked out in non- verbal ways. Your relationship with your horse is nonverbal. I mean, you can use verbal cues at certain times, but the bulk of the relationship is nonverbal, which is unusual for people.
But you can solve a lot of problems in nonverbal ways. A lot of times there are solutions to something you bring that has nothing to do with the horse, but being with the horse helps work that out.
L. KING: Bo, does the -- horses like humans?
DEREK: No, not at all. Not at all.
L. KING: They have many personalities, though, right? There are stubborn and not so stubborn, shy and outgoing?
DEREK: Sure, but then -- but then some of them are things they were born with, certain behaviors, and so many of them are because of, you know, we mess with them. We just interfere with their lives all the time.
This is a dilemma: I love them, and sometimes I think, oh, I shouldn't have any. They should just -- I should just buy a big piece of land and let them be, and don't poke them and pull them. But some horses do like to work and some horses do like to be with you, and that's very rare. And when it is, it's the most flattering thing I've ever experienced.
L. KING: This may seem stupid, Pony Boy, but are they made to be ridden?
PONY BOY: I believe they are made to be ridden.
L. KING: So it's not uncomfortable to them when someone sits on them?
PONY BOY: No, certainly not. And there's enough historical examples and Biblical examples of riding horses.
L. KING: Do they like the fact that someone is straddling them and on their back?
PONY BOY: Well, the weight factor really isn't an issue. They're a very strong animal.
Horses enjoy it. The horses I've experienced like being ridden. Now, some don't. They're no fun. But most do.
L. KING: You say in the book that the first thing they taught you was patience.
PONY BOY: Oh, certainly. You're trying to have a conversation with an animal, and not only do you not know their language really well, but they don't have a clue what you're saying. It's like speaking sign language to someone if you don't understand sign language. So you learn to be very patient. If you don't learn to be patient, you get aggressive and angry and start to rule the horse.
L. KING: Terry, the rewards are not great. I mean, there are medals and trophies, but this is not a business to make money, is it?
PONY BOY: No, it's not. It's a business that you have to feel in your heart. I mean, anybody who thinks they're going to go in the horse business and make money should talk to my husband. He said he used -- he used to be smart and then he let his wife buy a horse, so...
But it's something that you feel inside you. And the things about horses, I think, and when we talk about our relationship with them, especially when you talk about the point of them when you have a bad day and you go to see your horse, it's a fact, it's a known fact, physiological fact, that when you sit on a horse, your heart rate slows, your circulation increases, and the endorphins flow.
So there's more to riding -- it's why they use horses for helping people with handicaps, physical handicaps and mental handicaps.
And I was just recently at a place called Victory Riders where a young lady who had cerebral palsy, who couldn't even lift her head or look up, would not be verbal, we brought a horse up to her. The horse put his head right up against her head, and this child smiled. She lifted her head for the first time in a long time. She stroked the horse. She made verbal noises to the horse, and the horse just soaked it right up.
So there is something there. We don't quite know. And you know what? I don't want to know. It's just like I never watch movies that reveal the tricks of magicians. I want magic.
L. KING: BOY: , who was your first horse?
DEREK: Oh, oh, Stripe. I think I was about 12 or 11, and my father, we sold the diving boat and we got a horse for the summer. And his backbone stuck up about this high, and he was my great, majestic steed. He really was.
L. KING: Did you own him a long time?
DEREK: Not very long. Not very long.
L. KING: Stripe.
We'll ask the others about first horses and more to come on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. And then Rich Cohen talks about his terrific new book, "The Avengers." Don't go away.
L. KING: We are back with our panel of Bo Derek, Terry Ventura, Chaia King, and GaWaNi Pony Boy, who -- his concept has turned into the book "Of Women and Horses."
Chaia, your first horse?
C. KING: My first horse was that little Arabian gelding. I think you remember him well. And his name was Redneck. The joke was a name. You know, it was a joke.
L. KING: And he was uncontrollable.
C. KING: No, no. He was young. He was a baby. He was a baby. And he taught me a lot. My present horse, Canadian Affair, but her barn name is Fancy, is a dressage, very well-schooled in dressage horse. And so she's my teacher right now.
But you remember all the stories you used to tell me from the Brooklyn Polo Club.
L. KING: We used to lie to her that when we grew up in Brooklyn, we played polo a lot. That's how me and Herbie -- Rich's father -- met, playing polo. It was like, oh, after school, polo...
Polo was very big. I was big in dressage.
PONY BOY: Really?
L. KING: Are you kidding? We never saw a horse.
You remember your first horse?
PONY BOY: Yes, a bony old Appaloosan named Calamity Jane, threw me every chance she could get. L. KING: Why do you get back on a horse that throws you? I'm Jewish, we're gone.
You throw me, goodbye.
PONY BOY: I think it's a matter of pride more than anything. There's no magic involved.
L. KING: It's a battle, right?
PONY BOY: Really, yes.
L. KING: Terry, who's your first?
VENTURA: My first horse was a little pinto pony named King, and he did from everything from chase us around and bite us to carry us down the road on his back in carts. He ate toasted marshmallows and popcorn from the campfire and would sleep next to you.
L. KING: Bo Derek, Christopher Reeve has told me never blamed the horse for what happened to him.
DEREK: No, he wouldn't. He wouldn't. That's part of jumping, that they will refuse occasionally. It's part of why I don't jump.
I have bull-fight horses. They literally fight the bull from the horse, and it's one of the few things left in our modern world where your life and the horse's life depends on you getting through this experience. And that really appeals to me. But jumping, I never -- it's never appealed to me. I saw my girlfriends go off the front too many times.
C. KING: In my essay, I talk about the issue of betrayal and why the bond can get so strong, is the horse cannot betray you in a way that another human can.
I mean, you know, if they're abused or they're mistreated, they can react in ways. But other than that, they are always true to their instincts. You can always count on that. And I think that's one of the reasons Christopher Reeve -- I mean, the horse didn't betray him. It was an accident.
L. KING: Do women have a touch -- I know in horse racing they say this -- that the female rider has light hands on the reins?
PONY BOY: Not necessarily.
L. KING: No, because it's very often beneficial, say, with 2- year-olds.
PONY BOY: I'll tell you the key to a good horse person is balance. It's having an equal balance of masculine and feminine. Great horsemen are very sensitive guys. Great horsewomen are a bit more aggressive than most. It's just a good balanced personality. That's what they connect to.
L. KING: So the great jockey would have sensitivity? Had to have sensitivity?
PONY BOY: He would have to. He wouldn't be in the game. He wouldn't be a winner.
L. KING: Because the statement used to be about great jockeys, "Horses run for them."
PONY BOY: Sure.
L. KING: You can't explain it, but they run for them.
PONY BOY: They're willing partners. They're a balanced individual.
L. KING: Do your horses, Terry, know you?
VENTURA: Oh, absolutely, but they even know my daughter Jade more. When she walks in the barn, everybody's talking to her.
L. KING: Do they communicate with each other, in your opinion, Terry?
L. KING: Absolutely?
VENTURA: Oh, yes. Horses communicate to each other just by moving their tail a different way. And everybody that's around that particular horse, if that horse happens to be the horse in charge of the herd, knows uh-oh, either stay away or we're getting ready to do something new, or pay attention, something's about to happen.
L. KING: Bo, you would think that it's a lonely life, a horse. You stand all day. They bring you some oats. Some one rides you, and you stand. You look over the fence; there's another horse. Hello, horse.
DEREK: But you're right.
And here's a herd animal.
L. KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) trying to be. If I were a horse, what would I do? It's 2:00 in the afternoon. Now what?
DEREK: It's true. And a lot of behavior problems come from boredom, because they're supposed to be in a herd, a big herd. And we take them, we isolate them. We're constantly moving them around, and they're lonely and they miss their friends.
And so some of us try very hard to keep their lifestyle as natural as possible and keep them entertained.
And riding with a good person with light hands, with good hands can be fun for a horse.
C. KING: Also people -- you know, a lot of Pony's relationship training is based from the ground first. It has nothing to do with riding yet. Where you establish the relationship is from the ground.
PONY BOY: Yes, and all classic schools do that. You train from the ground for years.
L. KING: Meaning?
PONY BOY: I'm on the ground, the horse is on the ground. And we...
L. KING: And you're on their back?
PONY BOY: No, not at all.
C. KING: So it can benefit people who aren't able to ride or need therapeutic work.
L. KING: Does the horse know its owner when its owner is riding him?
PONY BOY: Oh, goodness, yes. Horses are terribly intelligent. They really are.
L. KING: Because I said earlier, are they stupid? You're saying they're not stupid.
PONY BOY: I don't know where people came up with the fact that horses are stupid. Their memories are incredible. Their capacity to learn is phenomenal, far better than most humans I've dealt with. Honestly.
L. KING: That's right. They wouldn't bet on people running around the track.
PONY BOY: No, they wouldn't.
L. KING: Do you think your horses, when you ride them, Terry, know you?
VENTURA: Oh absolutely, yes, because I see different people ride them and get different things out of them than I can get and vice- versa. And I see horses that have someone that rides them continuously, and a stranger gets on and they get kind of tense and they're a little worried: Well, now, what's this person going to do? And so I really believe that they do. And even if it's not true, I'm going to believe it anyway, because it makes me feel good.
DEREK: Yes, it's true.
L. KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments of Bo Derek, Terry Ventura, Chaia King, and Pony Boy talking about "Of Women and Horses," and then we'll talk about Rich Cohen about his book "The Avengers." And then later, Formula One racing. Don't go away.
L. KING: By the way, every time I say "Pony Boy" I'm calling him by his last name. Your first name is Pony, right?
PONY BOY: My first name is GaWaNi. My last name is Pony Boy. But all my friends call me Pony.
L. KING: But everyone calls you Pony. And you are horses all the time, right?
PONY BOY: All the time, yes, 24/7.
L. KING: That's your life.
PONY BOY: That's it.
L. KING: It controls you in a sense, doesn't it, Bo? The horse?
DEREK: Keeps me working. He's lucky he's made a living at it. I work for my horse passion.
L. KING: In other words, you go out to do a movie, come back to support your horse passion?
L. KING: You work to support your horse passion, right?
C. KING: Yes. It's an expensive hobby, but it's well worth the rewards.
L. KING: So everything you do is incidental to being -- the horse is the most important factor of your day?
C. KING: Yes, and trying something new if you're working, depending on what discipline you're working in. And you know, I'm studying dressage right now. So there are continual things you have to work on. So you learn every day.
L. KING: But when the horse is part of your life, Terry, it's not like a hobby of building boats, right? It takes over?
VENTURA: Exactly, because you can leave your boat in the garage and go away for six months, but if you do that to your horse, someone's going to come and take you away. So I think it's a hobby that you have to think about all the time, because the horse gets sick, the horse gets better, the horse grows old, the horse needs new shoes, the horse needs something all the time. But -- and I think that's probably why women are more interested, because women are used to that with the way they're brought up about being caring about everybody all the time. And so, that's kind of I think how women fit into that mold.
But it's just like any other thing. If you have a passion -- what's your passion, Larry? Do you have something that, you know, you just have to make you feel better and you think about even when you're not doing it?
L. KING: Well, reading, sports. I like film.
VENTURA: Exactly. Yes, and so it's whatever habit you have. I don't think it's just horses. Horses are just -- because they're a live being and they weigh about 1,200 pounds if you have a normal size horse. But it's not something that you can just put away and forget about for a while.
L. KING: Who should get this book, Pony?
PONY BOY: Anyone who's really looking to take a look at relationships, not just horse-women relationships. The stories that the women wrote for this book delve into relationships period, and really offer some neat insights into women, into horses, into men. Fascinating.
L. KING: Did John Derek like horses?
DEREK: Yes, he had a touch. He had a way with them.
L. KING: He did?
DEREK: Yes. And I don't know, this whole (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I don't know that it's telepathic, as some people believe. But some people just have a coordination, a touch, a way they move that just communicates.
L. KING: Do you think we're ready for a book, Chaia, "Of Men and Horses"?
C. KING: I believe we are, and I believe Bo is speaking about something that really...
DEREK: I'm very -- I'm very curious. This book made me so curious about what is it with men that love horses, because it's more uncommon.
L. KING: More uncommon?
DEREK: More uncommon.
VENTURA: Oh, I agree with that. L. KING: Terry, your daughter had a special case, right?
VENTURA: Absolutely. My daughter is a special ed child and has had certain handicaps, physical and mental. And when she started riding at about -- I believe I started her at about age 4 or 5 - I saw right away an improvement in eye-hand coordination, in the ability to multitask, to think and do two or three things at once. And her self- confidence and her self-esteem really grew, because here was this giant animal that was totally in her control and that listened to her, looked forward to her, whinnied to her when she would come into the barn.
And it really improved everything about Jade. It made her a much more rounded person, and I was very lucky to be able to introduce her to that. That's why I work with kids now with horses even to this day.
L. KING: Do you go all around the country, Pony?
PONY BOY: All around the world.
L. KING: All around the world. You were in Germany, right?
PONY BOY: Just getting back from Germany. Going to Australia. We'll be doing Argentina.
L. KING: Helping people...
PONY BOY: Putting on seminars, clinics, teaching people about horse relationships, teaching people how to get along better, how to train, how to teach, all those things, just a little insight.
L. KING: Do horses help -- do we use them with kids, as she mentioned her child, where children from hospitals will go and visit horses?
C. KING: Well, Don Imus has talked extensively about his ranch.
L. KING: Don Imus, that's right. Don has his ranch, where he brings -- and something happens to those kids with cancer and other diseases when they get around a horse.
DEREK: And it's unique to a horse. Dogs, yes, they can relate. They can have -- there's something about the horse. I've been with the Therapeutic Riding Academy, another group, and you do see these children with cerebral palsy. And they're so tight, and they get on a horse, and there's something about the movement. And pretty soon, by the end, they've relaxed. And no physical therapy, none of our great machines can accomplish the same thing.
L. KING: Wow.
PONY BOY: And there's a Handicapped Riders Association as well.
DEREK: Yes. L. KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) leave on a personal note, even though my daughter's in it, it's a terrific book. So I tell you this straight up. And we thank Bo Derek, Terry Ventura, Chaia King, and GaWaNi Pony Boy. GaWaNi is the first name, Pony Boy is the last name, Pony is the nickname. And the book is "Of Women and Horses." Great Christmas gift, too.
There's another new book out. I had the honor of reading this book for the tape edition. It's called "The Avengers." The author is Rich Cohen. He's next. Don't go away.
L. KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Rich Cohen, journalist and author. He writes many magazine pieces. Wrote the wonderful book, "Tough Jews," and now the new one, "The Avengers: A Jewish War Story."
I had the honor recording this book on tape and that is available, too, along with the printed version. Rich is the son of my old friend, Herb Cohen. We tell you that up front. This is some book. The title relates to...
RICH COHEN, AUTHOR: Well it's a story of three young people, really, two women and man, Jews who met during the Second World War in the capital of Lithuania. It's really like a love story set in the time of the Holocaust. But it's like no Holocaust that I've ever heard in that these are the people who fought back. They are led by a young man named, Abba Kovner, who sort said if we don't die, we die; and if we do fight, we die, so we might as well fight. So it's a story of these three young Jews who fought and ultimately survived.
L. KING: They were called "The Partisans of Vilna," right?
COHEN: They were a partisan group. Abba Kovner was the first man really to call for resistance by the Jews and he stood before the ghetto and he very famously told people, don't go like sheep to slaughter.
These were controversial words later because, you know, it's a very hard example to live by. He was a young man without a family, without kids. It was easier for him to do it, but he did it and he lived by his own example and by the own standards he set, and working with him were these two young woman, Vitka Kovner and Rozka Korczak. Rozka Korczak was my cousin.
That's really my way into the story. And they were just young girls, 19 years old, incredibly brave, could do thing in the Vilna ghetto that the men couldn't do because they weren't circumcised so when the Germans stopped them, they didn't have the problem with having to pull down their pants and show themselves. And they formed an underground. They armed themselves. They learned to fight.
And when the ghetto was being destroyed by the Nazis, the Vilna ghetto, these people left through the sewers, went through the forest, fought for a year in the forest, fought along with the Red Army, liberated the city that they had been forced to leave, Vilna, and then decided the war is over for the Germans, this is later after the war ended, but it's not over for the Jew. We need to stand up for ourselves.
L. KING: And these three people, Abba and the two women, they grew to old age?
L. KING: I got to meet them, I mean they -- and when you meet them at old age and Aba since passed on and so did another one, right?
COHEN: Right Rozka Korczak died about 12 years ago.
L. KING: When you met them at old age, you would have never have bet that these were, like, killers.
L. KING: They were like little old, nice, Jewish people. Hello. Nice to meet you. I mean...
COHEN: It just proves you can't know the whole story of anybody in the world, you know, and the person that you meet and you judge you probably judge wrong.
L. KING: There's another story going through the book is that were the three of them all lovers?
COHEN: Well, they had a love affair.
L. KING: He married one of them, but were the three lovers?
COHEN: The degree to which they actually physically were together, I sort of leave that to the imagination of the reader a little bit because important thing is they were emotionally together in a way closer than ever could be imagined and forged sort of in the war.
L. KING: Is it a condemnation, in your opinion, of those Jews who marched into the chambers?
COHEN: Well this is what is controversial about Abba Kovner that if he says don't go like sleep to the slaughter, is he the condemning those who died.
L. KING: Is he?
COHEN: No. I think, no. Because you've got to remember he said these words before, during the war. He was the only one, really, one of the only who saw what was happening. This was like sort of a moment of clarity he had that almost nobody else had. Any sane person would think this is not going to happen. This is a war. We're being oppressed, but we're not being killed. Abba knew, for some reason, that these Jews were going to be killed. So most people did what anybody would do. You know, Abba was an extremist and this was an extreme vision that allowed him to see this. There were American airmen who were captured by the Germans and executed there. There were Polish officers who were executed. So why would it be any different -- why would it be any different for Jewish middle class people, Jewish peasants, even, Jewish farmers.
L. KING: They drove the Nazis nuts.
COHEN: Yes, they were...
L. KING: When I read this it was like unbelievable things they did to disrupt -- well, that one guy is asked what do you do for a living? He said, I kill Germans. These were angry people.
COHEN: These were people that lost everything and they were driven by this incredible rage that stayed with them and one of the things about Abba, Vitka and Rozka, the three center characters in my book, is later they are able to let go the anger. But there are stories of when Jews would attack the Germans. They would yell come out, swines, the Jews are here. And they very much had the feeling like, we're the Jews and we're back.
And if you see the cover of the book it's a picture of Abba, Rozka and Vitka the day they liberated Vilna, they went into the ghetto. And they're not unhappy people. That's the other thing about it being sort of a story set in the Holocaust. These are people who in forest fought, and had devastating things happen to them but were not always unhappy. They were thrilled by what they were doing. They felt proud in what they did and it was something the story that they carried with them after the war.
L. KING: They were adventurers.
COHEN: It was in some ways -- in the forest they would gather round the fire, they would sing songs. They would have adventures. They had love. They had a love affair in the midst of all this death. And for them it created this very conflicting feelings.
L. KING: Book is already getting rave reviews in "The New York Times", "Washington Post", "Chicago Tribune." The book is "The Avengers." Back with more of Rich Cohen after this.
L. KING: This is also "The Avengers," the story of the beginning of Israel.
L. KING: The first one migrates and then the others and then the changes in the building of Israel as they come there -- fascinating.
COHEN: Yes, it's interesting. I always thought what they found in the forest, the sort of courage, and the grit that they found in the forest was the most important thing they brought the state of Israel. And their anger and their determination was sort of the fuel that makes sort of the first part of this story of Israel. In that Israel, this little nation, that was able to overcome an attack from all sides, did it with people like Abba Kovner, Rozka Korczak and Vitka.
And Rozka Korczak, who was one these young women and was one of the first people to tell the story of the Holocaust to the state of Israel to the Jews, because she was smuggled out during the war while the war was still being fought. She said, now every community, every kibbutz, every town in Israel is our underground. And every time we build a new house and a new building, that's our resistance. So she was able to very much switch into this new life.
L. KING: There's a very sad and sympathetic character in the book who was sort of the Jewish mayor of the town. He cooperated with the Nazis, he tried to get Jews -- he tried to save lives. He capitulated a lot.
Was he difficult to write? Because he's extraordinary to me in his -- he's not a bad guy, a sad guy.
COHEN: This is Jacob Gens you're talking about. And to me he's sort of one of the most important characters in the book in that, this is a guy who normally gets cast as the villain, in that he's opposed to Abba and Rozka. He sees them as delinquent youngsters.
L. KING: Just go along.
COHEN: But what he was is -- in any other time, this man is a hero. He takes responsibility for the Jewish community. He moves into the ghetto when he doesn't have to and he ultimately gives his life for his beliefs.
His beliefs are just wrong. His beliefs are that, you want to know what the Germans are going to do, common sense. Common sense, they need us as laborers. You don't kill your work force; that's common sense.
So he saw Abba as a hysterical; and really, it was one of the things about the book to try to not make Jacob Gens and the Jews who went along the villains. Make them complex like they were and say to yourself, what would you do if you were in this situations? There's a tendency to look back and say, I would be the hero.
But this man was really a hero too.
L. KING: Did they come to appreciate him at all?
COHEN: Later in life, I think; because they were young and, you know, Vitka and Rozka left their parents and their families behind. They were from western Poland and they fled and they became refugees. And they used to say, happy to be an orphan, because they didn't have to worry about kids and their families. And when they had families of their own, then they could understand why Gens did what Gens did.
L. KING: Is there still a Vilna. COHEN: Vilna is very much -- I say it's like a set for an old musical that they never tore down the stage. You know, it looks exactly the same as it did.
It's one of these things where, when I was reporting the book, when I worked on the book, I went, I lived with Vitka for a summer and I went with all these other partisans and I spent a tremendous amount of time reading and interviewing and doing research. And than after all that I went, with a map Vitka had made for me of Vilna and survivors still in Vilna that I was to see.
And it was so haunting for me to go back to the entrance to the sewers where they escaped. To the house where they fired on the German soldiers. To the gate Vitka used to sneak through with blonde hair.
And some of their biggest supporters, by the way, weren't Jews. A mother superior, a nun who hid Abba in a nearby Convent. Abba was hidden there, dressed as a nun and would work in the fields. And when Abba moved into the Vilna ghetto and formed the resistance, she was the first person, this woman of God, to sneak grenades into Abba Covner and said to him, you're not religious, but you're closer to good than I am.
L. KING: How many partisans left?
COHEN: There group had about 100 people at one point and there's probably about 25 or 30 of them left, I would say. Vitka is around; Vitka is, I think, in her late 70s.
L. KING: Do you think they're proud, now, to have their story told?
COHEN: Well, i think that it was always important -- they always realized that what they were doing was a little part of the story, that the mass story of the Holocaust, of course, is still a horrible and important story to know to know of Auschwitz and of the concentration camps.
But they were living their lives, and they thought it was important to leave a legacy of Jewish resistance and they lived by the old partisan maximum, better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.
L. KING: We'll be back with our remaining moment with Rich Cohen and then we'll talk Formula 1 racing with Flavio.
This is LARRY KING LIVE," the book is "The Avengers;" don't go away.
L. KING: As our producers say, it's a cracking good adventure, horrible events and, surprisingly, a love story as well. The book is "The Avengers," the author is Rich Cohen, who wrote "Tough Jews," that's about Jewish gang sisters. This about Jewish partisans who take arms.
What next, Jewish archers?
COHEN: No, I think I'm going to go back into my Chicago roots and write about Chicago.
L. KING: Growing up?
COHEN: Growing up. And stories about Lake Michigan and running around the lake. I'm ready to do something kind of -- that's just going to make everybody laugh.
L. KING: What do you make now -- there's a book out now that's saying that the Jews are doing too much on this, too much talk of the Holocaust. It's an industry.
COHEN: Yes; I think we're at a point in time where the actual survivors of the Holocaust are dying. And you move from actual witnesses to history and the question is, how will it be remembered in history?
So there's a tendency to tell it now, while people are still around. However, I think it's important to remember that history might not remember the Holocaust the way Jews want it remembered, and there is a tendency to, sort of, get into, sort of, the victimology of it too much. And I think it's important for each person to remember it as they will remember it.
And for me a great lesson of Abba Covner and Vitka is they did not need the history of the Holocaust to fight against the Holocaust. They didn't need the Holocaust to resist the Holocaust. So I think every person is free to fight back in their own ways from whatever the injustice in the world is that they see.
So I understand that this is one of the major events in the history of mankind.
L. KING: These are harrowing things -- poisoning bread.
COHEN: Well, the avengers, after the war, had a plotted to kill millions of Germans.
L. KING: They wanted to -- through the water system, right?
COHEN: Their attitude was basically, there were Jews being killed who were praying to God for vengeance and the Bible is full of stories of people asking -- people that oppressed the Jews being beaten down by God. And, basically, their attitude was if God doesn't do it for the Jews, we're going to do it for ourselves.
L. KING: They're heroes, right? No doubt.
COHEN: I think they're -- no doubt they're heroes, but they're true heroes in that they're difficult. It's not easy. They're not just good. They did things that, to us, would seem very questionable. And it's very easy, of course, to question them now. L. KING: Do you think you -- do you ever say to yourself, what would I have done?
COHEN: The tendency is always to say, I would have been Abba Covner; but I think that, once you get to be 30, I'm now over 30, you're not going to be Abba Covner any more.
Once you're invested in the world and you have things to lose, what Jacob Gens says, sounds pretty good, which is, let's hold on to what we've got. Let's not risk it all for a fight to the death. Let's live.
L. KING: And Abba winds up, what, the poet laureate of Israel, right?
COHEN: Abba wound up one of the great poets of Israel and a great artist, who, sort of, really -- if you look at pictures of Abba when he's young, before the war, and you look at pictures of Abba after the war, he's got, sort of, the thousand-yard stare in his eyes.
You could see that he's seeing things that we can't see.
L. KING: Do any of these people desire to visit Vilna?
COHEN: No, not really. They don't want to go back.
You know, the book is translated into German and there is a poem from Abba in the book and Vitka, Abba's wife would not let me have that poem translated into German. She said nothing of Abba's will be translated into German.
And very much they want the story known, but they feel like that part of it is over. They're not filled with hate, they're not angry, but that life is done and they have their life now.
L. KING: Do we know why they did this?
We know that they did it. Do we know why they did it?
COHEN: I think that Rozka, specifically, felt that she had to leave an example for future generations.
L. KING: Really felt that.
COHEN: She said, in the ghetto she was -- another Zionist said, why are we doing this? We believe in Israel. We should go to Israel and fight for Israel, this isn't our fight.
And she said, OK, let's say we survive. What are you going to do when you go to Israel? Saying that our little group survived only for ourselves while everybody around us died? The Jews can't have stories just of martyrs and heroes in the Bible. We have to have it here.
L. KING: It was an honor to read this book.
COHEN: Thanks Larry. L. KING: Honor to read the tape as well.
Rich Cohen, it's a hell of a story: "The Avengers: a Jewish War Story;" and it's available everywhere books are sold.
And when we come back, we're going to spend some moments with the incredible Flavio Briatore, the managing director of Benetton Formula 1. Don't go away.
L. KING: We're going to spend our remaining moments with an incredible guy, Flavio Briatore. Flavio is the managing director of Benetton Formula One. When he took over this group back in 1989, they were called the T-shirt team, they were kind of laughed at. They've gone on to win championships. You didn't have a lot of experience in this field, though, did you?
FLAVIO BRIATORE, BENETTON FORMULA ONE: No, I never saw myself as a Formula One before. I was there (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Benetton to basically match with to add power to the team in the commercial side and I moved from Virgin Islands to London, you know, big difference about everything.
L. KING: I'll bet. Did you like it right away?
BRIATORE: No, not really. In the beginning I didn't understand why people spend so much money for racing. It was very difficult for me to understand. You know, normally the story, talking about the price of the T-shirts or the price of the sweaters.
You go out into Formula One, everything million dollar. It's very difficult in the beginning to understand, but very quickly you understand it's the best global communications port in the world and to be there, to be strong and to win. For this I decided to stay and in a very short time we were winning two championships in '94 and '95.
L. KING: Is it, Flavio, is it the toughest sport, too?
BRIATORE: Yes, Formula One, if you watch, is only one truly International Event when other competitors racing in 14 different countries in five different continents and the pioneer of the technology. It is the glamour. It's the speed. It's the power. It's about everything. You know, Formula One is, you know, is quite simple. Is 56 billion people watching live the racing in the world. It is the number one sport event after the Olympics and soccer World Cup, but, you know, the Olympics is every four year...
L. KING: And people spend millions on a car, right?
BRIATORE: If you see the car in the grid every race it's about $10 million each car and 17 races you're talking about $340 million a year is the budget of the top team. And behind the two car of Formula One you are talking about 600 or 700 people working constantly to make the car go quick.
L. KING: How much of the race, Flavio, is the driver and how much the car?
BRIATORE: Still, the driver is a very important, really important part because if you have a bad car, a good driver your going nowhere. If you have a very good driver, a bad car you are going nowhere. But we think the car and driver is very important. You see in Formula One we have this guy like Michael Schumacher who is in this moment quite amazing.
L. KING: Now Flavio, Renault has bought the Benetton team, right?
BRIATORE: Yes, Renault owns 100 percent of Benetton, so we come back with Renault.
L. KING: So your staying with them.
BRIATORE: Yes, yes for five years. I have a 5-year contract and it's amazing because Renault has incredible power. Won six championship. It's a very global company. Taking over Nissan this moment, take over Samsung and I believe is -- you know, we tried planning the future of our team and winning the race, winning the championship, and it takes a lot of time.
L. KING: You're coming back.
BRIATORE: At this moment Ferarri's very strong, McClaren's very strong and we're fighting. You know, every constructor is there, now. We have Ford, Toyota, Honda, you have Ferrari, you have Mercedes. It's not easy.
L. KING: What does the managing director do?
BRIATORE: Everything, excluding driving the car.
L. KING: Oh, you do drive the car.
BRIATORE: No, no.
L. KING: Except drive the car.
BRIATORE: I test the car once four years ago. I remember I was with the poor King of Jordan and he went to testing the car and I explained to him this the clutch. and this is and that is that, and it's very easy. He said if it's so easy, why don't you go first. And unfortunately I tried first, did six or seven laps, but driving a Formula One car is very difficult because it's a very difficult car to drive. Keep the car on the track is already difficult and the other driver of Formula One is superman is, amazing boys.
L. KING: When's the next big race?
BRIATORE: Well, actually now, there's two more race to go. One is Japan next week. And after that we finish in Malaysia.
L. KING: And is there a lot of dollars involved in winning in Formula One? BRIATORE: Well you know, like everything winning isn't easy. It's very difficult to figure out how much dollars is the difference, but sure the investment the team has is very high. One top team invests about $350 million a year. You know every year we afford this kind of money. Winning is the image. Winning for the companies image. You have other big players and everybody want to win. Unfortunately there's only one, but you need to be there because a Formula One is global, is the only one motor race, the only one big event everybody need be there.
L. KING: Flavio, you're a fabulous man. And good luck in Japan.
BRIATORE: Thank you very much, Larry.
L. KING: Flavio Briatore the Managing Director of Benetton's Formula One. They're on their way back, owned now by Renault. Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. For all of our guests, see you Monday night. Good night.
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