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Panel Discusses 'Path to War'; Cloris Leachman Talks About 'Mary Tyler Moore Reunion'

Aired May 11, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a politician larger than life and the conflict that brought down his presidency. The powerful new film captures the compelling story of LBJ on the path to war in Vietnam.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're losing, because this war goes on and on and on.


KING: We'll talk with historian Michael Beschloss, former Johnson aide Jack Valenti and other key players about the dramatic event it portrays. And it's next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.

Welcome to a very special edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND. This Monday night, or next Saturday night rather, May 18, on HBO at 8:00 Eastern an extraordinary teledrama will air.

It is entitled "Path to War." We're going to welcome a lot of the principals involved in that program to that program.

And they are: Donald Sutherland, who plays the special adviser, Clark Clifford. I'm getting old. I know everybody that's played in these things. Alec Baldwin will be joining us by phone. He plays former secretary of defense, Robert McNamara.

The brilliant John Frankenheimer has directed HBO's "Path to War," a four-time Emmy winner. Old friend Jack Valenti was special assistant for years to Lyndon Johnson. His son, John, plays him in "Path to War."

And Michael Beschloss joins us from Washington. He's had two back-to-back best sellers featuring taped highlights of the first two years of the Johnson Administration. And here in L.A. is Edgar Scherick, the executive producer of HBO's "Path to War."

This details the Johnson years from his assuming the presidency to his famed announcement that he will not seek reelection due to, of course, what became the catastrophe of the Vietnamese War.

Edgar, how did this thing come about? EDGAR SCHERICK, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "PATH TO WAR": Oh, over 10 years ago two people, one named Howard Dratch, documentary, and Daniel Giat, a screenwriter, came to me with the idea for a project. And they wanted to do a film on Clark Clifford.

I said, fellows, Clark Clifford is an attendant (UNINTELLIGIBLE) meant to swell a scene or two. The real star of that drama is the chief, Lyndon Johnson.

KING: And it took 10 years?

SCHERICK: It took 10. This is after HBO committed to write the script. It took 10 years.

KING: John, how did you get involved?

JOHN FRANKENHEIMER, DIRECTOR, HBO's "PATH TO WAR": Well, I got sent the script about three years ago. I thought it was one of the best scripts I ever read. Unfortunately I wasn't available.

And finally, last year they came back to me with it, and I said right away, yes. I'm thrilled I did.

KING: Is this a two-hour film?

FRANKENHEIMER: Well, it's a little bit longer than two hours, Larry. We hope it seems shorter. But we just need the time to tell the story.

KING: Donald, how did they get you to play Mr. Clifford?

DONALD SUTHERLAND, ACTOR, HBO's "PATH TO WAR": John phoned me and I said no.

KING: You said no?

SUTHERLAND: Yeah. I said no three times. Didn't I?


KING: Why?

SUTHERLAND: I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do it.

KING: What changed your mind?

SUTHERLAND: John and Richard Holbrooke. His book. And then they made a couple of alterations in the script, and I fell in love with Clark Clifford.

KING: Mr. Beschloss, how are you involved?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, CONSULTANT, HBO's "PATH TO WAR": Well, I was brought in a few years ago to take a look at the script for accuracy and generally advise. And you know, Larry, one thing that historians are always very concerned about is the way that history is portrayed in film.

When Oliver Stone did "JFK" and "Nixon," I and just about everyone else I know was -- we were all pretty indignant about the way that was done, because millions of kids particularly got their history from those films.

I think the result of this film, no one would argue that every single scene is exact as it was in real life, but I think the result is that the larger truth is there. And especially for a young person seeing this film, I think you'll get a terrific idea of how Johnson got us deeply into Vietnam.

KING: And Jack, how did you get your son -- were you involved in getting your son to play you?

JACK VALENTI, FORMER JOHNSON AIDE: No, as a matter of fact, I wasn't. I got involved in this. HBO suggested I might read the script, and since I was there and took part in all the Vietnam meetings from '63 to mid '66. And my notes, which are the only evidence existing of what went on in those meetings, now reside in the LBJ Library.

So they asked me to take a look at the script. Which I did, and I gave them my thoughts about it. And I must say that HBO and John Frankenheimer were wonderful.

KING: How'd your son get the part?

VALENTI: Well, I'm told that the producer had a friend who thought an inspired piece of casting would be to have my son play me. My son is a non-professional. He never acted before in his life, but ...

KING: How did he do, John?

FRANKENHEIMER: Absolutely terrific. The casting director came to me and said, you know, there's a guy who is Valenti's son who looks exactly like him. And I said, well, can he act? And she said, I don't know. Let's bring him in to read.

And he came in and he read and he did quite well. Brought him back, read again and I think, just my own personal prejudiced point of view, is he's terrific.

VALENTI: I said, John, please don't get an agent.

KING: To start with, Donald. What fascinated you about Mr. Clifford?

SUTHERLAND: He was a terrifically intelligent man and he wanted a couple of things out of life. One was to make a lot money, which he did, and two is to serve presidents. And to become in some way a Svengali, a team maker.

KING: And he was that. SUTHERLAND: And he was that. He was that with Truman, with the recognition of Israel, which George Marshall never spoke to Clifford again after that. You know, but Truman -- but Clifford helped Harry Truman win that election in '48.

Then with Johnson, he really was someone -- he was not so much concerned with what was happening to the government or the United States. He was more concerned with what was happening with the president and how great a presidency he was creating.

KING: Did he have a title?

VALENTI: He and Abe Fortus (ph) were the two trusted outside advisers that Johnson called on. Clifford and Fortus (ph) were in dozens of these Vietnam meetings to counsel the president and to serve as a kind of interlocketer with the rest.

KING: Let me get a break. We'll come right back. "Path to War" airs May 18. It will air frequently after that, but that's its debut night on HBO. We'll be right back.


SUTHERLAND: This is a year of minimum political risk for you, Mr. President. You were elected by the largest landslide in our history. The reactionary elements in this society will not soon recover. I foresee little erosion of your prestige and power, if we cut our losses and get out of Vietnam. But I foresee nothing but disaster for you and this country if we don't. If we escalate this war, I believe it will ruin us, and I believe it will ruin you and all the great good you have sought to do.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most strategic targets in North Vietnam remain intact. The chief said I have been urging for months that we take the next logical step and destroy their oil reserves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing stopped them yet; why should that stop them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But oil goes in trucks, Mr. President. Trucks that carry troops and guns and bullets across the border to kill our men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't need them trucks! (UNINTELLIGIBLE)! They got 100-year-old women hauling (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What do you want me to do, kill everybody's grandmother in that place?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Michael Beschloss, the overview of "Path to War" and from everything we've read from your books and those tapes Lyndon Johnson knew it was wrong. Didn't he? He knew it.

BESCHLOSS: That's the tragedy. Because, you know, sometimes, Larry, you think that there was a tragedy that couldn't have been avoided and there are an awful lot of those in life. But the thing that happened to Johnson, and it's rendered very well in this film. Is that very early on when many of these advisers were telling Johnson, you have to fight the war in Vietnam. It's necessary to win the Cold War.

At the time he began that big escalation, in private he was saying in private to people like Ladybird, I know we can't win this war. I feel chained. I feel as if I'm an airplane that's crashing and there's nothing I can do about it.

It's that pathos that I think this film really renders so well.

KING: And he had key Senators, Jack, -- it's right out of the book out of the tapes. Richard Russell. You're making a mistake. You're making a mistake.

Why did he stay?

VALENTI: Everybody today says, well, that's what he should have done. But at the time, what Lyndon Johnson was trying to do was not win the war in the accepted definition. It was to try to get the North Vietnamese to the conference table.

This was his aim and this was his goal. The military and many of those meetings, particularly that took place in July of 1965, and I sat in on every one of them, was saying if we put in 100,000 more then we can bring them to the conference table.

And he kept saying, well a 100,000, one day you'll have me have 500,000. Oh no, Mr. President, we'll never get to that. He was striving mightily to try to find a way to end the war through negotiations.

KING: But he had key senators divvying out, telling him ...

VALENTI: In a meeting on July 27, with Senator Russell and all of them were there, Senator Russell did not tell him to get out. Only Mansfield (ph) suggested that, as just only George Boil (ph) at the table. Every single adviser of the president, bar none, did not urge him to take a different course.

KING: And George Boil (ph) told me once, he told Kennedy not to send advisers. He was opposed to ever getting involved.

VALENTI: Keep in mind, when Johnson became president we had 16,000 fighting men in Vietnam.

KING: What was Clark Clifford's position on Vietnam? SUTHERLAND: According to Holbrooke and according to this film, in '65 he sat with Johnson and said, you know, you've paid your (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to Kennedy's position. Now you're your own man. You've had the biggest landslide in the history of American politics.

Get out of the war and fulfill your dream of the great society.

KING: John, the position the film takes is what?

FRANKENHEIMER: Well, the position the film takes, Larry, was that this is really a modern King Lear. We take this man at the height of popularity, when he was elected by the greatest majority in the history of the United States, for any president. Started with his Inauguration Ball and we finish it in March of 1968 when he's broken and defeated and he makes that great speech on television where he says, "I will not accept and I will not become president ...

KING: It is King Lear.

FRANKENHEIMER: It is. It's totally King Lear.


LYNDON JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.


KING: We have Alec Baldwin with us on the phone. He's currently making a movie while he's talking to us. So if he runs away we'll understand.

What film are you doing?

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR, "PATH TO WAR": I'm doing a film -- I'm in Reno, Nevada right now doing a little casino film with Bill Macy called "The Cooler."

KING: Alec, you play Robert McNamara who appears in historically as the villain of the piece. Is he not?

BALDWIN: Oh, I think, you know, with what we know in hindsight about McNamara, that's pretty much the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he has now. But, you know, at the time I think McNamara came to this job, you know, to bring all of the great, you know, mental acuity he had when he was at the Ford Motor Company in the '50s and he started in the Kennedy administration.

After Kennedy was killed, he stayed on with Johnson and had that continuity with Johnson. I think like all of the people at that time, there was a political power game they were playing more adroitly than solving the problems of U.S. foreign policy but you know, -- I guess you could say he was a villain at the time.

KING: And he would later admit he was. BALDWIN: Yeah. He did admit quite a ways later, you know, 30 years later that he was in his book, that he -- that they'd made a mistake.

KING: Johnson liked him. Didn't he, Jack?

VALENTI: Johnson was awestruck by the velocity of his brain power. There was an unbelievable certitude about McNamara. When he made a statement, he had statistics coming out of him like a computer and Johnson really was greatly admiring of his intelligence and the majesty of his brain.

KING: Michael Beschloss, how did the best and the brightest be so -- how could they be so wrong?

BESCHLOSS: Well, there was a feeling that this was something that America was at the height of its power, and in the case of McNamara Alec is exactly right. McNamara felt that it was almost scientific, that if you escalated to a certain point, the North Vietnamese would hold.

What he didn't get was that the North Vietnamese, the Vietnamese people had been resisting outside invaders for literally centuries. They were so committed to the idea of prevailing that McNamara's theories really did not cut it.

I think the other thing is that Johnson was very much intimidated by the people he had inherited from John Kennedy. He was afraid that someone like McNamara or some of the others, George Bundy (ph), the security adviser, might quit and it would look bad. Especially when you hear Johnson on these tapes, when he's talking to McNamara or Bundy (ph), he's deferential. He's almost intimidated in a way that when he's talking to his own people about domestic policy he's much more inclined to ask them tough questions. And I think that was part of it too.

KING: People could intimidate him, Jack? He was impressed with McNamara, though, wasn't he?

VALENTI: I never saw Lyndon Johnson intimidated by anybody. I think that Michael is right, though, he did not want McNamara or Bundy (ph) to leave.

And what may have sounded deferential was Johnson's way of making sure that he had an embrace on them and that they were there. But he admired both of them very much. But as John Gardner, his HEW Secretary, once said that Lyndon Johnson was the most intelligent man he'd ever seen.

I didn't say educated. I said intelligent. So, he wasn't intimidated. He was just determined to keep them by his side.

KING: Who plays Johnson, Edgar?

SCHERICK: Michael Gambon, a British actor, in what I think is a brilliant piece of character and he was fortunate to have John Frankenheimer direct him. He's an Englishman, but boy I think he's wonderful.

KING: Did he find that accent?

FRANKENHEIMER: Much more important, he's an Irishman.

KING: Irish?

FRANKENHEIMER: Yes, he did do the accent.


MICHAEL GAMBON, ACTOR: This Wednesday, I will send...


KING: Does he look like him?

FRANKENHEIMER: There are shots that are amazingly similar in looks. In person, when you meet him, he doesn't look like Johnson. When you do the hair, when you do the eyebrows, when he takes the attitude that he does -- he's such a great actor that he becomes Johnson.

KING: Did you like working with him?

FRANKENHEIMER: I loved working with him.

KING: Did you like working with him, Donald?

SUTHERLAND: I like him. Yeah.

KING: Did you like him, Alec?

BALDWIN: Gambon?

KING: Yeah.

BALDWIN: Yeah. I loved Gambon. The reason I took the film was to work with Valenti's son.

KING: On that note, we'll take a break and come right back. The film is "Path to War." It debuts one week from tonight. Don't go away.


BALDWIN: I recommend the following: One, put the men in. West Moreland (ph) plan is sound. Every quantative measurement shows we can win. Two, call up the reserves and extend the tours of duty. And three, expand the bombing. In the north, remove restrictions on bridge and rail lines, mine the harbors, expand rolling thunder from 2,500 to 5,000 sorties a month. In the south, tactical air strikes must be supplemented by increased B-52 bombings of VC base areas.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Mr. President. The embassy compound has been hit before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, not just the embassy. Palace, legislature, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Mac, can you hear me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're shooting right outside, Mr. Secretary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outside of the embassy compound?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inside. They blew through the wall. They're at the doors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have something to defend yourself with?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm at the window. They're below me. They see me. They're looking right at me. I've got to go, Mr. Secretary, I've got to go.


KING: Back with our outstanding panel discussing Lyndon Johnson and what is the tragedy of the Vietnam War.

John, I know you knew Robert Kennedy. You drove Robert Kennedy the night he died.

FRANKENHEIMER: I did. I did all of Robert Kennedy's film and television for his campaign. He was staying at my house and I drove him to the Ambassador Hotel, unfortunately, the night he was shot.

KING: Did you know Lyndon Johnson?

FRANKENHEIMER: I'd met Lyndon Johnson, but I never knew him.

KING: The only one who knew him on this panel was Valenti. So how well did Michael capture him?

VALENTI: I think what John Frankenheimer extracted from this extraordinary actor is an Emmy-winning performance if ever I saw one. There were moments when I was astounded at how much he was like Johnson. The mannerisms, and as John says, the body language.

Even though, if you see him, he doesn't look like Johnson. But somehow he gathered all of this molecular energy and all of the sudden he's Johnson. It's an extraordinary performance.

KING: Michael, have you seen the film? BESCHLOSS: I sure have. And I didn't know Lyndon Johnson, Larry, but one Johnson aide told me that when he heard Gambon shrieking the way that Johnson did, in this film, the aide began to break out into a cold sweat the way he used to in the White House.

KING: When you're playing someone who was a real person, Donald, like Clark Clifford. Now you could see Clark Clifford on film. He was on this program twice. Did you study him?


KING: Did you try to ape him? Is it an imitation? How does it ...

SUTHERLAND: No. No. No. It's like what Michael did. What Michael captured, I think, Jack, was -- it seemed to me you saw the breakdown and the frailty. And you saw the humors, the sense of vanity. You caught everything. Little pieces of it exploding inside him.

You know, he's Michael Gambon.

FRANKENHEIMER: Who can play this part? You have to have a great, great actor do it. Because when you see the film, he's in absolutely every frame of it.

It's somebody who has to go through the whole gamut of emotions and you have to have somebody, I honestly think just like in Donald's part and in Alec's part and so many other parts in this movie, you have to have great actors.

And Michael Gambon is a great, great actor.

KING: He tested?

FRANKENHEIMER: No, he didn't have to test. We just did a voice test just to see if he could possibly do the accent, and he did it brilliantly.

KING: Alec, did you approach McNamara as complicated?

BALDWIN: Well, I mean, when you play historical figures in a drama like this, the goal for me is to try and convey the ideas that they represent in the piece. I think when you see those Cabinet scenes, and especially the way John directed those Cabinet scenes, I always thought that McNamara was the guy that just wanted to convey that he could read Johnson's mind better than anyone.

And he could try, you know, in that White House palace, you know, power game he was the one who would be the closest to helping Johnson balance what he wanted to do domestically as well as in foreign policy.

KING: There was no more hands on president. Was there, Michael?

BESCHLOSS: No, there wasn't, and Alec makes a really good point. Because a big part of his relationship with Johnson was the fact that McNamara was also a big great society liberal. Felt as deeply about those programs as Johnson did.

So Johnson had a feeling that McNamara understood that a large part of what McNamara was supposed to do was get this war either settled or won or pushed to the side so that Johnson could go in for what he really wanted, which was the great society.

KING: What was your role, Jack?

VALENTI: Well, I was -- I had three roles. I was appointment secretary, and that is I took care of the president's schedule. To see him you had to go through me, which gave me a little power.

Second, I was in charge of the speech writing, editing. With all the line assistants. And third, I was by Johnson's determination, to be involved in all of the Vietnam inter counsels and I was in on every meeting.

KING: Was that painful? I mean, as body bags are being counted and you are ...

VALENTI: Well, I use to be -- Bill Moyen (ph) and I would be in the president's bedroom every morning at 7:00 and it's 12 hours difference, and he'd be on the phone to the Pentagon. And we lost how many men? We lost four, five or seven or eight.

It was like making carbolic acid every morning. People don't understand the terrible trauma of a president losing six, seven or eight young men.

I remember one scene where we had a pilot down in the Tanking (ph) Gulf. One pilot. Johnson raged all that day urging and commanding the Pentagon to save that pilot. I remember in the Oval Office he got a call from McNamara, he said, "Mr. President, we rescued the pilot."

I thought Johnson was going to weep with joy. He was so delighted.

KING: How do you fellows explain all of this? Donald, how do you?

SUTHERLAND: What do you mean?

KING: All this is going on. The country is sitting, he's getting involved in all this incredible legislation. He's fighting a war in Vietnam that grows less and less popular. The White House is a kind of bouncing ball, turbulent.

How do you -- doesn't it shock you?

SUTHERLAND: No. I just feel that with huge regret.

KING: Regret.

SUTHERLAND: Yeah. Regret.

KING: John?


FRANKENHEIMER: I think that Johnson wanted his place in history so badly. He wanted greatness and he achieved greatness.

If you look at him, he did more for civil rights than any president in the 20th century.

KING: His Howard University speech is the greatest civil rights speech ever delivered. Black or white.

FRANKENHEIMER: And how about his voting rights speech. Absolutely brilliant.

KING: Yeah ...


FRANKENHEIMER: And we have that on film. He did more for the poor and the disenfranchised -- and look at Medicare.

BESCHLOSS: Medicare is his.

FRANKENHEIMER: Yet, there was Vietnam. And what he never understood was what Michael and Donald said earlier, was the idea that this is something that this was the Vietnamese way of life.

This wasn't a question. He always thought that if he could get Ho Chi Minh to the conference table, he could negotiate with him. He could build him schools. He could do all these things.

He just didn't understand that that was impossible.

VALENTI: John is absolutely correct. Ralph Ellison, about two days before Johnson left office in '68, came up to him and said, "Mr. President, because of Vietnam you're just going to have to settle for being the greatest American president we've ever had for the undereducated, young, the poor and the old, the sick and the black, but Mr. President, that's not a bad epitaph."

KING: Alec, were you an admirer? I know how your politics go. Were you an admirer of Lyndon Johnson?

BALDWIN: The thing that I loved most about this film was that it's Johnson's story. That Johnson was a man, when you read Caro's (ph) books and you read other books about Johnson's career and his life, this is a guy who was mythical in his deal making abilities.

If there is an art form to politicking, this guy was the best of all time. We -- he arrives at this point in history and he's the president elected to his own term and he's faced with the one guy on the planet who he could not manipulate, who he could not make deal with, was Ho Chi Minh. KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments discussing "Path to War," which airs week from tonight.

Don't go away.


GAMBON: When I was young, I wanted war like I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) against every bone in my body. You know that just as well as anyone. These young people here, that's what I'm all about. That was me. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) treated worse than you'd treat a dog. Here, I start a billion-dollar (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Southeast Asia, free money, and Ho Chi Minh wants no part of it. I could have turned that place into the Tennessee Valley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says he's going to fight for 20 years.

GAMBON: I know what he says and I know what I say and I know what I must do, despite what I say. Dammit! I want to leave the footprint of America in Vietnam -- schools, dams, hospitals. Bomb craters, that would be our footprint. That's what they'll remember me for.




GAMBON: I don't believe for a minute that Moscow wants peace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't have to take his advice if you believe it will fail.

GAMBON: Don't you know anything? Don't you know if I don't call a bombing pause, the Kennedys will shout from the mountaintops that the Russians offer a bit fat olive branch and I snapped it in two. And now I've missed my chance for peace.


LARRY KING, HOST: Michael Beschloss, we know that Johnson had strong feelings about the Kennedys' dislikes, likes -- his treatment and listening to -- paying attention to your book, the tapes, the way he talks to Jacqueline Kennedy, he incredibly loved her and almost in awe of her. When Robert Kennedy started to turn on him, that was pivotal, wasn't it, to his psyche?

BESCHLOSS: It was so central in his mind. And RFK really began turning against Johnson and the war as early as the spring of 1965.

And, you know, something I've always thought of -- RFK once said to one of his friends, "I know that LBJ is angry at me, but, you know, I'm a junior senator. I'm just starting out. How much can I do to him? He's president." But Johnson, I think, felt so anxious and threatened by Kennedy that probably he spent more time worrying about Kennedy at least in the early years than he deserved.

And if you had to sort of suggest someone who would in many ways drive Johnson crazy, it would be not only Robert Kennedy, given his personality, but also the fact that this was the heir to the beloved martyred brother on whom a lot of people projected an awful lot of expectations and hopes -- things that when Johnson was measured up against these, he always felt that he was seen to be lacking.

KING: What do you think, Donald, was his Achilles' heel?

SUTHERLAND: He's -- you know, he came from a -- South Texas normal school. That was his education.


SUTHERLAND: He was just too much (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- yes, normal school -- too much impressed with the myth of the Eastern elite. And he got caught with the Kennedys. And when McNamara came, he was just bowled over by him. And McNamara was very -- pardon?

KING: Envious, in a sense -- envious, Jack?

VALENTI: I don't think ...

SUTHERLAND: I don't think envious. I think just bewildered and unable. It was not something that he could deal with. It wasn't someone he could play poker with, you know?

VALENTI: He really wanted to enlist by his side people of superior education, because he knew he had a rather barren education. But in intellect, and that is the power to make decisions and the relentless passion and drive to implement those decisions, he knew he was good at it.

And I think as John or somebody said earlier -- maybe it was Alec, he always said, "If I could just get into a room with Ho Chi Minh, we could reason together," taken from Isaiah, "Come let us reason together."

KING: Will I like him when I see this, John?

FRANKENHEIMER: I think you will feel very sorry for him. I think you will empathize with him. And if we've done the picture correctly, you'll have a tear in your eye at the end.

SUTHERLAND: I think you'll want to embrace him.

KING: Embrace him. Edgar?

SCHERICK: On that final speech, when he comes to announce his resignation from the presidency -- ...

KING: That he's not going to run.

SCHERICK: ... yes. If you don't get a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye, then you're not an American. KING: Alec, did you come to like him from this?

BALDWIN: I came to appreciate him and all the skill he had and the tragic circumstances he was faced with, but I also walk away from the film knowing that this idea of, "What is the mission?" You know, it was after Vietnam that everybody starts to really parrot that idea of, "What is the mission?" as far as American foreign policy is concerned because we don't want to get mired down in, you know, another Vietnam -- you know, costly, lengthy, lots of U.S. casualties, and so forth. And I look at this period of history and see this as a turning point for us.

KING: Yes.

BALDWIN: You know, coming off of all of the great victories of World War II ...

KING: Michael Beschloss, that's true. We'll never be the same with regard to entanglements elsewhere, will we?

BESCHLOSS: No, that's exactly right.

KING: They'll always bring up -- remember, when we -- Afghanistan -- "Is this going to be another Vietnam?"

BESCHLOSS: And not only that -- is our president leveling with us? Johnson did too little of that during Vietnam.

But, you know, another thing, Larry, that occurs to me is that the last time Lyndon Johnson was presented in a big way in a film was in Oliver Stone's "JFK." And the portrait of Johnson in that was here was someone who was a warmonger -- just terrifically eager to get into the Vietnam War to help, perhaps, big business and so forth. This is the next portrayal. This is so much closer to reality.

And I think I agree with everyone on the panel -- John Frankenheimer and all of you that produced a wonderful film that really gets very much at the heart of the emotional truth.

KING: The key is Jack. Did you like this film?

VALENTI: I did. I think it's a seminal recounting. I think what John Frankenheimer's done has made what I think is a definitive film on Vietnam. I quarrel with a few things in it, but overall, yes, I think it's a magnificent recounting of a sad and tragic piece of American history of a man who, for domestic policies, in my most biased judgment, was the greatest American president we've ever had.

KING: Would Johnson like this film?

VALENTI: I'm not sure because ...

KING: No, sounds ...

(CROSSTALK) VALENTI: ... I think Johnson would, like -- I think Johnson would, like a lot of people who do a review of your movie or a view of your book and they say it's a great movie and a great book, and then they say, "But on the other hand --" and he would always remember, "On the other hand."

KING: Edgar, is this one of the proudest things you've done?

SCHERICK: Absolutely. People ask me from time to time, "What's the favorite film I've ever made?"

KING: You've made a lot of them.

SCHERICK: Yes. And I say quite frequently, "Raid on Entebe (ph)."

KING: Great movie.

SCHERICK: I loved it, and I'm -- there were moments in that -- in the screening of that that made me -- for now, I think -- I believe that 20 years from now, if students want to know what it was like inside the Johnson White House during the Vietnam War, they'll dig John Frankenheimer's film out and look at it. And they're in no danger of being misled. Michael Beschloss can speak to that. I think it's there. That's -- if that isn't exactly right, that's what it was very much like.

KING: I can't thank you all enough. It's been terrific. Jack Valenti, Alec Baldwin, John Frankenheimer, Michael Beschloss, and Edgar Scherick -- Sutherland, Baldwin, Frankenheimer, Valenti, Beschloss, Scherick -- and Jack Valenti's son plays him. The film is "Path to War." It airs May 18 on HBO at 8:00 Eastern. That's its first night. They'll play it many times.

When we come back, the seven-time Emmy Award-winning actress Cloris Leachman will join us. Don't go away.



RHODA: I'm going tell you the truth. This is going to be my apartment.

PHYLLIS: All right, Rhoda. I'm going to tell you why Mary needs this apartment more than you do, why she's moved here to Minneapolis.

RHODA: No. No, no. No. Tell me.

PHYLLIS: A beautiful romance just blew up in her face.

MARY: It did not blow up. I made the decision.


KING: Welcome back to the remaining portions of the LARRY KING WEEKEND scene tonight.

This Monday night, they will air on television at 10:00 p.m. on CBS "A Mary Tyler Moore Reunion." We've already spoken with Mary about this. This special airs Monday night, and it brings them all back together. And of course, one of them is the delightful, effervescent, terrific "Phyllis," otherwise known as Cloris Leachman, who played Phyllis Lindstrom and won four Emmy nominations and two Emmy Awards for the role.

What do you do on the special?

CLORIS LEACHMAN, ACTRESS: Mary is interviewing each one of us, so they're two and two and two. And then, they -- whatever we're talking about, they will show the clips that we -- that we have been referring to.

KING: And Mary does the interviewing?


KING: So, she's the hostess.

LEACHMAN: Yes, she is the hostess. Yes.

KING: Why do you think we so like these nostalgia shows that bring them back? "The Honeymooners," "Carol Burnett" did super. What's the reason do you think? It doesn't ...

LEACHMAN: I think it's because it's part of our lives, that whatever we were doing at that time, it's connected to that. It's like a little diary of our lives. And it's funny. It's good. It's good again. It's ...

KING: Was "Mary" already on when Phyllis came into the plot, or did she start from the get-go?

LEACHMAN: From the get-go.

KING: Phyllis was always there.

LEACHMAN: I had -- I was renting her an apartment, and Rhoda thought it was her apartment. And remember, they opened the drapes and there was Rhoda washing her windows.

KING: Did you like the script right away?

LEACHMAN: I'm sure I did because I loved every bit of it -- every single bit.

KING: Did you have to audition or you were offered the role?

LEACHMAN: Apparently, I came in and said, "Who do I have to impress?" or "Who makes the decisions here?" And they pointed to somebody. I went over and sat on his lap. That was Jim Brooks. I won't sit on your -- ...

KING: He's a genius.

LEACHMAN: ... I won't sit on your lap today. I promise.

KING: He's a -- why not?

LEACHMAN: Well, if you want, I ...

KING: He's a genius.

LEACHMAN: He's a genius.

KING: Did you have any idea it would be the success it was?

LEACHMAN: No, but it seemed really important, and it seemed big- time, and it seemed just perfect. It was perfect -- perfectly cast. They wrote for us -- they filled out our characters, and we did. And we, I think, helped each other realize who we were. We didn't know. You know, you wonder who you are because you don't have enough information at the beginning. And then as it grows, ...

KING: Of course. How did you see Phyllis? She was what to you?

LEACHMAN: Well, it would say -- it would say that she was the neurotic landlady, but ...

KING: That's all it would tell you, right?


KING: Yes.

LEACHMAN: But I thought of her as being, what they say, "The sure, firm touch on the wrong note." Or like "The Ladies Home Journal," trying to be perfect -- a whore in the bedroom, a chauffeur, a psychologist for the children, ...

KING: Lars, her husband.

LEACHMAN: ... a chef -- yes, Lars, poor thing.

KING: Poor Lars.

How did you play off Mary? How did you see that relationship -- that Phyllis/Mary interaction?

LEACHMAN: Well, of course, I owned the home (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I preferred her vastly over Rhoda.

KING: Rhoda -- you were a critic of Rhoda.

LEACHMAN: Oh, she was low-class. I ...

KING: Was there a little anti-Semitism in that?

LEACHMAN: Could have been. Certainly could have been.

KING: Uppity -- certainly social.

LEACHMAN: Certainly could have been, yes. But I also felt that Phyllis was looking -- at all times, she was very wary of trying to do the right thing.

KING: Is it hard to play funny?

LEACHMAN: I don't think so. I think it's fun, and ...

KING: Why do so many actors have difficulty with it? As some -- the famous quote, "Comedy is a serious business."

LEACHMAN: A lot of times, it's -- you can fall into the trap of editorializing, which is, you know, ain't that funny.

KING: A good comic actor plays it serious, right? It's very serious.

LEACHMAN: Oh, yes.

KING: What Phyllis says is not designed to be funny.

LEACHMAN: No. They take themselves very seriously -- certainly she did.

KING: Is it -- so, this wasn't hard to you. Were you always comfortable with comedy?


KING: Is that -- is that natural?

LEACHMAN: Well, I don't -- I'm more -- I have a silly bone, and I -- in the slam books they used to write in when we were kids, it would say -- under my name, it would say either "Shorty" or "Shrimp" or "Freckles" or "Cute, but silly." So, it was just being silly.

KING: Mary told us that some of the things that changed were originally there was some intention that she would be romantically involved with Ted.

LEACHMAN: I thought you were going to say me because these days, you know, who knows?

KING: Now, it would be -- yes. And then, they veered away from that. Ted was a great guy.

LEACHMAN: Oh, you just can't say enough about him -- how he -- and apparently, Jay (ph) said they really tussled about how he was supposed to play it -- or so big. But he just -- he filled it out and he became so honed at it. He came on a scene, you just couldn't wait to see what he was going to do. Wasn't he marvelous?

KING: He was wonderful. Was any (ph) -- Murray?

LEACHMAN: Oh, who wasn't wonderful? Who wasn't? KING: And Mr. Grant.

LEACHMAN: Oh, -- oh, he had wonderful (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and he was great.

KING: What was Mary like to work with?

LEACHMAN: Just perfection. She never once that I ever saw or heard of had a tantrum of any kind.

KING: Ever.


KING: Mary's not a control freak.

LEACHMAN: Not at all. No. She would just stand there and watch us and just with her mouth open -- just -- and we just -- feel good. That made us feel better, and we could do better than even that. And we can please her.

KING: It was a fun show to do, then.

LEACHMAN: Oh, gosh.

KING: The cast was having a -- because sometimes -- you could have a successful show without the cast enjoying it.

LEACHMAN: Everybody was a real person -- a person first, and then, actor second.

KING: Cloris Leachman, seven-time Emmy Award-winning actress -- she appears in "The Mary Tyler Moore Reunion" special, naturally. It airs Monday night on CBS.

Back with more after this.


KING: We're back with Cloris ...


KING: Yes?

LEACHMAN: Do you remember the last time we saw each other? Something happened with the make-up people, and so, I said, "Well, I'll make you up."

KING: You did my make-up.

LEACHMAN: And you sat in the -- I made him up for the show that we did.

KING: Did they pay you?

LEACHMAN: No. No. It was just because I was -- ...

KING: I think they owe you with interest.

LEACHMAN: ... want to be -- see, I solved the problem. I just ...

KING: That's right, I ...

LEACHMAN: ... do it.

KING: I was made up by Cloris Leachman.

You also have played mothers a lot. You've played the mothers of Meryl Streep, Sissy Spacek, Kurt Russell, Jeff Goldblum, Cybill Sheppard, Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, Ron Howard, Ellen DeGeneres. Why you?

LEACHMAN: And Tuesday Weld.

KING: And Tuesday Weld.

LEACHMAN: And others.

KING: Why?

LEACHMAN: Well, ...

KING: You're a mother type? That sounds funny.

LEACHMAN: I don't -- isn't that odd that I ...

KING: Yes.

LEACHMAN: Well, I think I just was right for the part of that particular mother, and then that was the one who was playing the daughter.

KING: Now, to one of your great moments.


KING: Gene Wilder was here last week.


KING: Yes, he was. My boyfriend.

LEACHMAN: Yes, yes, yes.

KING: Frau Bluecher and the horse (ph). "Young Frankenstein."

LEACHMAN: Yes. Frankensteen (ph).

KING: You loved that right away.

LEACHMAN: Beyond belief. Oh, what fun. How privileged -- oh. KING: Oh, the work was ...

LEACHMAN: And Gene -- oh.

KING: Gene, what a man. And that cast ...

LEACHMAN: Oh, makes me sick.

KING: Do you like being a character actress?

LEACHMAN: Oh, that's what I am -- yes.

KING: Yes, and that's an honor, in a sense, ...

LEACHMAN: I think ...

KING: ... because that means you've become the role.

LEACHMAN: Well, I don't want to do the same thing over and over again, and if you don't want to do the same thing over and over again, you'd better change. And then you find some character aspects and build it ...

KING: And the best thing is you won your Emmys for so many different things -- right? -- various kind of portrayals in addition to "Phyllis." Two were for "Phyllis," but five were for other things, right?

LEACHMAN: Yes, different -- some support, some lead, some comedy, some singing, some funny business.

KING: Do you still go out and do plays?

LEACHMAN: Yes, sure.

KING: There are always parts coming your way?

LEACHMAN: Not always, no. Lots of times there aren't.

KING: When there's no -- when nobody's called -- let's say it's a Tuesday. Nothing's planned. Do actors panic?

LEACHMAN: Some actors do. Oh, you're sure you'll never work again.

KING: That's what I mean.

LEACHMAN: Oh, no, that's definite.

KING: Even the biggest stars (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LEACHMAN: Definite -- you're never going to work again.

KING: Why do you like your profession?

LEACHMAN: Oh, you get to be a detective. It takes clues from the script and from the other people and the set and your clothes. And so it leads you this way and then that way, and pretty soon you -- it's like a holograph. You find out -- and you put on some underwear and you build up from there -- you know? -- inside out.

KING: How did you like having your own sitcom when "Phyllis" spun off?

LEACHMAN: It was great. I loved it very much -- wonderful.

I love acting. I think it's the most -- it's creative. It seems important because people have gathered -- to make them, and it's -- to affect people and to have audiences be there and respond. And you breathe together if you -- if you get it right. And ...

KING: The willing suspension of disbelief. We know you're Cloris. We know you're playing the part, but we believe you're Phyllis or we believe you're Frau Brach (ph).

LEACHMAN: Bluecher.

KING: Bluecher.


KING: We have to believe that. And you've got to make us believe it.

LEACHMAN: Well, lots of times, my character will do things that I can't -- I could never in my own life do. Either I'm too frightened -- many, many times that's happened. I'll have to dive into ice water or fully clothed with shoes -- or I was in a ...

KING: Be a heroine.

LEACHMAN: ... terrible sandstorm or have to ...

KING: Do you have to like the person you play?


KING: You don't have to?

LEACHMAN: You don't have to like them outwardly, but as you play it, you have to find out why you're -- why would I have done this? Why do I want to do that? And you dig down deep and find some way to justify it -- how that person's formed -- what the circumstances are always. It's ...

KING: Did Jim Brooks allow the actors in "Mary Tyler Moore" to have input? Could you say, "I'm uncomfortable with this line."

LEACHMAN: Oh, any time you wanted, but I never found cause to do that.



KING: You never changed ...

LEACHMAN: I only added one line in my whole life.

KING: What was it?

LEACHMAN: I'll put my hands up when it's the part of the line that I put in. I've told you this before ...

KING: No, I don't know.

LEACHMAN: Well, Mary had -- a beloved friend of hers had to leave town, and she wasn't going to see that friend. And she was just desolated -- or desolate. So, I was cheering her up. I said, "Oh, Mary -- dear, funny, Mary," (UNINTELLIGIBLE), condescending, patronizing -- "Oh, Mary -- dear, funny Mary, don't you know that all of life is just a long trail of leavings?"

I had another funny line that the first "Rhoda" show where Georgette is going on and on endlessly at the party before the wedding. Finally, I say, "Georgette, you know I love you, dear, but that is not an interesting story."

KING: And you always are.

LEACHMAN: Oh, thank you, Larry.

KING: That is not -- Cloris Leachman.

LEACHMAN: You need a little more (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: You'll see her Monday night on the "Mary Tyler Moore" special on CBS.

Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND. Have a great rest of the weekend and good night.


'Mary Tyler Moore Reunion'>



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