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CNN Larry King Live

Interview with Terry Fator; What You Never Knew about Mickey Mantle

Aired December 04, 2010 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the man of 100 voices, Terry Fator, he and his "friends" are headlining in Las Vegas, and now they're here. But don't call them puppets.


TERRY FATOR, VENTRILOQUIST (as "Vikki the Cougar"): I call this my "Christmas tree skirt," it's where i keep my Christmas presents.


KING: Plus what you never knew about Mickey Mantle until now, the tragedy and the truth behind the Yankee legend from the woman who wrote the book on "baseball's last boy."

All next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Tonight, a very special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Terry Fator is with us. He's a ventriloquist, impressionist, comedian, and singer. In fact, he does more than 100 impressions and celebrity voices, a skill which saw him win season two of "America's Got Talent." And now he brings his hilarious show to the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He's with us tonight, joined by a few of his favorite co-stars.

Terry, it's yours.

FATOR (as "Emma Taylor"): (SINGING "AT LAST")

FATOR: Emma Taylor singing Etta James.

FATOR (as "Emma Taylor"): Thank you so much.

FATOR: All right. That was Emma Taylor, and now I have a guy who claims to be the best Elvis impersonator in the world, his name is Maynard Thomkins.

Now, Maynard, you told me earlier that you are the best Elvis impersonator in the world.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): That's right, and I could -- yes, I am.

FATOR: OK. So what Elvis songs do you know?

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): Actually I don't know any Elvis songs at all.

FATOR: You don't know any Elvis songs?

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): No. I do know a Christmas song, do you want to hear it?

FATOR: Yes. I guess so. OK.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): (SINGING "BLUE CHRISTMAS")

FATOR: Actually, Maynard, that was Elvis.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): Really?


FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): Oh, than I guess I am the best Elvis impersonator.

FATOR: I guess you are. Maynard Thomkins.


KING: We're back with the incredible Terry Fator, the ventriloquist, does more than 100 voices. He's at the Mirage. He's here with one of his characters, Emma.

Now how did Emma learn to sing like that? How do you learn to do that?

FATOR (as "Emma Taylor"): A lot of practicing in the shower. Yes, I want to be the next Taylor Swift.

FATOR: The next Taylor Swift?

FATOR (as "Emma Taylor"): Yes.

FATOR: OK. Good luck.

KING: We'll bring Maynard back up in a minute. But how did you -- how did you come to do this? You, Terry.

FATOR: You know, I started -- when we were kids, I started when I was 10 years old doing ventriloquism, my parents had a janitorial business. And when we were emptying trashes and vacuuming floors, and doing all of that, I decided that it was a good-time to practice ventriloquism.

So I would listen to the radio and I would sing to the radio to songs -- you know, the popular songs. But I would do it without moving my lips.

FATOR (as "Emma Taylor"): I remember those days.

FATOR: You're not even that old.

FATOR (as "Emma Taylor"): I'm not? OK. Then I don't.

FATOR: She doesn't.


KING: But why 10 years -- do you remember why at 10 you wanted to do voices without moving lips? That's a strange occupation.

FATOR: I started doing magic when I was 8 and I thought being a magician was kind of cool. But when I was 10 I decided that it was -- ventriloquism was totally unique and different. I actually found a book in my school library on how to do ventriloquism. And -- you're interested?

FATOR (as "Emma Taylor"): Oh, yes, I have never heard this story.

FATOR: OK. So but I started to -- so I checked the book out, I started practicing with it. I found a little puppet at Sears, I think it was $20. My mom paid for half and I paid for the other half. And then I started doing little shows for kids in -- around school and my church and things like that. And I decided when I was about 13 or 14 that I wanted to be one of the top ventriloquists. And you know...

KING: That was a goal?

FATOR: It was a goal, yes. I think when i was 15, I decided, I want to be known as one of the great ventriloquists...

KING: Who is your favorite ventriloquist?

FATOR: Edgar Bergen, without a doubt. I mean, we all -- I mean, those of us...

KING: But he moved his lips a lot, except Charlie McCarthy, it was funny. That's right. Well, it was all about character and everything. And, of course, to become as -- a household name like Edgar Bergen did, and Charlie McCarthy did, that was kind of the goal.

But, of course, Paul Winchell and Shari Lewis and Jimmy Nelson and these guys were big influences on me as well. And I just decided when I was about 15 or 16 that when people thought of ventriloquism, I wanted them to put my name up there with the Edgar Bergens and the Paul Winchells and the Jimmy Nelsons.

KING: And "America's Got Talent," of course, made it for you, right?

FATOR: Absolutely.

KING: You've been knocking around how many years?

FATOR: Twenty-something years. I mean, I was in my 40s. What was funny about it...

KING: Where were you appearing, in clubs? FATOR: No, I was doing fairs, festivals, little small town stuff. In fact, what was funny about it was, was since I was a ventriloquist, they always looked at me as a kids act so they would put me next to the petting zoo or put me in with a bunch of clowns. And it was always the worst stage in the entire fair. It was terrible.

And then I started playing schools and I would play a lot of elementary schools. When I got close to about 40 years old, I thought to myself, you know, I guess the whole thing of being rich and famous is a pipe dream, because nobody is ever going to really care about a 40-year-old ventriloquist.

And then "America's Got Talent" came along and changed everything.

KING: You had to audition for that, right?

FATOR: I did, yes. Just like everybody else. I'm going to -- here, you want to sit down?

FATOR (as "Emma Taylor"): Yes.

FATOR: OK. We'll put her down. But, yes, just like everybody else, I went and stood in line and -- with a bag full of hopes and dreams and hoping that something would happen. What I thought would happen was that I would get on "America's Got Talent." I would get on two or three episodes and then it would raise my -- people's awareness of what I do.

I never in a million years thought I would win it. I thought there was no chance in anything that a ventriloquist could win "America's Got Talent." I just said, not going to happen. But my goal was to get on and do things that would make people say, you know, I want to see what he's going to do next week.

So I opened with "At Last," Etta James, because I thought that was kind of unusual to be able to sing -- a guy singing Etta James without moving his lips. And then I had this whole plan. I was going to do Tony Bennett, I was going to Dean Martin, I was going to do some of the other ones, Louie Armstrong, Kermit the Frog.

And so I had all of these plans. And I thought, if I can just get people to go to their phones and say, I want to see what he's going to do next week, and dial the phones and vote for me.

KING: It worked.

FATOR: It did work.

KING: And what won it for you?

FATOR: Winston the Impersonating Turtle singing "Crying" as Roy Orbison.

KING: Who did you expect to win when you got to that point? FATOR: You know, I didn't. I didn't. And the main reason was because the guy who came in second was a guy named Cas Haley, a really great reggae singer. And I was looking at YouTube. And I would see my YouTube stuff only had like 100,000 hits. And his had over a million. So I'm thinking, this guy is going to run away with it. There is no way I'm going to win it.

But I was happy, I was like, I'm going to get -- I might get second, you know? But I felt like that I had done a million dollar performance. And I felt like I had done a winning performance.

KING: Well, you did. Is Maynard down there?

FATOR: Yes, yes. Want to talk to Maynard? Here is Maynard.

KING: You can put your voice down there, can't you?

FATOR: I can.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): Yes. Hey, can you throw your voice?

FATOR: I can.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): How do you do it?

FATOR: OK, watch, I'll do an echo.

(with echo): Ladies and gentlemen.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): How do you do that?


FATOR: No idea. Here. Let's set Maynard right here.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): Is that Larry King?

FATOR: That is Larry King.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): I cannot believe it.

KING: How did you come up with who designs the puppets?

FATOR: This little guy...

KING: I'm not making fun of you, Maynard, but you're a puppet.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): No. That's OK. That's OK.

KING: Don't take it personally.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): I'm not an atheist, I know somebody designed me.

(LAUGHTER) FATOR: Anyway, I don't even know what that means.

KING: I don't know either, but it was funny.

FATOR: It was. No, this guy was a guy that I -- many, many years ago, probably, 15, 20 years ago, I decided I wanted to have an Elvis impersonator in the show. I could do an Elvis voice. And so I called up a guy, Clinton Detweiler (ph) is the guy, in Colorado.


FATOR: Yes. He's kind of the uber ventriloquist. All ventriloquists know who Clinton Detweiler is. He was the guy who ran Maher Ventriloquist Studios for years and years and years. And I called him up...

KING: He makes puppets?

FATOR: He makes puppets, yes. So I called him and I said, I need this Elvis puppet. And he had this guy. And I bought this guy from him. And then after "America's Got Talent" and everything kind of took off, I found out that I had to like own the rights to every single puppet.

And I had this guy, and I had just bought him from Clinton. So I called him up and I said, what do I do about this puppet? And he said, well, luckily, he's the only one I've ever sold. And so I actually bought the rights from Clinton -- it wasn't Clinton, it was -- there was another guy up in -- actually, I can't remember his name. Anyway, it was another guy. But...

KING: So you own this?

FATOR: Yes, I own him. Yes.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): Yes.

KING: Do you feel like you're owned?

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): Not at all, because I have a lot of fun and that's all.


FATOR: But I got this idea that it would be funny to have an Elvis impersonator that didn't know any Elvis songs. So what he actually does in the show is he sings an Aaron Neville song and he thinks -- he doesn't know that -- you know, that it's Aaron Neville...


KING: Aaron Neville is so hard -- you do Aaron Neville.

FATOR: I do.

KING: I hate to put you on the spot to do him now. FATOR: I can if you want.

KING: So him a little. Because...


FATOR: I can.

KING: All right. Do Aaron Neville.

FATOR (as "Maynard Thomkins"): (SINGING "DON'T KNOW MUCH")

FATOR: So he does that in the show and it's -- it kills.

KING: It's amazing. Are there some people you can't do?

FATOR: I'm sure there are. I mean, I'm having a really difficult time with Frank Sinatra. But I'll get there. I just feel like if I work hard enough on something, I can get there. But one of these days I'll do Frank. But...

KING: You also, of course, have a great voice. You sang the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium. I mean, you're a singer in your own right.

FATOR: Well, that's the thing is I have a joke in the show where I do a song and I say, most people that have seen me on TV don't realize that I can sing. And it is true, it's funny, because after the show I'll go out and sign autographs and talk to people and meet them.

And people will say, you sang that song by yourself, I didn't know you could sing. And I'm like, well, I'm a ventriloquist and the puppets are singing. But I guess that means I'm doing a good job if they don't know I can sing. I love that.

KING: You have told me that you've -- you never miss a performance, right?

FATOR: I have never missed a performance, no, not in 28 years, I think.

KING: You have worked through laryngitis?

FATOR: Mm-hmm. Everything. I have the best voice doctor in the world. He lives in Dallas, Texas, and he is unbelievable. His name is Dr. Kirkomen (ph). He works with Mick Jagger and Axl Rose and he worked with...

KING: You got...

FATOR: ... Luciano Pavoratti.

KING: From "America's Got Talent," you got the Mirage contract?

FATOR: I did, yes. KING: And it's $10 million a year for 10 years, is that true?

FATOR: I'm not supposed to talk money, so I -- that's what I've heard.

KING: The amazing Terry Fator. When we come back, we'll meet his lovely wife and how he nabbed her (INAUDIBLE). Anyway...


KING: ... we'll be right back. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with the incredible Terry Fator. His new wife is with us as well, who's one of the features in the act. In fact we're going to see more people, more puppets from the act in a little while too. You'll meet them as well.

How did you and Taylor hook up?

FATOR: She was my assistant in my show and when I became available, my sister actually became friends with her. And I was like, there's no way ever that she could possibly be interested in me. But it turned...

TAYLOR MAKAKOA, MODEL, WIFE OF TERRY FATOR: I don't think either of us ever thought about it at all.

FATOR: No, no, never.

MAKAKOA: His sister, Debbie (ph), was the one who kind of hooked us up, because we had a lot of similar interests.


KING: But you worked together before you fell in love?

MAKAKOA: Mm-hmm, yes.

FATOR: We did. And then once I became available, my sister was like, I think Taylor would go out with you. I said, there is no way, there is no way. She said, no, I think you could ask her. And I said, would you -- and before I even got it out, she said yes.

MAKAKOA: We remember the story differently.


MAKAKOA: Just a little differently.

FATOR: Well, maybe I heard it (INAUDIBLE). But I couldn't believe it.

KING: Do you get tired of just walking around being a showcase (ph) at night? MAKAKOA: Not really. I'm a dancer, so I kind of miss dancing a little bit. But I'm so proud to be in his show. It's amazing to be in a hit show.

KING: OK. We're going to meet some of the puppets that you'll be seeing him do in a little while when they sing. Let's bring up Walter T. Airedale.

FATOR: Walter. This guy...

KING: This was Terry's first puppet, right?

FATOR: Yes, well, this is -- it wasn't my very first, it was my first professional puppet. The story...


FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): Yes, I'll tell you, I've been around here for a very long time.

FATOR: That's right, he has. My mother knew that I had made this commitment to myself to become one of the top ventriloquists. And so she started saving when I was 15 and took three years and for my 18th birthday gave me Walter.

And it took years for me to create the character of Walter. And actually he was originally a political puppet. The reason his name is Walter Airedale is because it was when Walter Mondale was running against Ronald Reagan and i named him Walter Airedale.

FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): And I had a Minnesotan accent because Walter Mondale was from there.

FATOR: So that's what he originally was.

FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): Yes, that's right.

FATOR: And then I started a band in 1987 or '88 and it was a country band and I put a cowboy hat on Walter and I thought if I put a "T" in Walter Airedale that it sounded country. And I turned him into a...

FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): I'm a yodeler.

FATOR: That's right. He is yodeler.

KING: You can yodel. Go ahead, yodel.

FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): (YODELING)

KING: What do you think of what he does? Because you look at these puppets like it's a little weird, right? Does he bring them home?

(LAUGHTER) MAKAKOA: He does not bring them home. Everybody asks that. They stay at the Mirage. I think it's a little weird. I think the puppets are a little weird. But he is...

FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): What are you talking about, weird? This is a side of you I have never seen.

MAKAKOA: It's just a little strange because they're so lifelike when he's puppeteering. But then when he's not puppeteering, it's the opposite.

KING: He's not a nutcase, right? Some ventriloquists are nutcases.

FATOR: Yes, you're right. Some are. Some are.

KING: And there have been some movies. There was a great movie written, a horror movie.

FATOR: "Magic."

KING: "Magic," whoa!

FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): Anthony Hopkins.

KING: Anthony Hopkins, the puppet lives and the puppet kills and the puppet controls the master. You have never had that, have you, Terry?

FATOR: Never, never, never.

FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): No, never. Unfortunately I try, but it just don't work.


KING: All right. Walter will be back in a little while and he will sing. Let's bring up Winston.

FATOR: Winston.

KING: The Impersonating Turtle.

FATOR: Winston.

What's the history of Winston?

FATOR: Winston has...

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): I have a very interesting history.

FATOR: Yes, he does.

KING: Please tell us. FATOR: I was originally -- when I was doing "America's Got Talent," I had this -- "What a Wonderful World" I wanted to sing that I did with Louie Armstrong and Kermit the Frog. And so I called up the Muppets when I was doing the show and I said, would it be OK if I did Kermit the Frog on "America's Got Talent"?

And they said, no. And I went, well, what am I going to do now? Because I felt like it was one of those impressions that would really get me through to the next level. So I'm sitting there thinking. I just wracked my brain, trying to think, OK, I've got to think of an amphibian, something besides a frog.

And so I went through lizard and all of these other things, and came up with turtle. And I named him "Winston the Impersonating Turtle." And then...

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): Came up with this voice, because I'm really cute.

KING: So you could get away him doing Kermit, as you'll do...


KING: ... in the next segment.

FATOR: That's right. I even asked -- I even called and I said, is it OK, is it OK if I do Kermit's voice? And they said, you can do Kermit's voice, you just can't do actual Kermit.

KING: You can't have the puppet.

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): So I said: "Hi- ho, Kermit the Frog here."

FATOR: And I did Louie and -- Louie Armstrong and Winston.

KING: That's what we will see that in a little while when they sing...


KING: ... back to back. Is he -- do they ever -- I know you're not a nut. But do you ever start to really think of them...

FATOR: No, not really. No, I -- but...

KING: You can put them in a box and they're just in a box?

FATOR: But what's funny -- yes, no, I mean, once the show is done, it's over. But there is -- they are an extension of my personality. They are an extension of me. And so I don't ever get lost, you know, like, oh, who's who? But what is funny is, I definitely am funnier when I have a puppet on my hand. But I think...


KING: Than you are as a standup?

FATOR: Yes, absolutely. And I think the reason is that I feel more free because when you're -- because, you know, I'm a person who just -- I want everybody to have fun. I just want everybody to enjoy themselves. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings or say something that might be offensive.

And so I have always got that filter going on in my head, whereas a puppet can get away with a lot more. So a puppet can say and do things that a person can't. So I think I'm just a little more free, my brain is a little more free with...


KING: How do you regard the Muppets, because that's not ventriloquism?

FATOR: No, but without the Muppets, I definitely would not be where I am. I mean, without Jim Henson and the Muppets...

KING: Why?

FATOR: Because watching Kermit the Frog and the "Sesame Street" and "The Muppet Show" and all of that, showed me just how lifelike puppets can be.

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): Yes. Just look at me.

KING: I knew Jim Henson pretty well. And would never let the children who would come to see him see the puppet in a box.

FATOR: No, no.

KING: He always would hide them. They only could see them when they perform.

FATOR: That's one things that is very -- I'm really, really careful about. When I'm on stage, and it's something that I wish all ventriloquists would pay attention to. And that is that when the puppet is being seen by the audience at any time, they are alive.

You never, ever, ever want them to see a dead puppet. And I see a lot of times a ventriloquist will -- you know, will go to get a puppet and the puppet is dead until it gets to the microphone stand. And that should not be how -- be how it is, so.

KING: You wouldn't put your puppet and lie him down here...

FATOR: Of course not.


KING: ... right?

FATOR: No, no. FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): Never.

KING: Let's meet the next one who will also be in the next act, Vikki the Cougar.

FATOR: Vikki.

KING: By the way, why do you call her a cougar?

FATOR: Well, it's because that term became popular with the, ahem...

FATOR (as "Vikki the Cougar"): What do you mean, don't I look like a cougar?

KING: She's a flimsy, loose woman, isn't she? She's a Vegas kind of broad.

FATOR (as "Vikki the Cougar"): What is that supposed to mean?

KING: I don't mean to put you down.

FATOR (as "Vikki the Cougar"): I call this my Christmas tree skirt, it's where I keep my Christmas presents, meow.


KING: How is the Christmas show doing? I saw it, it's a great act.

FATOR: It's wonderful. And I think I'm one of the only shows in Vegas that actually does a Christmas show. But I'm a big kid. We love Christmas. We decorated -- I think the day after Halloween, we decorated our house. So I love Christmas. So I change the show. I do about half of it is Christmas songs and Christmas jokes and things...

FATOR (as "Vikki the Cougar"): And of course we wear these Christmas outfits, mmm!

FATOR: You're going to be singing a Christmas song later.

FATOR (as "Vikki the Cougar"): I am.

KING: How do you -- do you ever have the occasion when you're going back and forth, as you do so quickly with the puppets, where your voice goes into the puppet and the puppet voice goes into you?

FATOR: That does happen occasionally, sometimes something will happen where I'll accidentally say the wrong line or -- in fact on my DVD, there's a point where I'm doing Michael Jackson and I get the voices all mixed up. And we left it in. So it's a very funny -- people tell me it's one of their favorite parts of the DVD, in fact, is when the voices get all mixed up.

KING: Do you have any bad nights? FATOR: You know, the only bad night is when I'm really sick and I don't feel well. But, you know, asked me earlier about not missing shows. I don't miss shows, I mean, I've literally had times when they were holding a bucket backstage because I felt so bad. The audience never knows it.

But those are -- they're not bad shows for the audience, but the bad show is for me because you have to struggle through them. I just feel I'm one of those vaudevillian types, and I say the show must go on. It doesn't matter -- you know, people, they come there, they want to see it. It was my dream to have people come and see the show. And I'm going to do that show no matter what.

KING: So you do a lot with regard to charity. I know you're very involved. In fact, I attended an event that you were very involved with for various charities. You recently headlined a special concert during Veterans Day weekend. You're very involved with veterans.

FATOR: Very much yes. I feel that we need to show our appreciation to our veterans. They worked so hard to keep us free and they give up so much. They sacrifice so much. And I just want to make sure they feel appreciated and know how much we -- well, just how much we appreciate their sacrifices they make.

KING: And you're very involved in the Arthritis Foundation...

FATOR: Yes. My sister has...

KING: ... my wife and I attended...

FATOR: ... rheumatoid arthritis.

KING: ... and saw that. That was a wonderful night where you got to be honored.

FATOR: Well, thank you.

KING: Well, it's an honor knowing you. I will tell the audience you're going to see one more set with him back on stage with the three characters you just met, you got lucky.

FATOR: And we are writing a TV show together. We're actually creating a television show that we're going to be pitching to the networks. So -- me and Taylor, my wife. So we want to co-host. And it's a really good idea. It's going to be a hit.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) on "American Idol."

We'll be back with more of Terry Fator. You're going to see them perform. Don't go away.


FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): (SINGING "SAVE A HORSE (RIDE A COWBOY)") FATOR: Ladies and gentleman, Walter T. Airedale.

FATOR (as "Walter T. Airedale"): Thank you, Terry. Thank you. Yes.

FATOR: Now in Las Vegas, of course, you need more adult humor, so I would like to introduce Vikki the Cougar.

So Vikki, you're going to do something?

FATOR (as "Vikki the Cougar"): Yes, you know, if you haven't laid out your Christmas list, ladies, here's a few ideas.


FATOR: And the character that actually won "America's Got Talent" for me, Winston the Impersonating Turtle.

So, Winston, that's a beautiful outfit.

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): It's not an outfit, I really am Santa Claus.

FATOR: The real Santa Claus?

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): Yes. I'm not Winston, I'm Santa.

FATOR: Oh, OK. So I'm assuming since we have a Christmas show at the Mirage...

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): It's called "A Very Terry Christmas."

FATOR: "A Very Terry Christmas," do you want to do a Christmas song?

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): I do.

FATOR: OK. What voice do you want to use?

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): I can't sing, I have a frog in my throat.

FATOR: A frog in your throat?

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): Yes. Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog here.


You going to sing?

FATOR: I am.

(SINGING "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS") FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): Merry Christmas.

FATOR: Merry Christmas.

KING: Thank you, man, what a show. He's at the Mirage, he's incredible. We want to thank Terry, his lovely wife, and of course the great man himself, Terry Fator and his co-stars, Walter and Vikki and Winston, you can see more of them at the Mirage Casino and Resort in Las Vegas. It's Terry Fator, ventriloquism, (INAUDIBLE).

Do my voice.

FATOR (as "Winston the Impersonating Turtle"): Ventriloquism in concert.

KING: All right. That's very good.


KING: Tuesday through Saturdays at 7:30. For more information go to

Next is Jane Leavy, she has written the number two best seller in America, "The Last Boy: The Life of Mickey Mantle." She's next, don't go away.


KING: Jane Leavy is an old friend and a New York Times best- selling author, and a former sports and feature writer for The Washington Post. And her new book is terrific. It's a guaranteed bestseller. It's "The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood."

I'm about a third of the way through it. What a read. Why did you call it what you call it, "The Last Boy"?

JANE LEAVY, AUTHOR, "THE LAST BOY": You know, I have a picture that someone gave me for my 35th birthday, I'm not going to tell you how long ago that was, taken by a fabulous photographer named Friedrisch Cantor (ph). And it's Mickey and Billy and Whitey in the dugout at Shea Stadium in the mid '70s.

And Mickey is sitting there in his pinstripes and it's gapping at the middle, and he has got these big crabgrass graying mutton chops. And he is making this sort of goofy Jerry Lewis kind of face. And Billy is, of course, egging him on and laughing and Whitey is looking askance.

And I looked at that, I looked at the difference between his age chronologically and the way he was aping a kid, aping someone else on a playground. And I said, he's the last boy.

And he was the last boy in a generation of boys, Larry, I think, who were treated as if, you know, boys got to do what boys got to do and boys will be boys and that's OK. We'll like them anyway for whatever they do. We'll -- it's OK not to know completely, what we do know, we'll forgive. And the rules changed after him.

KING: Yes, they did. All right. In this age of CNNs and ESPNs and tabloidism, it's hard for the non-fan or the young person to realize, how big would Mickey be now? How much of a press item would he be now?

LEAVY: Well, they would have to put, you know, a plaque out in the new Monument Park at Yankee Stadium that would be five times the one they did for Steinbrenner. It's hard to imagine now what 536 home runs meant when he retired at the end of 1968.

You know, those were -- he had honest muscles and those were honest home runs. He was an unprecedented alloy of speed and power. I was in Texas the other day and Dr. Bobby Brown, who, of course, played with him and later became president of the American League and a cardiologist, said when Mickey was young, before he got hurt in the '51 World Series, when he ran, he kicked up tufts of dirt as high as his head, he ran so hard.

And he was -- Bobby Brown actually told this story and I was mad at him for not telling it to me when I could have included in the book. In '52 he was in Korea and he managed to get film of the '52 World Series and he showed it to his guys.

And they said Lieutenant, Lieutenant, run that back again. And when he ran it back again, they said, how did that 4F son of a bitch run so hard?


LEAVY: I mean, people couldn't believe what he could do. And that was after he lost a step.

KING: But he was also so many other things. He was an alcoholic. He was a player. He could be very rude and very sweet. Would complex be a good word?

LEAVY: Far more so than people let on. You know, we like to think somebody is one or the other, either or. And so Mickey in recent years has all of these revelations of, you know, profane language and boorish and coarse behavior. And I saw a bunch of that myself, Larry. I saw the best and worst of him when I went to interview him for The Washington Post in '83.

People think, well, that must be all there was to him. Well, it wasn't. You know, he was also -- and this is fascinating, a gentle soul. He was a man with great emotional IQ. He teammates said, you know, he was the guy in the locker room who could intuit what somebody needed, how they were feeling.

He was generous to a fault. I mean, he took in teammates like strays. Jerry Lumpe, the infielder, when he was a rookie, had no place to live, so Mickey said, here are the keys to my house in New Jersey. His wife and sons had gone back home to Oklahoma.

So Jerry goes out there and he finds 10 cashmere sports jackets in the master bedroom closet, Mickey says, take them too, and he did.

KING: We'll be right back.



KING: The great ones don't want to be paid, but they (INAUDIBLE), right?

MICKEY MANTLE, HALL OF FAMER, NEW YORK YANKEE: I guess. I was embarrassed. Like, if I was on second base and somebody hit a single and I know I'm supposed to score and I couldn't score, or if I couldn't go from first to third on a single, I don't know, it gets to you.


KING: You had a -- he was a hero of yours as a child and you meet him and finally get to talk with him and he came on with you, right?

LEAVY: Yes. You know, I kind of feel like that was almost pro forma, Larry. It was sort of as if, well, I'm Mickey Mantle and that's what I'm supposed to do. I went to Atlantic City to the Claridge Hotel and Casino where he was working.

And he had been banned from baseball by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who had done the same to Willie Mays. So Mickey knew what was coming. And he had no other way to make a living, you know? Reserve shortstops didn't make a gazillion dollars then.

And when he retired, he was a $100,000 ballplayer. And that was a big schmear back then. But he needed a way to make a living and he needed it in part because his youngest son Billy was dying of a disease that Mickey always thought he would get. And so -- Non- Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

So I go there and my parents had honeymooned at this hotel, Larry, December 25th, 1941, the only night they could get a rabbi in the city of New York before my father shipped out. So I wait for Mickey, and he's late.

He shows up a couple of hours late and he looked like he had had a long evening the night before, and there were many of them. And he sticks out his hand and he -- I can't do the drawl too well. But he sticks out his hand, he says, hi, I'm Mick. And I said -- because I was a Mickey guy, you had to have a guy in New York, you know that.

KING: You bet.

LEAVY: It was either Duke or Willie or The Mick. Well, Mickey was my guy. And so I stuck out my hand and I said, I'm nervous. And he said, why, did you think I was going to pull on your titty?

(LAUGHTER) LEAVY: And the minute -- in that one instant, my childhood ended. Now one could say, Larry, since I was 32, it was about time.


LEAVY: But nonetheless, I grew up real fast.

KING: We'll be right back.


KING: His flaws were many, his attributes were many. Did you -- on finishing this book, in the exhaustive research, did you like him?

LEAVY: Yes. You know, and I liked him probably in a more grown up way. When I started out with this, he was my guy, and by the end of it, he was a guy. The reason I put myself in it is because I thought that my experience with him in Atlantic City, where he also, Larry, famously, after insulting me, you know, looked at me, saw me shivering on a golf course, and said, can't somebody get this woman a bleeping sweater, she's going to bleeping freeze.

Well, I put that sweater up on the door to my office. And I looked at it every day. The Mickey Mantle Invitational Golf Tournament sweater. And I looked at it, and it was made of 100 percent virgin orlon acrylic, a substance I didn't know existed up 'til then.

But the gesture, the instinct to be kind. And his ability to step outside what I like to call his "Mickness," that huge bubble of celebrity, and see me rather than just be seen himself, was a really important part of him.

And I think he wanted -- his son said this to me. He wanted people to treat him honestly. He wanted people to tell him. But what happens to these guys is nobody says what needs to be said and nobody says, you can't talk like that, you can't act like that.

And after he passed out facedown dead drunk in my lap, the next morning I went and pretty much told him off, I probably could have gotten fired for it, you know, by George Solomon at The Washington Post.

I took a huge risk, because he could have -- his son said, if you were a guy, no doubt he would have gotten up and walked away and told you where to go. Instead, when I said, how can a grown up act like this? You know? And here is what you did to me, by the way, when I was 7 and waiting for an autograph, he got this look of utter remorse, and said, well, hell, Jane, I will give you an autograph now.

And he whips out the -- you know, the Sharpie and he autographs the glossy for me. And one of the funnier things I -- you know, I have kept two things from my career, Larry, that autograph and the sweater.

And the autograph is funny, because what he did to me when I was 7, and I guess this is OK to say, it's cable. You know, when I reached over at the police barrier outside the players gate, he emitted a certain flatulence. He was good at that. And when I told him in Atlantic City, how could you do this? How could you do this to a kid, you know?

He gets this mortified look and he writes on the photograph: "To Jane, sorry I farted. Your friend, Mick."

KING: We'll be right back.


KING: We're back with some more moments with one of my favorite writers, Jane Leavy, who wrote the terrific book "Koufax."

A couple of other things, why did his wife stay with him?

LEAVY: Well, what people have told me and what he said to his friends is that the only thing she ever wanted to be was Mrs. Mickey Mantle. In fact, she was actually a gifted soprano and gave up a scholarship to college -- to a local college in Oklahoma in order to become Mrs. Mickey Mantle.

But it was a marriage that had ceased to be a marriage long before his death in 1995. She said they had become friends. She called him "my beloved friend." And, you know, friends of hers told me that she had never given up the hope that they would live together under the same roof.

It was, you know, a tormented marriage that was dictated by his father. I think part of what happened to Mickey is that he had this legendary baseball father "Mutt" Mantle, the lead and zinc miner, who embodied what every parent in America has always wanted, a better life for their child.

KING: Great book, Jane. Thanks, thanks so much. Continue to do the work (ph).

LEAVY: Thank you, Larry.

KING: And you look great.

LEAVY: Thank you, babe. Appreciate it. I'm going to miss you.

KING: Jane Leavy. The book is -- thank you. "The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood." You will not put it down.