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CNN Larry King Weekend

Interviews With Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Don Rickles, Mike Medavoy

Aired February 16, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a rare interview with the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby.

He's Dick Cheney's right hand man, but his real love may be telling exotic tales of passion and murder.

And a hilarious conversation with the King of Zing, Don Rickles. He's done more roasting and toasting than Julia Child.

Plus, a major Hollywood player spills his silver screen secrets. Studio mogul Mike Medavoy says, you're only as good as your next picture.

And they're all next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.

KING: Good evening. We have a diversified edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND tonight.

Later we'll be meeting the famed film producer, Michael Medavoy, and comedian Don Rickles.

But we begin with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff and national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and Assistant to President George W. Bush.

He's author of a highly-praised novel, "The Apprentice." It was first published in hard cover six years ago, and now in paperback from Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin's.

What took so long -- six years between hard cover and paper?

LEWIS "SCOOTER" LIBBY, CHIEF OF STAFF TO U.S. VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, hard to say. My agents had a falling out with my publisher. They were both dedicated professionals, but sales might have been as -- not as high as they would have liked. And we didn't get the paperback offer we were looking for.

But winter of 2000, my agent called up and said, you know. I think I've ...

KING: Timing is right.

LIBBY: Yeah. She's the best -- Nikki Urban (ph). She puts her heart into her clients, and came up and said, think we got the right deal for you.

KING: Are you a novelist working part-time for the vice president?

LIBBY: Well, I've never quite figured that out. I'm an attorney. I've worked three times in the government -- or four, depending on how you count. Once for the House, once for the State Department and once for the Defense Department.

I'm a great fan of the Vice President. I think he's one of the smartest, most honorable people I've ever met. So, I'd like to consider myself fully on his team, but there's always a novel kicking around in the back somewhere.

KING: There's nothing like writing fiction, right? You control it.

LIBBY: I love it.

KING: Where did "Scooter" come from?

LIBBY: Oh, it goes way back to when I was a kid. Some people ask me if ...


LIBBY: ... as you did earlier, if it's related to Phil Rizzuto. I had the range but not the arm.

KING: OK. "The Apprentice" is about ...

LIBBY: It's a story of a young apprentice in -- set in 1903 in rural Japan -- not the Japan of the "Tale of the Genji", or "Shogun." This is peasant Japan in the far north near Russia.

And he's in charge of this inn. The owner of the inn is away. And a blizzard comes -- sort of a classic beginning to fiction -- and lots of guests start to arrive.

And as they arrive, they begin to sort of share stories and rumors that they've heard. There's trouble in the capital, the coastal road is closed, which is why they're up in this odd sort of back-road route. There's some strange men moving about in the forest and in the towns.

And among these guests is this beautiful musician, part of a traveling group of -- a troupe of performers.

And in the middle of this as they settle down for the night, a man comes bursting into the inn out of the storm. And the guests, surprised that anybody is out in this blizzard, at that point sort of come to the entryway.

And this man who's crusted with snow from being out there looks up and sees the guests and turns around and runs back out into the storm. And one of the guests runs out to save him. And the youth, perhaps trying to impress the girl, decides he better go out -- also maybe a sense of responsibility -- rushes out after him.

And that begins the ...

KING: Wow, don't give too much away. Is this kind of a mystery, and to open with, a think piece?

LIBBY: It's a mystery. It's part mystery, part love story, part coming-of-age story, part ...

KING: Why did you choose to set it in Japan?

LIBBY: Well, it's interesting. I first wrote it in Japan -- contemporary Japan -- in college for a credit. Had a good reason -- I wanted to graduate.

But the story sort of wouldn't let me go, and I sort of said, why am I writing about -- this about Japan?

And I went back and rewrote the book entirely in New England -- set in New England. Went out to Colorado, drank tequila and wrote. And sort of the dream life.

But what eventually happened was, that didn't seem right. I took that 300 pages and threw it away, never showed it.

KING: It's a classic first novel.

LIBBY: And then I started to think, you know, what I need is more distance for the characters, more sort of isolation. I wanted a land before telephones, before fingerprints -- give the reader even a greater sense.

KING: This sounds like a movie.

LIBBY: Well, you know, say it louder.

KING: Your lips to God, right?

LIBBY: Right.

KING: Let's touch some other bases. The book, "The Apprentice" is now in paperback. It was called by the "Washington Post," "strikingly original. A small triumph of meticulous craftsmanship" -- not bad.

The "Boston Globe" called it "an alluring novel of intrigue."

OK. Based on -- is Dick Cheney OK, by the way? Has he been seen?

LIBBY: He's been seen. Even last night, when you were supposed to be there. He ...

KING: Yeah, you had your book party, ...

LIBBY: Right.

KING: ... and I was stuck here.

LIBBY: Right.

KING: Boy, I really wanted to come. He's a great -- as you say, he's a great guy.

Should he release the names already of -- is this pressure too intense on the Enron thing?

LIBBY: Well, I don't think so. You know, he's written one book in his life. And that book was about the speaker -- the great men who served as Speaker of the House.

When he walks through the House, through the -- or through the Senate chamber, he can tell you stories about every nook and cranny. He loves that institution.

And I think he would rather chew off his right arm than do anything to violate the prerogatives of that place.

But he also feels strongly about the White House and Constitutional rights and obligations and duties of the presidency, and protecting those.

And this is a case where he firmly believes -- believes to the point where, when he talks about it, his eyes get a little bluer -- that for the presidency to operate properly, it needs to be able to have confidential communications.

And that's part of what our forefathers set up when they set up two co-equal branches of government.

The courts have looked at issues like this, and they have decided that there are certain communications and certain roles that are distinct and that should be protected.

Reporters claim a privilege to protect their sources, not just what they said, but who said it. Why? Because we, in everyday common sense, believe that there are some people who won't come forward and tell you exactly what they think if either their identity or the content would be known.

KING: So, you think people would not meet in government meetings if it was revealed just that they met?

LIBBY: Well, it's not the government. The government officials have all been disclosed.

What we're talking about are those Americans who came to talk to us, who have on their own chosen not to go out and say who they were.

We encourage anyone who comes to meet with us to go out and say, here I am.

KING: You would have said the same about Hillary Clinton's health force.


KING: Why?

LIBBY: Because it's a different statutory scheme. The vice president has certain constitutional prerogatives. Mrs. Clinton was not, at the time, vice president.

She was also operating under a statutory scheme known as FACA. It stands for advisory committees, or the -- the middle part of it.

The critical factual difference in her case was that there were non-governmental people on the task force.


LIBBY: And there the law says, those meetings must be open. And that's what the dispute was about.

KING: I wish we had a lot more time. I want to have you come back. I want to talk more about your books, more about your next book, because no novelist stops at one.

LIBBY: Right.

KING: And also, I want to talk about terrorism and your role in that, because you are an adviser in that area.

LIBBY: Right. I'd love to.

KING: Great meeting you, by the way.

LIBBY: Thank you very much, sir.

KING: And I'll come to the next party.


KING: Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- chief of staff, national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, and an assistant to the president. And author of the "The Apprentice," which is now in paperback from Thomas Dunne. That's a division of St. Martin's Press.

Don't go away.


KING: One of the joys of my life is knowing this gentleman. Don Rickles is one of my oldest and dearest friends. He's a beloved, beloved man. He loves all of humanity.

He's the King of Zing, as they call him. He is scheduled -- by the way, as we speak, this weekend -- we pre-taped this -- he is at John Ascuaga's Nugget -- is that correct pronunciation?

DON RICKLES, COMEDIAN: I don't know. I'm not from the immigration ...

KING: He's at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks, Nevada through this weekend. He has just signed a two-year engagement to appear exclusively in Atlantic City at the Tropicana. He will open there April 12th through the 14th.

He's a regular now in Vegas at the Stardust -- the Wayne Newton spot.

RICKLES: Yeah, I work for Wayne Newton and Sam Boyd, and ...

KING: Wayne Newton hired you personally?

RICKLES: Yeah, personally. Well, you know, he was busy, because he plays 78 instruments and he doesn't have time to say hello, you know. He plays the flute in the nude.

KING: With the horses.

RICKLES: He keeps (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the nude to play the flute.

KING: So he called you. How did he -- how did he ask you to work for him? What did ...

RICKLES: Well, some Indians were on a pony attacking a fort, and he stopped by and said, "Okie-Wokie." That's his name, Okie-Wokie, because he's half Indian, you know. That's what he keeps telling me. So ...

KING: So he's your boss.

RICKLES: Well, we don't like to call him boss, you know. He lets me share his dressing room once in a while.

He's in charge because, you know, he stands out on the street going, "Danke schoen, danke schoen." And you give him some money and he goes away.

KING: Anyway, one big announcement on a personal level, the weekend of May 2nd through May 5th -- that's Kentucky Derby weekend, Vegas is mobbed -- Don is starring at the Stardust and my wife, Shawn King, is going to be the opening act, and I'm so thrilled for this.

RICKLES: I'm ...

KING: I'm seeing my wife and my favorite person ...

RICKLES: Well that's ...

KING: ... together.

RICKLES: ... that's sweet. And when Shawn sang for me at the house, you know, and I didn't have the heart to say, ...


RICKLES: ... but, she is great. And, you want heat for the house? Remember when you were a kid, they used to do that in the ...


RICKLES: ... that's right.

KING: Have you ever been in your life ...

RICKLES: No need to holler. I'm right here.


RICKLES: No need to holler. Just relax.


KING: Folks, I must tell you. We go back 40 -- almost 45 years. He has been cracking me up for 45 years. I am not a good interviewer when he's on. I don't know what I'm talking about many of the times.

When I ask you serious questions, you dump on me.

RICKLES: Well, that's what's amazing about you, because you interview presidents, you know, ...

KING: Kings.

RICKLES: ... and you talk beautifully with the biggest people in the world. And then when I see you on the street you say, you, you -- you think we should have a Coke?

KING: Well, how do you swing that?

RICKLES: You become like a little Jew from the neighborhood, you know what I'm saying?

KING: What is that?

RICKLES: So (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- they don't want to get...


RICKLES: Sorry, forget that.

KING: Chris Rock says he's this way. How do you explain this? This is true. In a sense, you're like the comic Tony Bennett.

RICKLES: Oh, give me a break.

KING: No, in ...

RICKLES: Tony Bennett was singing one night and they told him. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). No, no, he's great, Tony.

KING: That he has gone through the various eras and kids love him. And you have done that. No other comic that I can think of has transcended through generations. How do you explain it?

That -- you're the biggest hit on the Letterman Show.

RICKLES: Well, ...

KING: And they like only young comics.

RICKLES: ... look, Dave is -- Dave Letterman's been great to me. He really has.

KING: He loves you.

RICKLES: He's been special. We don't dress up and put on makeup, but, yeah. He likes me a lot.

You know Dave. Well, Dave puts on a baseball cap and hides in the cellar and goes, psst! You got a minute? I mean, you know ...

KING: A very shy guy.

RICKLES: Oh! Shy? It's beyond that. He sleeps under the rug in his own house. I mean, please!

So, Dave, you know, he's a great guy.

KING: But he loves you.

RICKLES: Oh, yeah. I lied. I would think so. He's -- we have great times together.

KING: Is that a war between Letterman and Leno over guests?

RICKLES: I don't care about that, Larry. I have a life. Do you think I'm going to worry about Leno and this war?

KING: Let -- let me ...

RICKLES: Leno, you know ...

KING: ... just serious questions.

RICKLES: You know what Leno does all day?

KING: What?

RICKLES: Rrrrrrnnnnhh-dddnnnnhhh-yyyynnnhhhng. And the bike don't start. Rrrrrrnnnnhh-dddnnnnhhh-dddnnnnhh-dddnnnnhhh- yyyynnnhhhng.

What the hell do I care what Leno does? Who ...

KING: Can I ask you, if when Letterman books you, does that mean Leno doesn't book you?

RICKLES: I don't know! I'm not in charge of the war! I'm not -- I sound Jackie Mason all of a sudden. I don't know! Who cares about the war! Who cares! I don't know.

KING: All right.

RICKLES: And I don't care. Don't steam me ...

KING: You know, ...

RICKLES: ... Larry, please.

KING: ... maybe -- I got an idea. We should send you to find Osama. You ...

RICKLES: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), bin Laden. It's easy to find him. Go down to a laundry and find a towel that's dirty. And then ask the guy where, who, what truck picked that up? And there's your guy, you know?

KING: That's the solution from Rickles, right?

RICKLES: That simple.

KING: Do you have to change, modify things when world events happen?

RICKLES: You know, it's funny you'd say that. On the honest side, when the tragedy occurred, I was in Vegas at the Stardust. And Sam Boyd and Wayne, and the people said, Don, would you perform. And the night it happens, geez, it's kind of tough. And they said, would you -- I was ready to go home like everybody else, we -- terrible. And they said, well maybe you'd stay a day or so. And I said, OK.

And the third night, they asked me to go on. I said, you really think I should? Yeah, we have about 500 reservations, which I couldn't believe. You know, the town really emptied out.


RICKLES: And sure enough, I said to myself, like my father was on shoulder. He always said to me, throw your shot. As you do. You throw your best punch, otherwise don't do it.

And I got out there, with maybe this much reservation, and did my thing. And the audience was just absolutely marvelous.

It wasn't easy. But, you know, but -- at the beginning they said, open the next night.

I say, hey, singers take a lot, you know. Paul Anka, you know, look like me, Paul Anka. He's busy on the sign trying to get his letters bigger than Wayne, you know.

So, you know, so -- singers have a better shot at it than ... KING: But you have transcended generations, too, as ...

RICKLES: Yeah, because I don't do jokes, per se. I do situations and make fun of authority and life. And I make fun of you, which is always a scream, you know.

Because I told the people tonight, I said, they said you weren't here yet. And I said, no, he's probably in the shower trying to look at his body, going, what's wrong? What's wrong with this body?

KING: Have you ever had anyone physically attack you? Come up on ...

RICKLES: I can't believe you'd ask me that question, Larry. But forget it.

KING: Why?

RICKLES: No. I have Blue Cross. No. I never -- in the older days, you know, in the beginning, ...

KING: Oh, ...

RICKLES: ... at the very beginning, ...

KING: ... I used to watch you.

RICKLES: ... there was guys that'd get aggravated, sure. But I think when you do comedy, you're selling yourself. You're always open to criticism. Anybody.

But when you're different, that's the chance to success. And I was different. I was open for criticism, and I had to -- sure. I'm sure people got angry, but you had to do what you do.

KING: First time Sinatra saw you, when you -- Sinatra became your great friend. You worked with him, you -- you did, you toured with him.


KING: But the first time he was in your audience, did -- was there any hesitation on your part on kidding him?

RICKLES: No, because I had three mob guys calling me and say, hey, cover me. Three mob guys were in my dressing room going, if we don't like it, boom, boom, boom! We pump him with three. No, Francis ...

KING: Well, but you had to think twice, right.



RICKLES: No. I did not. No. I just -- God has given me that gift. I can look pretty much, 99 percent at an audience and that guy. And especially with Frank, I know that he's going to be in my corner.

And of course, there were a lot of guys that talked about me. And Frank was a street guy and a great man, God rest his soul.

KING: He came to like you.

RICKLES: Yeah. And he knew a lot about me, you know.

And so when he came, and when I made fun of him, and he had three guys behind him, and I made a joke, I said, Frank, be a -- so stand up and hit somebody, you know. That was the big joke then.

And all -- and all the guys behind him went -- anyway. They went ...


RICKLES: They checked, you know. Of course, they have a life, too, you know.

But Frank was great. He was -- especially -- he did so many wonderful things. He -- one night he -- we were in Chicago at the Pump Room. I'll never forget it.

And he was -- we did a great show at the United Center. And he, you know, was in one of his moods when he takes a drink. You could always tell because, rest his soul, he would start to hum a little bit. Doon-doon-doon-doon. And the fact that his neck got a little red, you know.

I said, Frank, everything all right? Yeah, yeah, everything's fine.

And they took a ketchup bottle and he went -- the ketchup don't come out. I said, Frank, can I try? He said, yeah!

And it don't come out. And he says, I'll show you how it comes out.

He picks up the bottle -- and here's the wall, you know -- bowie! And it splashes all over the place.

And my wife, who is, you know, is a very low-key lady, turns around and says, do you have any more ice?

KING: And what did the people in the restaurant do? Nothing, right?

RICKLES: They went into sugar shock.


RICKLES: They stood there with ketchup all over them. And he said, order something.

KING: We'll be right back with Mister Mirth -- Don Rickles, the warmth himself.

He's currently in Sparks, Nevada. He'll open at the Tropicana in Atlantic City April 12th through the 14th. And runs many times throughout the year to Vegas and the Stardust -- still a major headliner.

We'll be right back.



She enjoyed it!




BURT LANCASTER, ACTOR: Next thing you know, it will be special privileges. Sunbathing on the deck, two-hour watches.

RICKLES: Sunburned cruise is a happy cruise, sir. It's an old Navy adage.

LANCASTER: That you just made up.


KING: We're back with Don Rickles. You know, you could have been a great actor.

RICKLES: Why do you keep putting -- keep putting -- want me in the army.

I was in the Navy.

KING: I knew that.

RICKLES: I was in the Navy.

KING: I know. But you could have -- you did, I remember you did an Emmy award winning show once, with -- when you were in the Navy -- playing a guy in the Navy.

RICKLES: Yeah, with Jackie Cooper.

KING: Jackie Cooper ...

RICKLES: Yeah, "Hennessy," yeah.

KING: And you were in that great movie with Clark Gable.

RICKLES: Yeah, I carried him.

KING: You carried him ...

RICKLES: And he said to me, what's a matter with you kid, are you crazy? You crazy kid. And I humored him.

KING: "Run Silent, Run Deep."

RICKLES: Yeah, first picture.

KING: You were also in "Casino" ...


KING: ... with Robert DeNiro.

RICKLES: Who's a lot of fun. Have you ever met Bob?

KING: Yeah.

RICKLES: It's like being alone. He's got that kind of personality.

KING: Yeah, what is it about DeNiro?

RICKLES: He's a very quiet guy, you know.

KING: Very.

RICKLES: Lovely man, lovely man. A brilliant actor. You asked me. But, no -- but he's the kind of guy, you know, you sit around -- and during scenes, you know, I come, you know, I come from standup and the nightclub world.

And I'd go, where are the men! Where's the guns! And he'd go, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). In all movies, he would like this.

I thought I was Johnny Ray (ph) with a bad ear and I couldn't hear DeNiro.

I was in a crouch the whole movie trying to hear what he said. And he would, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But when it comes on the screen, it sounds like he's yelling and I'm not talking, you know.

KING: And there were rumors that you and Sharon Stone -- you've heard that.

RICKLES: She can't do. But I had to brush her ...

KING: You brushed her off.

RICKLES: Well, because I'm married 36 years to a Jewish broad that just lays in bed going (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I don't know why she does that, but, you know. Some nights she thinks she's a ship.

KING: Was it fun making "Casino"?

RICKLES: It was fun. It was fun in the sense that Marty Scorsese and the quality of the people -- I mean, it was, you know, great, you know, to work with DeNiro. And Sharon's a wonderful actress.

KING: You had to get killed in that movie.

RICKLES: Yeah, well, hey. I was in the movie, you know, and -- but I got to ...

KING: You got the great part.

RICKLES: Oh, yeah. A great salary. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So there you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) expression for (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I said to DeNiro, this kind of money, Bob. And he said to me, but you're working with me.

I said, yeah, but the wife and I are living on the street. We're living in a brown bag. Give us a break. He was making $8 million. I was making $2 and a trailer, you know.

KING: You are also the wonderful voice of Mr. Potato Head.

RICKLES: That's right. And Disney keeps that a mystery. No, they gave me a star on Hollywood Boulevard because of that.

KING: A horror story.


KING: Now, when you were doing that, you told me once that all these actors are very serious, right?

RICKLES: Well, Tom Hanks, who is ...

KING: Tom Hanks was ...

RICKLES: ... he's a lovely guy. Tim Allen -- lovely guys, you know. But then, that's why they make $8 billion a picture, you know, because they want to know -- like John Lassiter is their producer and director

He would say to me, Don, in this scene, would you like to know, it's the elf talking to the duck. Do you feel that the duck would like the elf?

And I said, it's six o'clock. I'd like to go home. I don't care what the duck does. Let the elf throw up on the highway. Let me go home.

KING: But Tom Hanks would say things like ...

RICKLES: Tom Hanks would say ...

KING: ... I think the -- when he falls off the bed, ...


KING: ... the legs should go down first.

RICKLES: That's -- well, that's what he does. That's why he makes $20 million a picture. I understand that, you know.

And then you meet him on the street and it's -- I love this -- we're talking to a dummy, you know. But when the light goes on, they're all brilliant.

You know what I'm saying? Can't figure it. Can't figure it.

KING: What do you make of the Chris Rocks and the like, these new ...

RICKLES: I think they're great, you know. It's ...

KING: Chris is very funny.

RICKLES: Oh, he's great.

KING: Unlike you, he loves ...

RICKLES: Well, that's nice to hear, that he's great.

You know, I can't give opinion -- I love it when guys give opinions. I don't want to mention who. There are certain guys, when they get to be elder statesmen, so to speak, get a -- start giving opinions on comedians.

If people show up and they laugh, they're doing great. You know.

But in my day, I've got to say, and as you know, it was your day too. In our day we went from -- we went into saloons. We couldn't cross over like you can today, get a television series and all of a sudden you're a major movie star, you know.

And, because it happens that quickly. I mean, in my -- and I'm not trying to do spilled milk, but in those days it was a little -- I think it was much tougher, because you got an image, and you were in a saloon. And it was tough to come out of a saloon and to get in films, and to maintain an image, you know.

KING: You made your hit here, right? Slate Brothers here?

RICKLES: Yeah, well -- and a little before that, too, in the Murray Franklin's ...

KING: Miami Beach.

RICKLES: ... in Miami Beach when you and I became ...

KING: Why I met you.

RICKLES: ... great friends, right.

And so there -- and Sinatra was a big part of it. And then Johnny Carson, who -- he gave you a chance, you know. When you sat down with Johnny -- as Dave does, you know, Dave does it.

But he would sit back and play with you, and make ...

KING: And then it happens.

RICKLES: Yeah, acts -- he would make you look good.

KING: Dean Martin was great for you, too.

RICKLES: Oh, Dean was -- Dean was something else.

KING: What was he like?

RICKLES: Well, let me tell you this. I used to sit in his dressing room, and he would have a nine iron in his hand. And I'd say, you know, Dean, tomorrow the wife and I are going to go to New York and we're going to have wonderful time.

I'm going to take this nine iron. I'm going to hit about 25 yards. Where you going?

You could take a nap talking to him. But he was charming. He was just a laid back kind of guy. In show business, he let it all happen to himself.

KING: Those Willis (ph) tapes.


KING: A lot of times, there was no audience there, right?

RICKLES: Yeah. Right.

KING: I mean, you would just come in and ...

RICKLES: Greg Garrison would hold up a ...

KING: ... take you ...


RICKLES: ... Greg Garrison, who was the greatest. He was the producer. He'd hold up a sign saying, Orson Welles. And I'd pretend Orson Welles was there.

Orson, how are you! You're getting a little heavier.

And there was nobody. I was talking to myself.


RICKLES: But they -- but now the great thing is, I'm doing an infomercial. I'm going to be the host ...

KING: Of what?

RICKLES: ... of the Dean Martin roasts. They're making me the host, and I'm going to tell stories, as I'm talking to you now.

KING: That's great.

RICKLES: Yeah, and we're going to ...

KING: No, I've seen the ...


KING: ... they have infomercials for them.


KING: It doesn't have a host. They just have a voice ...

RICKLES: Well, Rich Little did some. And now they've asked me to do, and I'm very excited about it.

KING: They're great. They had a -- one of the great sets of videos. He sent them all to me.


KING: That ...

RICKLES: And I'm going to the host.

KING: Those were great days, those roasts.

RICKLES: Oh, yeah. We had great times, yeah.

KING: And you were the perfect -- who's a better roast master than you?

RICKLES: Oh, well gee, you know I ...

KING: You did it to Reagan.

RICKLES: Oh, yeah. He was taking a nap all the time while I was making a speech, God bless him, you know.

And I said, snap out of it. It's the President I'm talking.

And all the Secret Service guys -- you know how they are. They were choking with their walkie-talkies. It was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) up their sleeves.

KING: Is it true that you once said to President Reagan -- this is what I've heard -- whispered to him, Mr. President, if you're ever in Vegas and you need anything, call me.

RICKLES: No. I said that to Clinton. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I said to Bill Clinton -- his father-in-law came to my show in Vegas. And when I met him in the White House, Mr. President -- oh! My impression. I know three -- and, well, Jimmy Carter we'll skip, because he hid behind the desk when we came. He never saw it. Let's go through the presidents. Reagan ...

KING: Bush.

RICKLES: ... Bush, and ...

KING: Clinton.

RICKLES: ... and before George, it was Clinton ...

KING: And now George W.

RICKLES: ... and the other one, ...

KING: Johnson.

RICKLES: No, the -- no -- Johnson!

KING: Nixon.

RICKLES: Johnson was doing floors when I knew him. No, not -- the guy that did ...

KING: Ford.

RICKLES: ... Ford.


RICKLES: OK. Three presidents, OK. And you know the White House pretty good. I loved you when you were looking at the Christmas trees and said, got a Hanukkah bush? I remember when you (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Anyway, so he walks in and goes, right, Mr. President, Mr. and Mrs. Don Rickles. And they were on the platform and I go, President Ford, nice to meet you sir. Oo-ooh. Oo-ooh.

Mr. President, Ronald Reagan. Mr. President, Barbara and Don Rickles. Mr. President. Oo-oh-ho. Oo-oh-ho. They all had nervous breakdowns.

KING: You really scare people with this.

RICKLES: All I said was hello.

George Bush, Barbara Bush and I, we sat in the White House. And I turned around and I said -- there was Abraham Lincoln behind me. And this black gentleman was serving us with the white gloves.

He said, sir, here's your salad. I said, take a look at the picture behind you. He went, what's a matter, sir? Just take a look at the picture.

And I said, who is that? And he said, it's Abraham Lincoln. I said, stop serving. (LAUGHTER)

RICKLES: And George Bush said, what did he say?

KING: We'll be right back with more moments with Rickles. Still to come, Mike -- you know Mike Medavoy, don't you?


KING: What are you?

RICKLES: He's my life.

KING: He's your life!

RICKLES: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Mike Medavoy. I get up in the morning and say to the wife, I'm going to see Mike Medavoy.

KING: He's got Academy Awards.

RICKLES: I drop my pants and fire rockets when I hear his name.


KING: We'll be back with more of Rickles after this.


RICKLES: Hey, ham, look, I'm Picasso.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't get it.

RICKLES: You uncultured swine! What are you looking at, you hockey puck?




RICKLES: How much more where this came from?

CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: Fourteen thousand bars.

RICKLES: Fourteen thousand bars, 14,000? Hey sweetheart, have yourself a bottle of booze. You're beautiful.


KING: Sometimes we play games with Don Rickles. I just fire off a name and he responds. OK.

Clint Eastwood?

RICKLES: Mumbler. EASTWOOD: Mumbler?

RICKLES: Oh, sweet guy, but very quiet. You know what Clint should be? An embalmer, because he'd be good with dead people. He really would.

KING: You did a movie with him?

RICKLES: Yes, I did. "Kelly's Heroes." Big. Yugoslavia, six months. And that's where my daughter was conceived. She came out of her mother with a beret and a rake. Wonderful. Wonderful.

KING: You wrote me a letter from Yugoslavia that I saved. And it began with, "Dear Larry, you know how boring this place is if you're getting a letter from me." You know where I am...

RICKLES: The other one said, "It's Saturday night and we can't go anyplace cause Tito has the car."

KING: And you also had shrapnel. You got shot in that movie.

RICKLES: I got shot. Well, Kelly Bumgardner (ph) was the special effects guy. "There's no way. These explosions -- nothing can happen to you."

I said, "Kelly (ph), I'm a Jew from the neighborhood. I don't do physical stuff. I don't run. Gunfire, I don't need. I pay a guy to fire guns. I don't do that."

He says, "Don't worry. Nothing can happen."

Bang. Bang. Bang.

All of the sudden, I'm looking down at my legs, blood is pouring out. And he goes, "This is blood. This has never happened before. Never."

I said, "I'm hemorrhaging. Help me. Help me."

True story.

KING: Shot making a movie, in the line of duty.

RICKLES: Telly Savalas, rest his soul, great guy. What a cast. Carroll O'Connor, rest his soul. Great people.

KING: It was a great script, too.

RICKLES: Yeah, it was. I don't remember the script, because you're always at the bar drinking peach wine, you know, going, to Yugoslavia. Long live Yugoslavia.

KING: Well, what do you make of President Bush so far?

RICKLES: Oh, he's doing a great job. I've never met the man, but he's doing a great job. His father, I adored. And now he's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: He'd like you. President Bush would like you.

RICKLES: I certainly hope so.

KING: He's a sports guy. He'd like you. Cheney? You like Cheney? You know where he is?

RICKLES: No. Last time I saw him, he was behind my house, with two other guys, going, knock on his door.

And the wife said, "Not now, we're having lunch."

He keeps coming around. He has no place to hide.

KING: Rumsfeld?

RICKLES: Oh, great. Especially at the conference when he says, "Go out, enjoy yourself. Don't worry about a thing. There's a bomb behind my desk. Enjoy. Stop the ticking, Lou. Stop that ticking. Enjoy, ladies and gentlemen. America, there's nothing to fear. Why is this desk vibrating? Building seven is gone. Keep talking."

KING: Al Gore?

RICKLES: Al Gore. Great guy, only he has to be told who he is.

The man has no idea who he is. Am I running for what? What am I running for, honey? Oh, president. Yes. Hi, gang.

KING: Do you like the beard?

RICKLES: Oh, yeah. It's great. You know, now give him a magazine and a bathroom.

KING: How old are you now, Don?

RICKLES: Why? Is this -- am I up for a physical?

KING: No, I'm just curious.

RICKLES: I'm 75.

KING: See, because your energy...

RICKLES: Well, naturally. When you're on a show like this -- who else am I going to talk with? You know, it's a Mickey Mouse flap.

KING: What do you mean a Mickey Mouse flap?

RICKLES: Well, this is a buck-and-a-half, but you ignore it. When people in London see it, they think it's a giant set. I walked in here, the guy is in shorts working the camera. One guy. Another guy is in his underwear bringing coffee. And three broads are in the sound booth going we got to get a guy, we got to get a guy. What kind of an organization is this? And you're making $6 billion, with a jet and everything else. And your wife is in Utah now going, "All right, from the top. Jesus is nice." So there you are.

KING: OK. She will do no religious songs when she opens for you.

RICKLES: I certainly hope not. Otherwise, I'm going to bring out four Rabbis and we're going to do the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We're going to do a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) dance. That's what we're going to do.

KING: But this is a map of the world.

RICKLES: Map of the world.

KING: This is symbolic.

RICKLES: This is like some retarded idiot got lost and started to make a picture, but OK, hey. You're doing good. You're doing -- that's the main thing.

And you got to work on the jaw. It's starting to lean forward. Pretty soon, you're going to put a little dog on your nose, you're going to be a car. You've got to stop leaning with the jaw.

KING: Why is that, I think...

RICKLES: And your body. Since you had that trouble with the heart, you know.

KING: Well, I'm slim. I keep good...

RICKLES: You take a shower, I understand the water misses you. That's the kind of body you got.

KING: Don, we look forward again, very soon.

RICKLES: Hey, this was wonderful.

KING: I love having you on.

RICKLES: And it's great to have Shawn with us at the Stardust.

KING: And she, he's -- this weekend, he's at the Nugget in Sparks. Don't forget the Tropicana in Atlantic City. His first engagement there, April 12th to the 14th. Two year contract. And Wayne Newton's Stardust, he'll be on deck there, May 2nd is when Shawn is going to be opening for him, and we're all going to be there, and there's going to be a riot.

And Michael Medavoy is next. Want to -- tell the audience to stay tuned for Michael Medavoy.

RICKLES: Ladies and gentlemen, stay tuned for Michael Medavoy. And enjoy. No, he's wonderful. He's a great guy. He's a redhead, right? KING: Yeah.

RICKLES: Yeah. Daddy Warbucks' brother. Whatever.

KING: Thanks, Don.

RICKLES: Thank you, Larry. God bless you, Larry.

KING: Mike Medavoy -- God bless you, too.

RICKLES: God bless you.

KING: God bless you.

RICKLES: God bless you.

KING: Mike -- OK.

RICKLES: Oh, no. We don't do that. We do stars.

KING: We do stars, yeah. Jewish stars.

RICKLES: This means that the highway is blocked.

KING: Medavoy is next. We'll be right back. Don't go away.


KING: It's a great pleasure to welcome now to our program, Mike Medavoy. He's one of my favorite people. He's chairman and cofounder of Phoenix Pictures, and he's the author of a terrific new book, "You're Only As Good As Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films, and 100 For Which I Should Be Shot."

He's been involved in every area of the business. You were an agent, right?


KING: And now you're most -- you produce. Have you directed?

MEDAVOY: No. I've never directed, and I have no desire to direct. So, it's perfect.

KING: What got you from being an agent to a producer?

MEDAVOY: I think it's a natural move, actually, because everything I learned about the business that I needed to learn, I learned as an agent.

You know, all the -- it was really the jumping off point for everything I did.

KING: An agent learns how films are made?

MEDAVOY: Well, I don't know that he learns how films are made, but he learns the diverse people who work on films. He knows about how the deals are structured. He develops a certain kind of taste for some, you know, some types of films.

And that's really what I did. Started to learn how to package films, which is one of the things that you need to do as a studio head.

KING: Well, I must say, it's a fascinating book.

You've been involved in how many Academy Award pictures?

MEDAVOY: Seventeen have been nominated for Best Picture, and seven have won.

KING: That you were either involved with in one way or another, right? Either your company produced it, or you produced it?

MEDAVOY: There were eight -- seven, that the company that I was involved with produced. And eight pictures that won the Academy Award, starting with "The Sting" being the first one, and of course that was -- I was only involved in "The Sting."

And then there was "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Annie Hall" and "Rocky" et cetera, et cetera.

KING: "Platoon."

MEDAVOY: "Platoon." "Silence of the Lambs," "Dances With Wolves," "Amadeus."

KING: It's the hardest thing in the world, to make a movie, isn't it? Getting it done, from start to finish?

MEDAVOY: It's, you know, it's the most impossible thing that I can think of. And having been involved with 330 movies...

KING: How could you have been involved with that many? This is as an agent as well?

MEDAVOY: No this is actually as -- purely as a studio chief and as a producer.

KING: You ran a big studio.

MEDAVOY: Well, I was involved with United Artists. I was involved with starting Orion. I was the chairman of Tri-Star and...

KING: Not bad.

MEDAVOY: And now Phoenix.

KING: An agent -- there's a couple of funny things. You dropped Steven Spielberg?


KING: Why, Mike? Didn't think he had a future?

MEDAVOY: No. I wouldn't say that that was the case.

I think that, you know, I recommended some things for him to do, and he disagreed. And he did something that, at that time, he thought he was doing the right thing, which was to Sid Chymer (ph). And since one of the things that I preach in this book is loyalty, he was right, and I thought I was pretty smart. And I told him to leave Universal and go on and make pictures somewhere else.

Now I've read that he agrees with me, after all these years. But...

KING: But then he was right, and upon reflection, he did the right thing.

MEDAVOY: Upon reflection, he absolutely did the right thing. You know, his career wouldn't have been where it is.

KING: You write that an agent needs a star. Every agent who represents needs to hook on. Yours was Donald Sutherland, right?

MEDAVOY: That's correct. He was the first one. I mean, there were others later on, like, you know, Jane Fonda and Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle and a few others.

KING: Was the leap -- was it easy to make the adjustment from agent to -- was it hard to leave the agency business?

MEDAVOY: It wasn't. By the time I left the agency business, I was happy to be leaving it. It was 10 years later. I think most agents ought to have a 10 year period and then they ought to move on.

KING: What was your first hit movie?

MEDAVOY: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

KING: Now, all right -- now, there was a play that failed on Broadway. Kirk Douglas owned the rights, right? Then, in San Francisco, in a small company, did it, right?

MEDAVOY: That's correct.

KING: Kirk Douglas gave it to Michael, literally for a dollar.


KING: Why did you buy the idea, that this could work? A film, about an insane asylum and a lobotomy?

MEDAVOY: Well, several reasons. One of them, I thought it was a terrific story, and movies are about making stories work.

Stories can take all kinds of forms, but this was -- it had humor, it had pathos. And, finally, my partners and I, Arthur Krim, Eric Buscow (ph), Bill Bernstein (ph), Bob Benjamin, all felt that Milos Forman was a real talent.

KING: The director.

MEDAVOY: The director. And most of the work that we did, we put on the director. You know, we basically backed filmmakers, and we backed people.

KING: What was the most -- what is a movie that jumps at you, boy, I wish I didn't do that movie?

MEDAVOY: Well, there's, as I said, there's probably 100 of them.

The ones you tend to forget, actually. You know, usually you remember the good ones. But the ones that didn't work...

KING: All right. What was the biggest disappointment? What did you think, this can't miss.

MEDAVOY: I never go into making a movie and say this can't miss. I go in and say...

KING: Really?

MEDAVOY: I never do that. I go into a movie and say, I think this can work. Because it's all a gamble, essentially. You're gambling. Sometimes, you know, the odds are better, and that's really what everybody prays on.

You know, the odds are pretty good because you put Tom Cruise in a movie. Or the odds are pretty good because you have Steven Spielberg directing it.

But it's -- it doesn't work that way.

KING: It's all a roll of the dice.

MEDAVOY: Well, it's mainly a roll of the dice, but it's also some sort of instinct. An instinct as learned...

KING: The producer buys the idea, gets the money, puts it together. But it's the director who directs, and the actors who act.

MEDAVOY: Absolutely. He's the person that says cut, print. And that's the guy who, in the final analysis, when it's all put together, that's the guy whose going to call the shots.

KING: But you're the guy that says release, right?

MEDAVOY: Yes. Release a certain way. It doesn't -- you know, and you can screw it up by doing that.

You can release a movie at the wrong time of the year. You can release a movie against other big movies on a particular date. Or you can release a movie on September 11th when nobody is going to the theaters.

You know, everybody is sitting there wondering what the heck am I doing.

KING: What effect has that had on the film industry, September 11th? It's obviously helped things like "Black Hawk Down," right?

MEDAVOY: It probably has helped "Black Hawk Down," although there was some debate at first, I think, a lot of people wondered -- you know, we're doing a story basically that isn't, you know, it glorifies the situation when in effect, really, for intensive purposes, was probably one of the blunders of what occurred in that time.

KING: What's been the effect? I know you're on the -- Governor Gray Davis appointed you entertainment executive to the California Antiterrorism Information Center Advisory Board. Some films were put on hold, right?

MEDAVOY: Some films were put on hold. But they're going to be released. I think, you know, that period of fear is gone.

The effect is that we will continue to make films, but be very cautious about certain kinds of films that basically are going to, you know, create more of a problem, you know.

KING: Terrorism films?

MEDAVOY: Well, terrorism -- I think that -- films are about depicting reality. You know, some form of reality, and telling the truth. That's my feeling.

Because when actors are acting, they want to act out of some sort of truth, whether it's truth imagined or truth. And that's, you know, what they're going for.

Now, if, you know, if they're doing something like, for example, there was this period where violence was a problem. You know, I turned down a picture that I had developed, called "Pulp Fiction," because I thought it was too violent. I was obviously wrong.

KING: You were wrong because you thought it wouldn't do well, or you turned it down on a moral factor?

MEDAVOY: I was wrong, because as someone who works for a public company, or even though in this case, it's not a public company, it's a private company, I have the obligation to make a movie if I think it's going to do well. And I thought that movie would do well. I was just squeamish because I had just come back from Washington and everything there was telling me stop the violence.

KING: Why did you think "Platoon" would do well, since all the betting was Vietnam war was -- we're soured on the Vietnam war?

MEDAVOY: There are lots of reasons, you know. None of these answers have simple answers. None of these questions have simple answers.

But the answer in "Platoon" was that it was a fairly minimal bet in our part. It wasn't a lot of money. The picture cost about $6.9 million or something to that effect.

We were in for $2.5 million, and the picture obviously went off to do, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars.

After seeing the movie, I thought it was one of the great bets of all time. It was just a wonderful, wonderful success, and I love the movie. I think Oliver Stone did a magnificent job.

KING: You also did "Rocky." Now there was a script he couldn't sell.

MEDAVOY: A script he couldn't sell, but Irwin Winkler and Bart Chartoff saw something in it. They were under exclusive contract to us.

Again, none of us really knew. We didn't want to do a boxing movie, you know, necessarily. And so we hedged our bet. And the picture cost $1,290,000.

KING: What did Stallone cost for that movie?

MEDAVOY: $75,000. He went on, obviously -- he owned his house after that.

But, you know, we were so insecure with it that we crossed the profits of that movie against the picture that we thought was going to be the big hit, which was "New York, New York," which we were doing at the same time, which Winkler and Chartoff were producing.

KING: Robert DeNiro and Liza Minnelli.

MEDAVOY: That's right. And so...

KING: And that did not do well.

MEDAVOY: It did not do well. Actually, "Rocky" wound up paying for "New York, New York."

KING: Now, you've done "Hannah and Her Sisters," the wonderful Woody Allen movie. "Terminator," "Dances With Wolves," "Silence of the Lambs."

MEDAVOY: Another case where -- in every case, in every picture that we did, and I say we, you know, none of them, you know, were taken by any other company.

In other words, they were turned down by everybody else.

KING: We'll be right back with Mike Medavoy, the cochairman and -- the chairman and cofounder of Phoenix Pictures and the author of a terrific book. As good a book as I've ever read on Hollywood. "You're Only Good As Your Next One."

We'll be right back, don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SILENCE OF THE LAMBS") JODIE FOSTER, ACTRESS: You know who he is, don't you? Tell me who decapitated your patient, doctor?

ANTHONY HOPKINS, ACTOR: All good things to those who wait. I've waited, Clarice, but how long can you and old Jackie boy wait? Our little Billy must be already searching for that next special lady.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which way you going?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going uptown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, well, you know, I'm going uptown too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just said you were going downtown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, well, but I can go uptown too. I live uptown. But, what the hell, it'll be nice having company, you know. I mean, I hate driving alone.


KING: We're back with Mike Medavoy. The book is "You're Only As Good As Your Next One."

How did you like working with Woody Allen?

MEDAVOY: Well, Woody knows this, I mean, I'm a big fan of Woody's. I think he's unique. You know, it's just a great American filmmaker.

KING: When that thing broke in '92, with the wife and the kids and everything, what did that do to him? The movie that came out after it really tanked, right?

MEDAVOY: It didn't do very well, no.

Well, it put -- I think a lot of people, especially women, I think, had a real problem.

KING: Did you think his career was over?

MEDAVOY: No. I don't think anybody's career is over.

KING: You can do anything?

MEDAVOY: Well, I don't know about doing anything, but I think, you know, you can't go out and kill people, obviously, or do something like that. But I think, you know, I see him as a talent. I don't get into people's personal lives. I don't know what he did in his personal life.

KING: So even though the personal life becomes public, you think the public still goes to see the talent?

MEDAVOY: I think some people will, and some people do, if the movie is good. And, you know, he's unique. Now, he's probably turned off some people, and not everybody has the same idea that I do, which is to disregard people's private life when it comes to their art-form.

KING: So you would do a movie starring Robert Downey?

MEDAVOY: I would do a movie starring Robert Downey, if it's the right movie, yeah.

KING: You also did "Philadelphia." That was a risk in that this was a sad story about a man dying of AIDS. Did you have any fear that the public -- and they obviously warmed to it, wouldn't warm to it?

MEDAVOY: Well, I'm somewhat fearless.

KING: Obviously. You like that?

MEDAVOY: I do like it. I love the movie. It's one of the high points in my career, I think.

I believed in it. I believed in Jonathan Demme, who executed it. Tom I thought, was great. I thought Denzel, who is up for an Academy Award this year, I thought he was terrific, and that was inspired casting. Jonathan, every single time he goes out, he has some sort of inspired casting. You know, this was inspired casting, I thought.

KING: Sure was. You also had the major, I guess call it magnificent failure, of "Apocalypse Now." The making of "Apocalypse Now," in which you had Marlon Brando not wanting to learn the script, Martin Sheen suffers a heart attack, a monsoon washes away part of the shooting location. Francis Ford Coppola almost goes crazy doing this. You had to fly to the Philippines, right?


KING: What was that like?

MEDAVOY: Well, it was kind of surreal, actually. Getting there and walking into a hospital room where Marty was lying, you know, with a bunch of tubes and monitors going, and it looked like he wasn't going to recover.

That was my hello Philippines.

And the second was going to see Francis, where I think he and Ellie (ph) were having a problem. But it's obviously not a failure. It was a movie that was...

KING: It was rereleased now.

MEDAVOY: No only rereleased, but the movie did OK. KING: Did it? When it came out? I thought it was a dud.

MEDAVOY: It did OK. It wasn't a dud.

It was, you know, it didn't do as well as expected. It's like the "Hook" story. You know, "Hook" did a very sizable amount of money. I mean, it did $50 million in profit. And if I wrote you a check for $50 million right now, you wouldn't say no. I just know it.

KING: Good thinking. What was Brando like?

MEDAVOY: I didn't see Marlon when he was on the movie, but, you know, he's a very good friend of mine, and I say that, you know, I'm proud of my friendship with him. And, you know, everything that was said about him is not necessarily true.

I mean, Marlon -- according to Marlon, he did read the script. He did read the book. He gave a lot of notes. He gave a lot of thoughts to Francis.

KING: He gets very involved in the roles he plays, does he not?

MEDAVOY: Yes. And I think that, you know, whatever -- one of the reasons of writing the book is to debunk a lot of myths that didn't occur.

Now, Francis has one side of the story, and I'm sure Marlon has the other side of the story. Whichever -- I'm not taking sides with either one of them, but you know, there is two sides of the story.

KING: Was "Amadeus" a risk?

MEDAVOY: "Amadeus" was risky, but, you know, Saul Zaentz is one of the great producers in the business. He sticks with the movies. Milos again, you know, this was the second movie, actually, the third movie we did with him at that point. He had done "Air" for us.

You know, it was just such a brilliant film, despite the fact that it didn't break all box office records. It's one of those movies that will remain long after I'm gone.

KING: You seem to be saying, Mike, it's the story. "A Beautiful Mind" is a good example, right?

MEDAVOY: It's a wonderful story.

KING: The story counts. If you've got a good story, it should tell, if you sell it right.

MEDAVOY: That's correct.

KING: Movies can be sold wrong, right?

MEDAVOY: They can be.

KING: What are you working on now? MEDAVOY: I'm actually working on several movies at the same time.

We're doing a movie in Florida with John Travolta and Sam Jackson that John McTiernan is directing, called "Basic."

KING: Follow-up to their pairing together for the Elmo Leonard movies?

MEDAVOY: No, this is -- yeah, it is a follow-up, in terms of casting. But this is a murder mystery that's set in the jungles of Panama.

KING: Mike, I will tell you, it's a great book.

MEDAVOY: Thank you very much.

KING: I say this not just as your friend.

MEDAVOY: Thanks a lot.

KING: It's a great book. If you like Hollywood, if you like movies -- Mike Medavoy's "You're Only As Good As Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films and 100 For Which I Should Be Shot."

He's the chairman and cofounder of Phoenix Pictures.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Larry King is Los Angeles. Good night.