By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Vertical strings of green apples — 7,000, in all — formed the backdrop to the bar at Larry King’s 70th birthday party last Wednesday night. The party’s “ambiance designer,” Edgardo Zamora, said that King’s wife Shawn had helped to inspire the decoration: She loves Granny Smith apples. Zamora, who has also designed premiere parties for a couple of little films by the Wachowski brothers, said that once the backdrop had been erected, he noticed that his strings of apples bore more than a passing resemblance to the Wachowskis’ iconic strings of numbers. “I stood there and I was like, ‘This would be pretty good for The Matrix.’”
At 6 p.m., the first wave of guests arrived at the Museum of Television & Radio to watch the broadcast of Larry King Live. King appeared to be genuinely shocked when his interview with Regis Philbin (Q: “What do you make of the Jackson story?” A: “I kind of feel sorry for everybody involved.”) was hijacked by Dr. Phil and transformed into a tribute, à la This Is Your Life, with satellite feeds and phone calls from the likes of Nancy Reagan, Ross Perot (with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders), and Celine Dion (singing “Happy Birthday,” backed up by her 4,000-member audience in Las Vegas). Clustered in front of one television set were King’s sister-in-law, his mother-in-law, his personal assistant, and his personal assistant’s mother. Behind them stood two balding men from Sweden.
Pekka Johansson, who like most men at the party was wearing black socks, but unlike any other men at the party was wearing shorts, and Ingvar Ohman, who was the only man there wearing sandals, said they were freelance writers, visiting town for two weeks to “see how Hollywood works.” They are both regular contributors to a Swedish magazine called Music and Audio Technology, and they said they had not yet decided whether they would try to write a story about King’s birthday party. It was delicately asked what, then, they were doing here.
“He’s like Number One in news, right?” Johansson said. “Yeah, isn’t he?” Ohman said.
“We more or less just walked by here earlier this afternoon,” Johansson said. “We presented ourselves at the front desk, and they said, ‘Why don’t you come by here later?’ ”
The first guests to trigger a flash of lights from the TV crews in the arrival area were newly former Governor Gray Davis and his wife, Sharon, who chatted for a while with Kaye Coleman, the waitress who serves King’s breakfast most mornings at Nate & Al’s. Shortly thereafter, producer George Schlatter wrapped Priscilla Presley in a bear hug and said, “We are gonna have that lunch! We are gonna have that lunch!”
Standing nearby were Jackie Collins, Barbara Sinatra and Michael Milken. Noting the surroundings and the cross around her neck, studded with what looked to be diamonds, a reporter was moved to ask whether Presley believed in purgatory. “That’s a strange question. I don’t know how to answer that. I honestly feel that, I mean I have my own beliefs, but — I definitely, definitely do. Yes.” She turned to her date and asked, “Do you believe in purgatory?” and he said no.
Barbara Eden, in a stop-sign red pantsuit with twinkly stars sewn on, said that she came to Larry King’s party “because I love him.”
Why do you love him?
“Because he’s a wonderful man.”
What’s wonderful about him?
“I think he’s a very good person.”
Don Rickles, looking dapper with a crimson pocket square in his navy blazer, was seated on an aqua leather chair. The Swede Pekka Johansson stood next to him, but was absorbed by the television sets, which continued to play Larry King Live in a loop, with the sound off, after the broadcast had ended.
King, who had been led to believe that he would be having a quiet dinner with his wife at the Peninsula Hotel, arrived at the surprise party and made his way upstairs, where Burt Bacharach was hanging out on the landing. ‰ A camera crew from 60 Minutes IIrolled tape.
Just before he went onto the dance floor that had been erected under a tent outside, King reflected on his evening so far: “Tonight was a total wack-out. I was totally prepared to go for the hour with Regis. But then, Oprah and Cher and Madonna and Sharon Stone. I couldn’t believe it.” He continued a litany of names that scrambled the well-known and the unfamiliar: “Kaye from Nate and Al’s, my first producer, my best friend Herbie from Washington. Tim Robbins —”
“Tony Robbins,” his publicist corrected.
Johansson and Ohman approached King and said, with swooping inflection, “Congratulations from Sweden. You are our media hero.”