King’s coups

Interview maestro talks about his top 10

The master talker picks his classic 10 interviews from more than 40,000 Q&As:

Frank Sinatra, 1988
“It was his last TV interview. He embodied what you want in a great guest: He is hard to get. He has passion for what he does. He can describe what he does very well. He can put you on the stage with him. He is self-deprecating. And he has a touch of anger. When you have all those things, it is like dancing with Fred Astaire.”

Vice president Al Gore and Ross Perot, 1993
“They debated NAFTA. It was obvious NAFTA was going to fail. But Gore won that debate and turned it around. Clinton called the next day: ‘I owe you big time.’ It was powerful TV. You sensed it that night. And another great interview was Perot announcing that he’d run for president if he got enough people behind him.”

Malcolm X, 1960s
“I was a liberal in civil rights early on, but Malcolm X taught me things I never thought about. I can still see him because he had red hair. He said to me, ‘What do you think it is like to be invisible, to not see yourself on TV if you’re a kid? You’re not in the corn flakes ad. You don’t exist. There ain’t no Negro Santa Clauses. Only time you see yourself at the movies is if you’re the son of the maid. Have you ever had a black pilot on an airplane? Sometime you will. Will you be afraid?’ He made me think. He put me into his skin.”

Marlon Brando, 1994
“He didn’t do interviews, but he picked me to do an interview. Actually, there were two. The first was at his house, and he kissed me at the end of the interview. I’d never been kissed by a man. That shocked me. Brando was brilliant, peculiar, a great actor, an unusual guy, a character.”

John and Patsy Ramsey, 2000
“Their interview was live TV. And with them, we had this lieutenant on who had left the police force in Boulder, Colorado. This lieutenant (had been) investigating the murder of the Ramseys’ daughter, JonBenet. The lieutenant looks at the mother and says, ‘I think you killed your daughter.’ And then he looks at the father and says, ‘I think you covered it up.’ You can’t buy TV like that. Drama at its height!”

President Bill Clinton, 1993
“It was the night that Vince Foster killed himself. We were live in the White House, and we were the only two people in the White House who didn’t know about the suicide. At a quarter to 10, I asked the president if he wanted to stay for an extra half hour. He said, ‘Yes.’ Then something comes in my ear: ‘Get off!’ When I told him we had to end the interview, Clinton got mad. ‘Why, they don’t like me! I’m the president.’ But we both got off the air. Then they came running out to give him the news, and he ran out of there like a bat out of hell to see Foster’s wife.”

Barbra Streisand, 1992
“She worries about everything before the interview — the lighting, the sound, the questions — but when the camera goes on, she is great, fantastic. She is responsive and opinionated and strong and honest. She worries about her singing, which I find incredible. ‘Am I going to hit it? Do I have it? Will I make it tonight?’ She came with her own lighting, so did Warren Beatty. They are very particular. Beatty’s lighting person backlit him, making him look like he was in a Disney house of horrors.”

Richard Nixon, 1988
“I asked him what he thinks when he drives by the Watergate. That is a logical question. And he said, which blew my mind, ‘I never drove by the Watergate.'”

Martin Luther King JR., 1960s
“His lawyer was my lawyer. He was integrating a motel in Tallahassee, Florida, and they wouldn’t let him. The cops were arresting him for trespassing. The owner of the motel asked him, ‘Dr. King, what do you want?’ And King said, ‘My dignity.’ It froze the moment. As a guest he was loquacious. He was biblical. He was very much fighting for a cause, as Billy Graham does: You must follow the path to God or you’re in trouble. King was, if we don’t follow the path to righteousness, we’re in trouble. Martin Luther King changed the room. Clinton does that. Sinatra did it. They walk into a room, and the room changes by their appearance. Barack Obama is about to be that.”

George H.W. Bush, 2004
“One of the great people is George H. Bush, a class act and a fun interview. One of the great moments is when he read from a letter to one of his grandchildren. He started to cry. It was a sad moment. It was special.”

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