"I miss my suspenders," said Larry King, explaining that his fiance, Rama Fox, had made him wear a cummerbund to keep his formal trousers in place.
However, King's signature red suspenders were still much in evidence Saturday night, adorning the cover of the program for the 24th Scopus Award gala and mentioned in various speeches, as the television talk show host was honored by the American Friends of Hebrew University.
Michael Jackson had been the original choice of honoree for this year but, elated that the event is expected to raise over $1 million to endow scholars in King's name, Harvey Silbert, chairman of the board of the organization's Western States Region, had no wish to dwell on the details of the change. Silbert said only that the beleaguered pop star withdrew "when his problems suggested he might not be available." The board then invited King to accept.
"I'd rather be Angie Dickinson," said King, noting that he'd be more comfortable standing in Dickinson's slot as the evening's emcee, rather than being the focus of all the attention.
"I'm not taking any chances, I'm going to wear my glasses," the ultra-glamorous Dickinson told the audience crowding the Beverly Hilton ballroom, as she donned glittering black and silver spectacles to read her introduction.
The room around her sparkled too. The tablecloths were fashionably silver and on their own Phyllis McGuire's diamonds lit up the head dais. Also seated there were Dustin and Lisa Hoffman, dinner co-chairwoman Barbara and Marvin Davis and columnist Art Buchwald, who claimed he has known King "since we first worked together on the Al Gore Comedy Hour."
Entertainment was provided by Vic Damone, joined in song at one moment by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and interrupted by quips from Milton Berle. As a plus, Connie Stevens, whose Forever Springs beauty products were the party favors, led the crowd in a happy birthday greeting to a flirtatious, bantering George Burns, who turned 98 on Jan. 20.
Honored for "the art of communication," King credited "the curiosity I've always had" for his success as an interviewer.
"It's good music. His interviews are rhythmic. He establishes a beat," said Hoffman, snapping his fingers as he tried to explain King's skill at drawing out his subjects.
After accepting the award, presented by Davis, Silbert and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and Hebrew University vice president Moshe Arad, King said "I am seldom without a word, but this is one of those seldoms."
He then paid tribute to his mother, Jennie Zeiger, who died in 1976 without having fulfilled her wish to see Israel. "If she was here, or if she is here tonight, I know what is going through her heart and mind when she sees her little son from Brooklyn standing here," said King.
He sent the crowd home laughing at his story of the rabbi he met at the Western Wall in Jerusalem who asked "What's with Perot?" and a series of Yogi Berra jokes.
The program had moved along so snappily that it never got "late early out there," as Berra would have said.