Friday, April 16, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Memories of Larry King & Shawn Southwick
by Carol Joynt

It’s natural for the jokes to fly when Larry King cycles through another marriage, his 8th, just like the yuks already out there about a rumored 9th marriage for Elizabeth Taylor. But I’m actually saddened by the news. I thought this one was the keeper. I’m no Larry expert, but I was one of his producers for a few years that spanned the time when he met, fell in love with and married Shawn Southwick. For those of us who knew Larry when Shawn entered the picture the change in him was absolute and endearing.

It was January 1997 and Larry and I were in New York, where we’d just finished pre-taping an interview with Kitty Kelley for her book, “The Royals.” The back seat of a limo, catching our breath, on the way to a Woody Allen premiere and party.

Carol Joynt and Larry King in September 2005.
It was small talk but the subject was love writ large. He wanted to know if I was still passionately in love with my husband “after all these years.” Twenty years, to be precise. “Absolutely,” I said. “As much as ever. I don’t like to be away from him even for a night.” Larry sighed. “I can’t imagine that. I’ve never had that kind of love.” I assured him there was still time.

Soon enough everything was different. In a span of weeks, I lost my love to pneumonia and Larry found his on Fifth Avenue. The sad-happy turn of events wasn’t lost on either of us. We talked about fate on assignments, at lunch, or on the train between New York and Washington. Larry had many marriages and many liaisons, and he believed each was true love, but with Shawn he said he felt something different, something more, that he’d at long last found the real thing.

The meet-cute story that Larry and Shawn told friends was that they spotted each other in front of Tiffany’s. “I turned. She turned. I stopped. She stopped. That was it.” Knowing his eye for an attractive woman, I believed him. Shawn had knock-out all-American beauty queen looks. She lived in L.A., was a native of Utah, a Mormon, who appeared to be made of honey, corn and fresh air, but with va va voom. She wasn’t like the other girlfriends I’d met. She didn’t seem to have a dark side.

Back then Larry King Live still originated from Washington. We were a small, tight and happy staff. It was impossible to work with Larry and not be involved in his personal life; to one degree or another we all heard about or met his women. The executive producer, Wendy Walker, was the most involved. She had to be. She was the leader and den mother, especially Larry’s. She let us know when someone entered the picture who “really mattered.”

Larry King's executive producer, Wendy Walker, and his then-wife, Shawn King, last year in Washington.
The details of Larry’s romantic life could make for funny moments. His personal assistant was beside herself after she accidentally opened a confidential note to him from Sharon Stone. “How do I get it resealed so he doesn’t know?” she cried. To hell with that! We wanted to know what it said. She’d only reveal the opening salutation: “Hey, you.” For years after I addressed correspondence to men that same way, hoping it had magic power, a la Stone. There was an ex-wife, who was often in the picture. There was a girlfriend, too, who we were warned to keep away from him. The “Department of Larry and Women” was crazy like that, but also kinda fun.

And then there was Shawn. When she entered the picture the past women became ancient history. Just like that. When they announced their engagement there was joy among the staff. Shawn visited the office, met everyone and they liked her. Larry, Shawn and I rode together to the White House Correspondents Association dinner, which would be her first big public outing with Larry, and she was nervous. Nonetheless she sailed smoothly into the flashbulbs and scrum. Larry hovered near, more concerned about Shawn than all the Washington officials and celebrities grabbing at him.

In the midst of the drama that surrounded the death of Princess Diana, Larry, Shawn and Wendy happened to be in Los Angeles. Larry, a heart attack survivor, had a sudden heart issue and his doctors thought he needed major surgery. Before putting him under, he and Shawn got married at the hospital, a moment highly charged with emotion, as if his life hung in the balance. Later, on a conference call, with all of us listening intently, Wendy regaled the staff with the details of the vows. We were a family and it was a family event. Fortunately, Larry didn’t need major surgery, and he and his bride flew to New York where he had an angioplasty.

In New York I met up with the newlyweds at their suite at the Ritz Carlton on Central Park South. It was packed with flowers and gifts. Larry was ebullient. Shawn was spinning from all that had happened in such a short time. They doted on each other. It was sweet.

Larry and Shawn during happier times.
On other occasions, Shawn joined us on our rounds as Larry and I pursued “gets” for the show. A lunch with Leona Helmsley, a cocktail party with Sen. Bob Dole. She joined me at an Oscar de la Renta party. The paps cameras lit up. She became part of our little team and it was fun. Sometimes she and Larry wore matching outfits, like “his and her” leather. Early on it seemed they did everything “his and her.”

Larry wanted to move to California. He wanted that life, the better hours, and to make a real home. Those of us on the show didn’t want him to leave Washington, but could understand how getting off work at 7 p.m. was a whole lot better than 10. I didn’t keep up with them out there. It was their new life, including children. In the intervening years I would run into Larry on the street in New York or Washington, or at a party, and we’d have a catch-up. The last time I saw Shawn was last year at a Washington dinner. She looked thin. Very thin. There were rumors, but I didn’t have any inside intel.

The lasting memory I’ll carry of Larry and Shawn is that they, the newlyweds, double-dated with me on my disastrous first date as a widow (my publisher, Crown, prefers I save the details of that misbegotten evening for my memoir, “Innocent Spouse.”) But I can say this – they were there for me like a big brother and sister, helping to guide me into my new life, where I was the one alone and Larry was the one with love everlasting.

So, it’s a sad end. There’s really only one thing left in the saga of Larry and his love life, and that’s for him to call Liz Taylor and pop the question. Do the math.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

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