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Book News

The whole truth (and nothing but the truth) about Larry Sanders

'Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host

The Autobiography of Larry Sanders As Told to Garry Shandling'

by Garry Shandling

Simon & Schuster, $23

Review by L.D. Meagher

(CNN) -- It's one of those moments frozen in our collective memory, like the first moon walk, or the O.J. Simpson verdict, or Michael Jackson kissing Lisa Marie at the MTV awards. We all know where we were and what we were doing when Larry Sanders said good night for the last time.

So what has the one-time usurper king of late night TV been up to lately? Hanging out at Malibu, mostly, hoping to bump into Johnny Carson. (So far, he hasn't.) He's also been writing his autobiography. In "Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host", Sanders finally tells the whole story of his rise to stardom, from his painful shyness as an emotionally abused child, through his struggle on the comedy club circuit, to his glorious success as the host of his own show. Through it all, Sanders persisted with the single-minded self-absorption that has been the hallmark of his career, and the cause of his two divorces.

Here at last is the real Larry Sanders. He reveals the driving force that fueled his relentless pursuit of stardom -- meeting women. He is not shy about naming the names of the famous women who have succumbed to his romantic wiles. In fact, he devotes one page of his memoir to a list of them. (Curiously, he leaves out at least two of his conquests: Sharon Stone and Roseanne.)

The most striking revelation may be that "The Larry Sanders Show" was proof of the old maxim "What you see is what you get." His life existed almost entirely of the hour he spent before the cameras each night. He pumped so much energy into the show (thanks to the nine cups of black coffee he chugalugged just before airtime) he had little left over for more mundane pursuits.

"Suddenly, the show is over, I say 'good-night,' and everything comes to a deafening halt. I'm stuck with no one to talk to and no audience ... just real life. Making that transition each night is painful and requires alcohol."

As much as he would like to think so, Sanders didn't do the show all by himself. He offers brief remembrances of the other people responsible for getting the program on the air. He recalls how he met his sidekick Hank Kingsley, who was the social director on a cruise ship at the time, although he liked to think of himself as the "Captain's sidekick." Then there's his producer Artie, a legend in the annals of television. He produced the Jack Parr show and the Jackie Gleason show. He knows everyone in show business, and was generous with his support and advice for the young comic Larry Sanders. "Our relationship ... has been more than producer-star; it's been father-daughter, particularly in the sense that after a bad show he'd spank me. He stopped doing that shortly after the Menendez trial."

Trivia buffs will have a field day with "Confessions of a Talk Show Host." Did you know, for example, that Sanders was chosen to host the original "Family Feud"? Alas, he was fired before the first show aired because the Goodson-Todman people found out he had seduced an entire family of contestants.

Did you know Larry broke into show business as part of a comedy team? He had a partner named Stan Paxton, a college buddy and drug-addled moron who was all but incomprehensible on stage. But Sanders is nothing if not loyal, and he stood by Stan through thick and thin. Indeed, they would be together to this day if "The Tonight Show" hadn't offered Larry a solo spot. They went their separate ways, Sanders to stardom, Paxton to aimlessly wandering the back alleys of Los Angeles.

Some shameful secrets are revealed, including a bout with prescription drug dependency and the fact that his mother was -- to put it delicately -- easy. Sanders frankly describes the pain he felt when she revealed that she had secretly given birth to another child: Tito Jackson.

There is obviously much more to the Larry Sanders story than can be contained between the covers of this slim, fast-paced volume. His collaborator, the comedian and sometime-actor Garry Shandling, has winnowed his autobiography down to its barest essence. In the end, the most enduring qualities of Sanders shine through -- his almost pathological needs for attention, approval, and sex.

Between the lines of self-aggrandizement, self-centeredness and self-doubt, one can see a true maturity developing in Larry Sanders. In small ways, he has learned to reach out to others.

"I remember once having Sandra Bullock over to my house after the show. We actually had a two-week fling. There was no sex, we just flung each other around. Sandra looked over at me and said, 'Do you watch yourself every night?'

'Yes, all hosts do,' I told her.

'Bill Maher doesn't,' she said. 'He watches pornography.'

Always willing to better myself as a person, I stopped watching myself after my show and instead I would go over to Bill Maher's house. I was growing!"

L.D. Meagher is a senior writer at CNN Headline News. He has worked in broadcasting for nearly 30 years.

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