By Arthur Lightbourn
Wendy Walker, senior executive producer of the “Larry King Live” television show, is by nature a very private “behind-the-scenes” person, but at the urging of friends fascinated by her experiences she agreed to write a book.
But the Rancho Santa Fe resident and mother of two said she didn’t want to just write a memoir “because I’m not a famous person so people don’t care about a memoir from me. What they care about are the experiences and the stories and the lessons [I’ve learned]. I started writing it three years ago and it was supposed to come out next March but then when Larry decided to end the nightly show, we decided to have it come out earlier.”
The book, “Producer: Lessons Shared from 30 Years in Television,” (Hachette Books) was published on Nov. 16. The final edition of Larry King Live will air Dec. 16, ending a run of 25 years — the last 17 with Walker at the helm.
But King and Walker won’t be parting or fully retiring. They have contracted together to do four Larry King specials a year for the next three years. The book, written in collaboration with bestselling Los Angeles author Andrea Cagan, is filled with anecdotes, show transcripts, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of history in the making as witnessed by Walker during her years with King and 10 prior years as CNN’s White House producer. It also reveals the lessons she learned along the way, working from a Brooks Brothers sales job in Washington, D.C., to serving as Ethel Kennedy’s private secretary, to launching her career in television.
Some of those lessons include: Never freak out. Mentor yourself. Details are everything. Think bigger than big. Work harder than anyone else. Don’t obsess about getting the credit. Opposites attract. And, extraordinary things happen when you least expect them.
I interviewed Walker recently during a break from her production chores for that day’s Larry King Live show. The daily 60-minute program is broadcast out of CNN’s studios in Los Angeles, and, on occasion, from duplicate signature sets in Washington, D.C. and New York City.
Right place, right outfit
In her book, she writes, “It seems like fate has had a way of placing me in circumstances that are unexpected and extremely foretelling.” Like the time when she was 3 years old in 1956 and living in Johnstown, Pa., when then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon arrived in town by train on a whistle-stop campaign tour. Her mother had dressed her up in her pink flannel “fat coat” with a fur collar and, Nixon, standing in the caboose, noticed her and swept her up for a photo op. She saw her picture with Nixon in the newspaper the next day.
“Since his name was printed and mine wasn’t,” she reckoned, “that was an omen that my life’s work would be behind the scenes instead of in front of the camera.”
Walker was born in Chappaqua, New York, the youngest in a family of four girls. Her father was a corporate lawyer. She spent most of her growing up years in Dubuque, Iowa. In 1975, she earned a B.A. with a major in art from Hollins University, a private women’s university in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley. She spent her junior year in the “Hollins Abroad” program in Paris, improving her French, studying art and almost getting kidnapped.