DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Today on FRESH AIR, we'll replay parts of Terry's interview with Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy who died Wednesday at age 91. We'll also salute Larry David, the co-creator of "Seinfeld," whose HBO comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" returns to HBO this weekend after a six-year hiatus. We'll replay portions of an interview with Larry David from 2015 conducted by FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
But first, I'll present my review of the new season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - well, not a review exactly because Larry David decided not to allow critics to see it in advance. Instead, let's call it a retrospective and an appreciation.
(SOUNDBITE OF LUCIANO MICHELINI SONG, "FROLIC")
LARRY DAVID: (Laughter).
BIANCULLI: I loved watching Larry David last year in his recurring guest role on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," providing a perfect impersonation of outspoken politician Bernie Sanders. But I'm even more excited to watch Larry David beginning this Sunday on the return of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," playing Larry David, an exaggerated version of himself, in a role he last portrayed on TV six years ago.
Since co-creating the NBC sitcom "Seinfeld" in 1989 with Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David has made several impressively important contributions to TV comedy and TV history and become rich and famous in the process. With the "Seinfeld" series, the last massive hit comedy from broadcast television, he and Jerry scored big with what was summarized as a show about nothing, a program where the plots could be as simple as about going shopping or waiting for a table at a restaurant. And yet within those parameters, individual scenes interlocked very intricately.
"Curb Your Enthusiasm" followed as a TV special in 1999, the year after the "Seinfeld" show ended with Larry David on camera as well as behind the scenes. The series began a year later. In both, he played a comically exaggerated version of himself, finding faults and picking fights with almost everyone around him. Again, the individual elements were cleverly interwoven. And this time, between each plot point, David made room for a lot of improvisation. Here he is in the pilot with Cheryl Hines playing his wife. They're at a fancy Hollywood restaurant and have just been told that there's a problem with their reservation.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")
CHERYL HINES: (As Cheryl David) You know what, Larry? You should just tell her who you are.
DAVID: (As himself) Yeah. Who am I? I'm a guy without a table.
HINES: (As Cheryl David) Just try "Seinfeld" thing.
DAVID: (As himself) That's who I am.
HINES: (As Cheryl David) No, but try the "Seinfeld" thing, and see if she reacts.
DAVID: (As himself) Get out of here. I'm not going to say...
HINES: (As Cheryl David) No, but just say that you were...
DAVID: (As himself) Forget it. I'm not going say that.
HINES: (As Cheryl David) No, it will help. Ma'am...
DAVID: (As himself) No, Cheryl, that's ridiculous.
HINES: (As Cheryl David) ...Can you come for one second? Tell her who you are. He was one of the creators of "Seinfeld."
DAVID: (As himself) So what, right? OK.
HINES: (As Cheryl David) OK?
DAVID: (As himself) Big deal, fine - no table - you happy?
HINES: (As Cheryl David) And what I'm saying is - no, no, she can find a table for you.
LAUREL MOGLEN: (As Hostess) I wish I could help you with that.
DAVID: (As himself) Have you ever seen a...
HINES: (As Cheryl David) No.
DAVID: (As himself) She's never even seen an episode. What are you talking about?
HINES: (As Cheryl David) You've seen it.
MOGLEN: (As Hostess) I saw it once. It was good.
DAVID: (As himself) Did you really?
MOGLEN: (As Hostess) Yeah.
DAVID: (As himself) Which one?
MOGLEN: (As Hostess) I can't remember.
DAVID: (As himself) OK, great. See.
MOGLEN: (As Hostess) But...
DAVID: (As himself) She never even saw the show - good going.
BIANCULLI: Since the TV version of Larry David appeared 18 years ago, the idea of a comic playing an unflattering version of himself has become much more commonplace. Matt LeBlanc is doing it hilariously right now on a Showtime sitcom called "Episodes." And even Andrew Dice Clay is doing it a lot less hilariously on another current Showtime sitcom called "Dice."
But like the concept of a show about nothing, the idea of a comedian starring in a TV comedy based on himself and his life is nothing new. In fact it's older than TV itself. Jack Benny did both things in his radio show and brought them to TV in 1950. In one of his most famous episodes, his show about nothing had him shopping for Christmas presents and constantly pestering one clerk in particular played by the great cartoon vocal artist Mel Blanc.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM")
JACK BENNY: (As himself) Oh, clerk, clerk.
MEL BLANC: (As Wallet Salesman) Yes, Sir. What can I...
BLANC: (As Wallet Salesman) It's you again.
BENNY: (As himself) Yes. Look it. I want to change that card again. I'm sorry.
BLANC: (As Wallet Salesman) Oh, no, no, no, no. First you by the gift. Then you write the card. Then I wrap the gift. Then you change the card. Then I unwrap the gift. Then you rewrite the card. This time I wrap the gift again, and now you want to write another card.
BENNY: (As himself) I can't help you. You'll have to unwrap the gift. I'm sorry.
BLANC: (As Wallet Salesman) I already sent it down to the delivery room.
BENNY: (As himself) Well, then you'll have to go down and get it.
BLANC: (As Wallet Salesman) All right, all right. I'll go get it. I hadn't run into anybody like you in 20 years. Oh, why did the governor have to give me that pardon?
BENNY: (As himself) I don't know about that. Just bring me my package.
BLANC: (As Wallet Salesman) All right, I'll get it. I'll get it. I'll get it.
BIANCULLI: Larry David's actual comedy innovation is his insertion of loose improv into a tightly structured script. That's a truly new form. And when you revisit the first episodes of "Curb," you can see how quickly everyone establishes and perfects the formula. And you also have to give David credit - lots of it - for crafting some season-long storylines that have been conceptual and comic masterpieces.
The entire Season 4 where he agreed to star on stage for Mel Brooks in "The Producers" was superb and delivered a surprise ending that was even more brilliant because it was so cleverly disguised. And then there was Season 7 when he got the entire cast of "Seinfeld" back together to mount a reunion show, which he did not for NBC but for HBO. And when Jason Alexander gets angry and walks off the set, Larry offers to play his part, the part Larry originally wrote on "Seinfeld" as his own alter-ego. But his castmates, especially Jerry, are less than supportive.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")
JERRY SEINFELD: (As himself) It's just a script, Larry. There's no show without Jason. How do you even have the show? What do you have? You have a three-legged goat here.
MICHAEL RICHARDS: (As himself) So what are we doing?
SEINFELD: (As himself) I don't know. We're not doing anything.
RICHARDS: (As himself) Larry, what do you want to do?
DAVID: (As himself) I'll play George.
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As herself) What (laughter)?
DAVID: (As himself) I'll play George. I'll play George.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As herself) What (laughter)?
DAVID: (As himself) Yes. I can do it.
SEINFELD: (As himself) You'll play what, George's butler? What do you mean?
DAVID: (As himself) No. I will play George Costanza. I can do it. I know I can. I wrote it. The character's based on me. There were two Darrins...
SEINFELD: (As himself) Yeah.
DAVID: (As himself) ...On "Bewitched."
SEINFELD: (As himself) Nobody liked that second Darrin. I didn't care for the second Darrin.
DAVID: (As himself) But you bought it.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As herself) Oh, my God.
SEINFELD: (As himself) Do understand what this is? This is iconic television here. That set's an icon. He's an icon. She's an icon. He was an icon - icon. No-con - there's no John, Paul, George and Larry. It's not what they want.
BIANCULLI: This new season of "Curb" starting Sunday on HBO is another season-long storyline. But Larry David will neither describe it nor send out advance copies for preview. I guess I could be annoyed by that, but I'm just happy to have TV Larry and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" back. Besides, when you have a track record like Larry David's, you've earned a lot of trust.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
Larry David began as a standup comic and was a cast member, along with Michael Richards, of "Fridays," the ABC late-night sketch series patterned after NBC's "Saturday Night Live." David also worked for "Saturday Night Live" briefly long ago, then returned in 2015 for what became a wildly successful series of guest spots featuring his imitation of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Earlier that same year, Larry David spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: When I told my wife I was going to be interviewing you, she says, I want to know how that guy got the way he is. And of course she's assuming that guy is the guy she's seeing on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
LARRY DAVID: That doesn't sound so good to me.
DAVIES: (Laughter) Well, I...
DAVID: Like, how am I? I'd like to ask your wife - and yes, and how am I? What is this that you're seeing?
DAVIES: Well, it's the guy on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," I suppose, you know? And we'll talk about whether that's - how close that is to the real Larry David.
DAVIES: But I do want you to tell us about, like, where you grew up. You grew up in Brooklyn. Tell us about the neighborhood.
DAVID: I grew up in Brooklyn in a - it was in Sheepshead Bay. I lived right under the Belt Parkway. And there were four buildings, which was my little universe. My friends - my five, six, seven, eight friends - we all lived in this building. And it was a very happy childhood as far as I remember. We played sports all the time, walked to school, came home from school, played ball in the winter. We'd play basketball in freezing temperatures and every possible - we would invent games. And not too many girls in my life, I must say, though.
DAVIES: (Laughter) And did you have extended family in the neighborhood or in the building?
DAVID: I did. I had aunts. And my aunt and uncle and my cousins were right next door. My grandmother, my uncle and my cousin were on the third floor. So there was no privacy. People were running in and out of the house all the time. Everybody knew your business.
DAVIES: Did you see humor in it at the time? Did you make friends laugh?
DAVID: No. I wasn't funny at all. I didn't even suspect that I had a sense of humor until I went to college. And then something kind of changed. I don't know what happened. Perhaps it was meeting new friends and being in a different environment that unleashed something in me. I don't know.
DAVIES: Did you have any sense of your future back then? Do you remember?
DAVID: Just whatever it was in my head, it was bleak. I don't remember having any ambitions, any goals, any dreams. It was always, how am I going to get by? What am I going to do? But I didn't really - to be honest, I didn't really give it much thought. Even in college, I didn't give it much thought. I was having fun in college. And basically when people asked me what I was going to do, I just said, oh, something will turn up. What that was, I had no idea. But...
DAVIES: And did your parents have any particular expectations?
DAVID: (Laughter) Zero, zero expectations - my mother - I've said this before. She wanted me to work in the post office. She wanted me to be a mailman because she thought, you know, I'd get a pension, and I'd be taken care of. I would have security. And that was her dream. That was the best-case scenario, that I would be a mailman.
DAVIES: You were going to be Newman (laughter).
DAVID: I was going to be Newman, exactly. Newman was very happy.
DAVIES: Steady work. You get a health plan, right (laughter)?
DAVID: Yeah. Newman's one of the happiest guys on television. Come on.
DAVID: Yeah. And the hours were good.
DAVID: You know, they just drop some mail off. It seemed like a decent job.
DAVIES: How did your parents react to your success?
DAVID: They were quite stunned by it (laughter). When "Seinfeld" was the No. 1 show in the country, my mother would call me up and go, Larry, do they like you? Do they think you're doing a good job? Are they going to keep you? What do they say to you? Did they tell you you're good? She was very insecure.
BIANCULLI: Comedian Larry David speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies in 2015 - more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's return to "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David's 2015 interview with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. David's HBO comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" returns Sunday after a six-year hiatus.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DAVIES: How did you get into comedy? You said you were in college having fun, no thought of a particular future.
DAVID: Yeah. Then I got out of college. And I - you know, I was funny with my friends. And my friend's wife said to me, you should be a comedian. And I thought, really? I just hadn't - that hadn't occurred to me. And then I went to the Improv, the Improvisation, to watch a show. And as I'm watching the show, I'm starting to think that, hey, maybe Jane's right. Maybe I could do this. In fact, not only am I starting to think I could do it. I think I could be really funny up there. Not only that, I'm going to go up there right now.
DAVID: I go up to the owner of the club, Budd Friedman, and I say, I'd like to go on. Now, I'm just sitting in the audience on a Saturday night. I leave my seat, and I go talk to the owner. And I say to the owner of the club that I want to go on. And this is the most - probably the most insane thing I've ever done in my life. And he said to me, who are you? I said, I'm just sitting in the audience. He said, no, you can't. You can't go on. Are you a comedian? I said, no. He said, no, no. You have to audition. And then if you pass the audition, then you could start going on.
So thank God he said no because had he said yes and I had gone up, it would have been a disaster, and I may have never walked up on the stage again for the rest of my life. But I started to put an act together, and then I went down to the village to a place called Gerde's Folk City, and I did - I got on stage for the first time.
A week later, I went to Gil Hodges Bowling Alley in Brooklyn and got on stage for the second time. And then for the third time, I went to Catch A Rising Star, and I passed the audition, and then I started working out of Catch A Rising Star.
DAVIES: Well, you know, we have a little piece of tape. And this is from Susie Essman, your friend who of course appeared on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." And she was at an appearance, and she was recalling her early days with you in stand-up Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SUSIE ESSMAN: Larry was a comic. Larry started as a stand-up comic. And I knew him from "Catch A Rising Star." We probably met in 1985, 1986. And he was a legendary - he's what we call a comedian's comedian, meaning that he would get on stage, and the comedians would stand in the back of the room. Hey, Larry's on. We'd all come running into the room to watch him because you knew something brilliant and original was going to happen. But the audience half the time stared at him like they had no idea what the hell he was talking about.
ESSMAN: And he was very, very touchy. You know, sometimes if, like, the whole audience is laughing and you had a stomachache and had a bad look on your face, that would be it. He'd storm off the stage, you know? The - or one time I remember I introduced him, and - you know, ladies and gentleman, Larry David - and he came on the stage. And he just looked at the audience, and he just went, never mind. And he just walked off...
ESSMAN: ...Just walked off. But his material was brilliant. He just never figured out that other thing of how to connect to an audience. That wasn't his thing.
DAVIES: And that's Susie Essman talking about our guest Larry David in his early days in stand-up.
DAVIES: So she - does she have it right?
DAVID: She's - yeah. That was pretty accurate, yeah.
DAVIES: Do you remember the time you came in, looked at the audience and walked off?
DAVID: Yes, I do. I didn't say never mind. I think I said, I don't think so.
DAVIES: (Laughter) And why? I mean what was it about the audience?
DAVID: I didn't like the looks of them.
DAVID: I didn't like how they responded to the comic who was on before me, and I just didn't see that it was going to be a successful outing. (Laughter) So I decided to do a pre-emptive attack.
DAVIES: (Laughter) You're not going to let them reject you. You're going to reject.
DAVID: Exactly, exactly.
DAVIES: You know, when I heard this story and when I read about I mean how you struggled with stand-up and how all the comedians loved you but audiences didn't always connect - and you know, when you talk to people in show business, so many of them say, well, you know, I really want to follow my artistic voice and do interesting work, not just do what - any schlock that's commercially successful.
And when I look at your career, I mean it's - strikes me that you actually did do that. I mean you really did stick to what you believed in, and you found these vehicles. And it's an incredible success now because I mean it's a particular Larry David way of looking at the world and finding humor in it. And you did stick to your own vision, and it really worked. Is that how you see it?
DAVID: Well, it didn't seem like I had much of a choice. I don't think that - you know, I don't think that my hand would have cooperated with my brain if my brain was telling my hand to write something it didn't really want to write. But I remember when there was some interference from NBC with "Seinfeld" when we first started doing it. And fortunately I didn't have a family at the time. So it's - it was very easy for me to say to them, no, I'm quitting; I'm not going to do that. I don't want to do that, and I can't do it.
And for me, it wasn't a big deal to just pack up and go home. Like I said, I hadn't - I didn't have a family. It's much harder. That's the first piece of advice I'll give anybody who wants to get into this. Don't have a family for a while until you're successful because it'll just make it very hard to ever get out of things, and you'll always have to compromise. But I didn't have to compromise because I didn't have a family.
DAVIES: And what was it NBC wanted you to do?
DAVID: You know, they just didn't like the direction of the show - for example, the Chinese restaurant episode.
DAVIES: Right, the whole thing - right.
DAVID: They hated - they hate - they hated that show. They didn't even want to air it. And you know, there was a big meeting about the kind of shows they liked and the kind of shows they didn't like. And you know, I just said, well, I'm not going be able to do that. So I just thought that I would quit. But then I learned another lesson - that when you say no, you invariably get your way. And it's a wonderful feeling to...
DAVID: I can't believe I never did it before.
DAVIES: (Laughter) No, just not going to do it (laughter).
DAVID: Yeah. You just say no. And then they go, OK, OK, well, you don't have to.
BIANCULLI: Larry David, co-creator of "Seinfeld" and star and creator of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies in 2015. "Curb Your Enthusiasm" launches its new season on HBO this weekend. After a break, we'll hear more of their conversation, and we'll also listen back to Terry Gross's 1999 interview with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who died Wednesday at age 91. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARMANDO TROVAIOLI'S "MERRY GO ROUND")
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross, back with more of FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies and his 2015 interview with comedian and TV writer-producer Larry David, who co-created "Seinfeld." His HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" returns with new episode Sunday after a six-year hiatus.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DAVIES: You became friends with Jerry Seinfeld doing stand-up together. And the two of you conceived of the - you know, this incredible hit TV show "Seinfeld." And of course everybody knows the four characters and that George Costanza is I guess somewhat based on you. Did you ever consider playing that role yourself?
DAVID: No, no. It was never mentioned. I never thought of it. Jerry never thought of it - furthest thing from my mind. And by the way, I couldn't have done it anyway. There's no way that I could have. First of all, they wouldn't have let me do it (laughter). But even had they let me do it, there's no way that I could have done that and also been the executive producer of the show. It would have been way too hard. I mean I had a 24/7 job just on the writing end of it and the producing end. So there's no way I could have been in it.
DAVIES: I wonder if you could share a bit of how you talked to Jason Alexander about the character and the role and how you felt about how - what he did with it.
DAVID: First of all, I never even spoke to him about it. We auditioned a number of people to play George - hadn't really found anyone. And then this tape was sent in from New York. And Jerry and I watched the tape, and it was Jason auditioning in New York with a casting director - reading with a casting director, just sitting on a stool.
I heard ten seconds, and I went, oh, boy, there he is. This guy - this is the guy. And I never had to say one word to him about the character or anything like that. He just had it right from the beginning. He was great. What a fantastic actor - gave me so many laughs watching him do that.
DAVIES: We're going to play a clip from Seinfeld. And there's a million we could choose, but I thought we would do one of Big Stein - George Steinbrenner.
DAVID: (Laughter) OK.
DAVIES: And of course people who know the show will know that there were many episodes where George Costanza worked for the New York Yankees. And he would be occasionally summoned to the office of the famous owner George Steinbrenner. And you would do the voice. It would be shot from behind another actor, so you didn't actually see him. And this is an episode I think in which Steinbrenner has summoned George because he's heard rumors about George's political views.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEINFELD")
JASON ALEXANDER: (As George Costanza) You wanted to see me, Mr. Steinbrenner.
DAVID: (As George Steinbrenner) Yes, George, I did. Come in. Come in. George, the word around the office is that you're a communist.
ALEXANDER: (As George Costanza) A communist - I am a Yankee, Sir, first and foremost.
DAVID: (As George Steinbrenner) You know, George, it struck me today that a communist pipeline into the vast reservoir of Cuban baseball talent could be the greatest thing ever to happen to this organization.
ALEXANDER: (As George Costanza) Sir?
DAVID: (As George Steinbrenner) You could be invaluable to this franchise. George, there's a southpaw down there nobody's been able to get a look at - something Rodriguez. I don't really know his name. You get yourself down to Havana right away.
ALEXANDER: (As George Costanza) Yes, Sir. Yes, Sir. I'll do my best.
DAVID: (As George Steinbrenner) Good. Merry Christmas, George. And bring me back some of those cigars in the cedar boxes - you know, the ones with the fancy rings.
DAVID: (As George Steinbrenner) I love those fancy rings. They kind of distract you while you're smoking. The red and yellow are nice. It looks good against the brown of the cigar.
DAVID: (As George Steinbrenner) The Maduro - oh, I like the Maduro wrapper. The darker, the better - that's what I say. Of course the Claro's good, too. That's more of a pale brown, almost like a milky coffee.
DAVID: (As George Steinbrenner) I find the ring size very confusing. They have it in centimeters, which I don't...
DAVIES: And George Costanza has wandered out of the room. That's our guest Larry David as the voice of George Steinbrenner. It's funny. As we listen to that, it's not quite your speaking voice. You did some stuff there with that.
DAVID: Well, hey, you know, Dave, I was doing an impression.
DAVIES: You're an actor.
DAVID: Oh, sure. No, we brought in some people to read for Mr. Steinbrenner, and nobody really got it. And Jerry said, well, what are you looking for? How does it go? And all of a sudden, I started talking like this. You know, he's a big, blustery guy. He kind of talks like that. And Jerry said, yeah, you should do it. That's funny. So that's how that happened.
DAVIES: Did you ever hear how Steinbrenner himself reacted to the bit?
DAVID: I think he liked it. Steinbrenner was unfamiliar with the show. His grandchildren watched it, and his grandchildren talked him into letting us use his name. The last episode I think of the '96 season, we came up with the idea to actually fly him in and put him on the show because up to that point, we'd only been seeing the back of his head, and I was doing his voice. And then we thought it would be fun if he was - if he actually made a real appearance.
So we called him up, and he said, yeah, he would do it. So we flew out to do it. He did the show. We started editing the show. And as I watched it, I'm going, oh, my god, this is not good. And we thought it's so much better to just see the back of his head with me doing the voice then to actually see the real Steinbrenner because his acting was wanting, to say the least.
So I had to call him up and tell him the news that he was being cut from the show. So I called Yankee Stadium, and I asked to talk to him. And then he got on the phone. I said, Mr. Steinbrenner, this is Larry David calling from the "Seinfeld" show. And he said, yes, yes, Larry, what's going on? I said, well, Mr. Steinbrenner, you know, I watched the show. And he said, yeah, you can tell me. I'm a big boy. I'm a big boy. I said, well, it's not working. We have to cut you from the show. And he was actually OK with it.
DAVIES: Let's talk a bit about "Curb Your Enthusiasm." And I want to begin with a clip. This actually is on the subject of death. Now, in this case, you're walking down the street in Los Angeles and spot your old friend Marty Funkhouser, who's played by Bob Einstein. And his mother has recently died. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")
DAVID: (As himself) Hey, Funkhouser. My God, I can't believe it. You're out. What are you doing?
BOB EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) This helps my emotions. Jogging's the best thing for me.
DAVID: (As himself) So mourners exercise. I didn't know that.
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) I don't know if mourners exercise. It's just good for me.
DAVID: (As himself) Interesting - I'm going to remember that next time I lose a close member of my family.
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) Yeah, jogging...
DAVID: (As himself) Yeah.
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) ...Helps everything.
DAVID: (As himself) By the way, I called your house. I left a condolence message. I never got a return call.
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) Well, I had a few things on my mind.
DAVID: (As himself) Still, it's a little discourteous.
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) Let me explain something to you.
DAVID: (As himself) Sure.
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) I lost my dad a year ago. My mother just died. I'm an orphan, OK?
DAVID: (As himself) You're a what?
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) I'm an orphan.
DAVID: (As himself) Orphan?
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) Yeah, an orphan.
DAVID: (As himself) You're a little too old to be an orphan.
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) No, if you don't have parents, you're an orphan.
DAVID: (As himself) Oh, you could be 70 and be an orphan?
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) You could be a hundred and be an orphan.
DAVID: (As himself) You can't be a hundred and be an orphan.
EINSTEIN: (As Marty Funkhouser) Yeah, you can.
DAVID: (As himself) OK - little orphan Funkhouser.
DAVIES: (Laughter) Our guest, Larry David, and Bob Einstein on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
DAVID: Yes, I'm upset because he didn't respond to my call. He never returned my call.
DAVIES: A little discourteous (laughter).
DAVID: I thought it was discourteous.
DAVIES: When I read about you, your friends say that you are actually a nice and generous person. Does it bother you that you've kind of created this image of yourself as this insensitive jerk?
DAVID: Oh, God, no, not at all. Why - no because that's - doesn't bother me in the least. I'm quite happy about it. I'm way closer to being the guy on "Curb" than the guy who's talking to you right now.
DAVID: I know I'm often described as a nice guy, but - by the way, I think the guy on "Curb" is a nice guy. He's just very honest.
DAVIES: OK, OK. Well, the guy on "Curb" would probably think that the guy on "Curb" was a nice guy, but I don't know if that that many other people would think that (laughter).
DAVID: But why? why isn't he nice? He's not mean. I don't think he's mean. I think he does nice things.
DAVIES: He just kind of can't let some things go that he might...
DAVID: Yeah, well, that doesn't mean he's not nice.
DAVIES: OK, well, you know...
DAVID: I think he's expressing a lot of the things that many people think about.
DAVIES: Right, but just are too inhibited to say.
BIANCULLI: Comedian and TV writer-producer Larry David speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies in 2015. The new season of David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" begins Sunday on HBO after a six-year absence. Coming up, we remember Playboy founder Hugh Hefner who died Wednesday at age 91. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DANIEL WELTLINGER'S "GHOSTS")
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy in 1953 when he was 27 years old. The magazine's first cover girl and nude centerfold was Marilyn Monroe. This past Wednesday, Hugh Hefner died in his Los Angeles Playboy Mansion at age 91. In between, he sparked a publishing revolution, positioned himself on the front lines of the sexual revolution and, for a few decades at least, stirred about as much outrage and publicity with his magazine's candid and provocative in-depth interviews as with its allegedly salacious photographs.
Terry Gross phoned Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion in 1999 after he had just edited a book called "The Century Of Sex: Playboy's History Of The Sexual Revolution." She asked him what he thought Playboy magazine's greatest contributions were to the sexual revolution.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
HUGH HEFNER: Well, Playboy from the very beginning has been a very personal magazine, and I think that it is a direct result of my response to my own Puritan upbringing. My parents are - or were typically Midwestern Methodist Puritans, and our roots go all the way back to William Bradford and the Pilgrims. And I think that I saw things in growing up in my own home and in society around me that I felt were hurtful and hypocritical.
And after World War II, I thought that things were going to change. I think to some extent, I had a romantic notion of a time that I had missed in the roaring '20s because I grew up during the Depression in the 1930s. And I expected the post-war, post-World War II period to be rather like the period after World War I, and it wasn't. And I think that I started Playboy in response to all of that. And I believe and hope that Playboy has played some small part in changing the values of social and sexual of our time.
TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: Now, you worked briefly I think at Esquire magazine before starting Playboy. When you started Playboy, what was the initial emphasis? What did you think this magazine was going to be about?
HEFNER: Well, it was - men's magazines in the period immediately after World War II were almost all outdoor-oriented. They were connected to some extent in the bonding - in the male bonding that came out of the war. And there was a great deal of emphasis on getting women back into the home. World War II had brought them out into the workplace. And everything from the government to TV to - there were powerful forces urging women to return to the home.
And you know, the ideal kind of relationship, the togetherness that existed back then was mother and children in the home, father the breadwinner and spending time with other guys, you know, playing poker, bowling, hunting, fishing, things that had no real interest for me.
And what I tried to create was a magazine for the indoor guy but would focus specifically on the single life - in other words, the period of bachelorhood before you settle down. And that magazine or that concept for a magazine was a revelation.
GROSS: Were you a bachelor at the time?
HEFNER: I was coming out of a bad marriage.
GROSS: How old were you when you lost your virginity? Was it before marriage?
HEFNER: No. As a matter of fact, it was typical. I lost it with the girl that I was planning on marrying. And after about two and a half years of foreplay while we were in college, she was graduating, and we had sex shortly before we got married. We graduate - we had sex right after - at the same time that she graduated from college. And I think that's typical. I was - I had sex for the first time with the woman that I planned on marrying.
The bad news is that she went off while I finished the last semester of college, and she went off to teach and promptly had an affair and then confessed that affair a couple of months later. And that was the single most devastating experience of my life.
GROSS: So you ended up not marrying this woman.
HEFNER: I went on and did marry that woman.
GROSS: Oh, in spite of the affair, the relationship stayed together.
HEFNER: Yes. I think my reaction was too far from being - I think the notion of ending the relationship - because that would have been unthinkable - but my reaction was actually almost the opposite. It was sort of like, you know, wanting to put my arms around her and protect her and - but it was a devastating experience for me.
GROSS: The first issue of Playboy had a centerfold of the now-famous photo of a naked Marilyn Monroe. How did you get that?
HEFNER: Well, I was looking for some kind of a gimmick for the first issues. And the first thing I came up with, as a matter of fact - 3-D movies were very popular at the time. So I thought about actually putting a 3-D pictorial in the magazine. And we actually shot it, as a matter of fact. Then I discovered that putting those 3-D glasses in each issue would be very expensive and something I couldn't afford.
And at the same time that I was going through that, I discovered that the already famous Marilyn Monroe calendar picture which nobody up to that time had seen was owned by the John Baumgarth calendar company out on the West Side of Chicago very close to where I grew up. So I got up, and I got in my beat-up Chevy and drove out there and met with John Baumgarth and talked him into letting me publish it in the very first issue.
GROSS: How much did you have to pay for it?
HEFNER: Five-hundred dollars.
GROSS: Oh, wow, gosh. (Laughter) That's nothing.
HEFNER: And he threw in the color separations. And the color separations would have cost me over a thousand dollars by themselves.
GROSS: Why did he give it to you so cheap?
HEFNER: Well, I think it was a very good and special day for me. I think that he saw in me perhaps a young entrepreneurial kid, some variation of himself at a younger time.
GROSS: What about Marilyn Monroe? What was her reaction when you published it, and did you need to get her permission? Did you ask for her permission?
HEFNER: Well, we didn't need her permission. The photos were shot by Tom Kelley, and those in turn - one of them in turn was sold to the calendar company. But it was her reaction of course that changed everything and indeed I think was very key to her own successful career thereafter. Her famous comment was, I had nothing on but the radio. And that classic reaction in that very repressive time - because one must remember what - how really conservative the '50s were. For a major star to appear in the altogether and to treat it in such a casual way with humor was a revelation - and a very welcome one.
BIANCULLI: Hugh Hefner speaking with Terry Gross in 1999. The founder of Playboy died Wednesday at age 91. We'll continue their conversation after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIMON AND GARFUNKEL'S "SUNPORCH CHA-CHA-CHA")
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 1999 interview with Hugh Hefner. The founder of Playboy magazine died Wednesday at age 91.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: What was your reaction when some feminists started to describe Playboy as exemplifying, you know, woman as sex object, woman as accessory or the image that women's main function in the world is to give sexual pleasure to men?
HEFNER: Well, I think for a long time I didn't have the language to respond to those accusations because, quite frankly, the women's movement from my point of view was part of the larger sexual revolution that Playboy had played such a large part in. So I really felt as if it was an attack from the rear.
The enemy, it seemed to me prior to that, was clearly the right wing and, you know, Moral Majority and the Puritan part of society. When it came from what was called the liberal left, specifically as a part of the women's movement - when the women's movement became anti-sexual, it was a very confusing time for me then. It isn't now.
GROSS: Don't you think that some of the feminists then and now who had certain objections to a certain type of men's magazine were actually - that these women were actually pro-sex but they thought that, you know, Playboy at the time and some other men's magazines had a kind of backwards idea of women, that sexuality was seen as something that - that women weren't seen as equals to men either in bed or out of it?
HEFNER: Yes, and I think that that - and you know - and that point of view is understandable in the context of male-female relations historically. But the reality is that the major beneficiaries of the sexual revolution are women. It is women who have traditionally, historically been given non-human roles, perceived as simply the daughters of Eve, perceived as either Madonna or whore. And I think that it is the sexual revolution that - well, that it plays one part in female emancipation.
GROSS: But I think the emancipation came far beyond, you know, women being seen as, say, a sex toy. It became women to define their own sexuality, use it independently as they pleased and also be equals in the workplace and at home and so on.
HEFNER: Yes, yes, all of that. And the notion that simply because they are perceived in some quarters as sexual objects does not necessarily deny any of that. We are sexual objects. At our best, that's part of who we are. But it's only a part of who we are. We want to be attractive to members of the opposite sex.
GROSS: Well, now that you're single again, I've read you're involved with four women.
HEFNER: That's true.
GROSS: And two of them are twins.
HEFNER: That's true.
GROSS: They're 21. A third woman is 25, and the other is I think around 30.
HEFNER: No, the other's also 21. She's a classmate. The three - the twins and the other girl, Jessica, are all college students.
GROSS: So you're about 52 years older than they are (laughter).
HEFNER: It's true.
GROSS: You know, does that make you feel younger 'cause you're with younger women or older because you're so much older than they are?
HEFNER: It makes me feel much younger. It's a real revitalization process. The connection with younger people and with younger girlfriends, without question, whether it's politically correct or not, definitely is a reconnection with youth. And age by and large is for me - if you're healthy, is largely a number. It's just a point of view.
GROSS: Well, here's something I sometimes wonder about couples in which there's a really big age disparity between them. Like, if you're 52 years older than the woman you're seeing, she - in some ways, she couldn't possibly be your equal because you've lived, you know, a long time. You've been very successful. You've amassed a fortune and published this world - you know, world-renowned magazine whereas they're not even out of college yet. So you know, it just, like, wouldn't be possible for them to function as your equal.
HEFNER: Is that of some importance?
GROSS: Well, if I was the woman in the relationship, it would be important to me. I mean...
HEFNER: Well, I think quite frankly that people are attracted to one another for a variety of reasons. And again, there's more than one kind of equality. In my relationship with women - with the women that I'm seeing now, there's a very real equality in terms of, you know, who makes the decisions in the relationship and what we do and how we spend our time, et cetera.
But I would say that the relationships are more complementary than equal. Each of us brings something different to the relationship. I bring the experience and the years and the wisdom and whatever, and they bring a very special joy related to life that is not so sophisticated, not so cynical and very refreshing.
GROSS: Let me know if this is too personal. But when you have a relationship with a woman, how much of that relationship is solely about sex, and how much of it is about, you know, a relationship about other things - sharing things in common, having, you know, intellectual interests to talk about or experiences to share and so on?
HEFNER: I don't think that you can have a good relationship with a woman if it isn't primarily connected to common interests. If you don't really like the person, sex isn't going to hold it together.
GROSS: A lot of people would assume that the reason why your current lovers are so much younger is because they're so sexually attractive to you because of their youth.
HEFNER: True, but it is, as I said, something beyond simply sex. In other words, there is a romantic connection that has to do with my own childhood. I think that being a dreamer, a lot of my relationships are projections of dreams and needs and yearnings that come right out of childhood, you know? And I stay very much connected to those dreams. And I have attempted in the last few years to reconnect as much as possible with the boy.
GROSS: What about the wisdom of the man, though (laughter)?
HEFNER: What's that?
GROSS: What about the wisdom of the man who's lived 73 years?
HEFNER: This is the wisdom of the man.
GROSS: To go back to the boy?
HEFNER: You bet you.
GROSS: Forgive me for asking this, but I know it's the kind of thing a lot of people wonder. Do you think that your girlfriends who are in their 20s are - do you think that what they find most attractive is, you know, your body or your fame and money and image?
HEFNER: I think they're most attracted to me because of who I am.
GROSS: The whole package.
HEFNER: I think that - you know, it's kind of like - you know, some of it obviously has to do with money and power, but most of it I think has to do with the fame. I think it's an attraction to who I am. And I don't have any problem with that because I spent a lot of time becoming who I am.
BIANCULLI: Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, speaking to Terry Gross in 1999. He died Wednesday at age 91.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAURINDO ALMEIDA'S "RECADO BOSSA NOVA")
BIANCULLI: On Monday's FRESH AIR - New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. She has a new book called "Going Into Town: A Love Letter To New York." It's a collection of panels and cartoons about all the things she loves about New York and some of the things that freak her out. And we'll speak with writer and professor Daniel Mendelsohn. His new book "An Odyssey" is about the time his 81-year-old father took one of his courses. I hope you can join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seaver-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAURINDO ALMEIDA'S "RECADO BOSSA NOVA")
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