Looking back on 50 years as King Good interviews, sad stories, some just overplayed January 17, 2007 BY DOUG ELFMAN Television Critic Even though Larry King is still CNN's most recognizable star, he doesn't get a wide berth to do whatever he wants. Like so many journalists, he interviews plenty of people he doesn't like, and he covers murder cases and tabloid stories he'd rather not. "You have to sometimes do some things you don't want to do," King says, in a year when CNN will be showcasing him with a Bill Maher-hosted roast, plus a "King-Sized Week," to celebrate 50 years in radio and TV (21 years in the same time slot at CNN). Two huge stories King thought were overplayed, including on his show: the case of Scott Peterson, convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba. "I understood the girl [Laci Peterson] was very pretty, and it was Christmas Eve, but I didn't understand devoting that much time to it. We did it at least two nights a week," King says. "Aruba, I had no interest in. It was one girl who went missing." To the contrary, "JonBenet Ramsey was an amazing story, because I got to know her parents. I liked her parents. I liked the young boy," King says. "I had that incredible show where the police lieutenant accused the mother of killing her. That was unbelievable." But King sees the folly of the Ramsey case, too. "Of course, we ask ourselves, if she were a black girl, without the film [footage], would we have done it? No. And that's a travesty. That's a shame." King suggests he doesn't love doing celebrity interviews. Or, at least, he's a little surprised celebrities net more coverage than serious newsmakers. "This boggles the mind, because celebrities are made and gone so quick," he says. I ask him to name the biggest jerk he has ever interviewed. "The toughest time I ever had was Robert Mitchum," King says. "I loved him as an actor, but he drove me nuts" by answering questions with a bare "yes" or "no." "It started badly [off air] when I said to him, 'Can I call you Bob?' And he said, 'Can I call you Lare?' And I asked him what was it like to work for John Huston, the great director. He said, 'Seen one, seen 'em all,' " King recalls. "I said, 'What do you think of Robert De Niro?' He said, 'Never seen him.' " Like many journalists, King has used tricks of the trade to get around interview obstacles. "Jodie Foster -- the first time she came on, the rule was she would not talk about the shooting of Reagan. And I said I accept the rule," King says. "So the question is, 'Why won't you talk about the shooting of Reagan?' She pointed her finger at me and went, 'Ahhhh.' " Politicians are the least genuine interviewees; celebrities have gotten savvier over the years, he says. He suggests architects are the most authentic. "Architects are the most individualistic of all professions. They put their stamp on something. They make a building. They're judged by everybody. And they're very critical of others, too," King says. "They always take a stand. No namby-pambies." King has interviewed just about every politician and pop culture star to come along for decades. But he wishes he could get the pope and Fidel Castro. "We almost got the pope before he died," he says of John Paul II. "We got a 'maybe,' which was something. I'd like to get this pope." What would King want the pope to address? "I'd ask if he ever doubts. And does he ever question his faith? And how early in life did he ever think of being pope? What's it like when they vote; how much politics? All the things you'd hope he'd be willing to talk about." Good questions. King, 73, presumably has the time to wait to see if he will get to ask them. "Larry can sit in his chair as long as he continues to perform," says Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide. "They want me as long as I'm healthy," King says, "and I don't start to lose it."