82 (passed away Aug. 12th, 2007)
Jul. 6th, 1925
San Mateo, California, USA
Merv Griffin's Main TV Roles
Main Movie Roles
Guest TV Roles[none found]
Merv Griffin was a singer and band leader, movie actor, TV personality, and media mogul who in his time hosting "The Merv Griffin Show" (1962) was second in fame and influence as a talk show host only to Johnny Carson (I). Griffin is best known for creating the two most popular game shows in television syndication history, "Wheel of Fortune" (1975) and "Jeopardy!" (1984) that are watched by hundreds of millions of people all over the world. In the business world, he is identified as the visionary chairman of The Griffin Group.
Born in the San Francisco, California, suburb of San Mateo, Griffin "came up through the ranks" in the classic sense, entering talent contests, writing songs, singing on local radio station KFRC-San Francisco, and later touring with Freddy Martin and His Orchestra. He became increasingly popular with nightclub audiences and his fame soared among the general public when he struck gold in 1950 with "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts", which reached the number one spot on the Hit Parade and sold three million copies.
Continuing to record hits, including "Wilhelmina" and "Never Been Kissed", Griffin made a foray into motion pictures after Doris Day (I) saw his nightclub performance and arranged a screen test for him at Warner Bros. Studios. While under contract at Warner Bros., he appeared in a number of hit movies, including So This Is Love (1953) with Kathryn Grayson and The Boy from Oklahoma (1954) with Will Rogers Jr., and Lon Chaney Jr..
Television then discovered him. As a regular performer on "The Arthur Murray Party" (1950), "Tonight Starring Jack Paar" (1957) and others, he was offered the opportunity to host his own television show, "Play Your Hunch" (1958). It was during this period that he conceived the idea for what was to become one of the most successful game shows in television history, "Jeopardy!" (1964). But it was in 1962 that his career took its most dramatic turn. He became a substitute host for Jack Paar (I) on "Tonight Starring Jack Paar" (1957) and scored some of the highest ratings in the show's history. As a result, NBC gave him his own hour-long daytime talk show program, "The Merv Griffin Show" (1962).
Griffin's name and talk show career will always be seen in the light of that of Johnny Carson (I), the "King of late Night TV", whom he directly competed with on CBS from 1969 to 1972. Griffin's first daytime talk show began on the same day Carson first hosted "The Tonight Show" (1962). While Carson's style was indebted to his long apprenticeship in Los Angeles in the 1950s, Griffin was based in New York, where he socialized with New York's theater and café crowds. Griffin's approach to TV talk was influenced by two New York shows, David Susskind's "Open End" (1958) and Mike Wallace (I)'s "Night Beat" (1956), and like Susskind and Wallace, he openly embraced controversial subjects. In 1965, Griffin was criticized as a "traitor" when he aired a special from London in which Nobel Prize-winning philosopher Bertrand Russell denounced the Vietnam War.
Despite his success on daytime TV, it was late night that was The Holy Grail for talk show hosts. In 1969, CBS hired Griffin to directly compete with Carson in the 11:30 PM to 1:00 AM time slot that had proven a grave yard for other personalities. Not one to shy away from controversy, Griffin began to be harassed by CBS censors who objected to the antiwar statements of his guests and ordered him to feature pro-war guests for balance. "The irony of the situation wasn't wasted on me", Griffin recalls in his autobiography. "[I]n 1965 I'm called a traitor by the press for presenting Bertrand Russell, and, four years later, we are hard-pressed to find anybody to speak in favor of the Vietnam War".
In March 1970, CBS censors pixilated antiwar activist Abbie Hoffman because he was wearing a shirt that resembled an American flag. The resulting blurred image meant that Hoffman's voice emanated from a "jumble of lines". CBS also pressured Griffin into sacking his long-term sidekick Arthur Treacher, who had been his television mentor, because he was too old. The censorship did not boost the ratings for Griffin, who was facing stiff competition from the genial Carson, who himself was criticized during the era for shying away from controversial subjects.
In 1972, a fed-up Griffin negotiated a syndication deal with Metromedia to move his talk show back to the daytime in the event he was terminated by CBS. The deal was signed in secret as a penalty clause in his CBS contract gave him $1 million in the event of his being fired. Later that year, CBS terminated Griffin's late-night talk show and Griffin immediately made the transition to Metromedia's syndicated network.
While Griffin may have been a washout in late night TV, his impact on daytime was immense, specifically through his production of game shows. An avid fan of puzzles since childhood, Griffin first produced a successful game show in 1964, "Jeopardy!" (1964) for NBC. After 13 seasons as a daytime talk show host, Griffin retired from his talk show in 1986 to devote himself to producing his highly profitable game shows.
"Jeopardy!" (2002) remains the second highest rated game show in television syndication while "Wheel of Fortune" (1975) continues to be the longest running game show to hold the number one spot in TV syndication history. Other Griffin successes in the game show field included "One in a Million" and Joe Garagiola's "Memory Game" (1971), both airing on ABC, Let's Play Post Office on NBC, and "Reach for the Stars" (1967).
In 1986, Griffin sold his production company, Merv Griffin Enterprises, to Coca-Cola's Columbia Pictures Television unit for $250 million as well as a continuing share of the profits of the shows. At that time, the transaction represented the largest acquisition of an entertainment company owned by a single individual. Subsequently, Sony Pictures Entertainment purchased Columbia and he retains the title of executive producer of both "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" (for which he still creates puzzles and questions.) He currently serves as Executive Producer of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" (2000).
After his retirement from daytime chat, Merv became a real estate baron, acquiring the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, which is now the venue of choice for virtually all of the Tinseltown's most high profile events such as The Golden Globe Awards, The Soap Opera Digest Awards, and The American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Awards. He also owns the Hilton Scottsdale Resort and Villas in Arizona, and St. Clerans Manor, an 18th century estate once owned by director John Huston which is located near Galway, the premier resort destination in Ireland.
In January 1998, Griffin opened The Coconut Club, one of the country's hottest swing/dance clubs, at his Beverly Hilton Hotel. This weekend venue, fashioned after Hollywood's famed Coconut Grove (where Griffin headlined as a boy singer with The Freddy Martin Orchestra) features live Big Bands, Swing Orchestras, and Disco Bands amidst a glamorous nightclub setting.
He was honored with the prestigious 1994 Broadcasting and Cable "Hall of Fame" Award, alongside such figures as Diane Sawyer and Dan Rather. Winner of 15 Emmy Awards, Griffin was presented an Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show Emmy for 1993-1994 as executive producer of "Jeopardy!" (1984) He has also been the recipient of the coveted Scopus Award from the American Friends of Hebrew University, "The Duke Award" presented by the John Wayne (I) Cancer Institute, and he has been honored by the American Ireland Fund and the SHARE organization. He is Lifetime Honorary Festival Chairman of La Quinta Arts Festival and recently donated his Wickenburg Inn and Dude Ranch to Childhelp USA.
In March 2001, the Gold Label released his new CD, "It's Like a Dream," for which he composed the title song. Among his private passions are his family, son Tony Griffin (I), daughter-in-law Tricia, and grandchildren Farah and Donovan Mervyn, his long-haired sharpei dog Charlie Chan, his La Quinta ranch near Carmel, where he raises thoroughbred racing horses, and his 135 foot, four-story high ocean going yacht, Griff.
- KFRC billed him as "America's New Romantic Singing Star" in his early radio years. But at 5'9" and 240 pounds, his romantic image on radio certainly didn't fit his true look. After a female fan from Fresno dropped by the station to meet him in person and burst into laughter upon seeing him, Griffin went on a crash diet and dropped 80 pounds. Griffin would fight weight problems all his life. He admitted that he was a life-time smoker, ate whatever he wanted and hated to exercise.
- Longtime friend of 'Ronald Reagan (I)' (qv), 'Nancy Davis (I)' (qv), 'Eva Gabor' (qv) and 'Zsa Zsa Gabor' (qv).
- Best friend of 'Robert Loggia' (qv).
- His colt Stevie Wonderboy, named after 'Stevie Wonder' (qv), won the 2005 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
- 'Arnold Schwarzenegger' (qv) made his talk show debut in the US on Merv's talk show in 1974.
- Declared 4F after failing several military physical exams during which a slight heart murmur was detected, the then-overweight Griffin took a job in the supply depot of a San Francisco shipyard to contribute to the WWII effort.
- Member of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.
- Although the divorced father of one son, Tony, and a constant companion to actress 'Eva Gabor' (qv) over the years, it was generally known in the Hollywood circle that Griffin was gay. In 1991 the 65-year-old Griffin faced a multimillion-dollar palimony suit from former Griffin bodyguard and horse trainer Brent Plott, a 37-year-old who maintained he was Griffin's business consultant and lover and was entitled to a portion of Griffin's amassed fortune. That same year, 'Deney Terrio' (qv), host of "Dancer Fever," filed an $11.3 sexual harassment lawsuit against Griffin. Both cases were thrown out.