Merv Griffin, Television Impresario, Dies at 82

Discussion in 'Celebrity Endowments' started by Principessa, Aug 13, 2007.

  1. Principessa

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    Merv Griffin, Television Impresario, Dies at 82

    LOS ANGELES, Aug. 12 — Merv Griffin, a big-band singer who became one of television’s longest running talk-show hosts and formidable innovators, creating some of the medium’s most popular game shows before becoming a major figure in the hotel and gambling businesses, died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center here. He was 82.

    The cause was prostate cancer, according to a family statement issued by Marcia Newberger, a spokeswoman for Mr. Griffin’s companies. Mr. Griffin had been treated for the disease more than 10 years ago but was recently hospitalized after a recurrence.

    Mr. Griffin, as a singer with the Freddy Martin band, had a hit in 1950 with the recording, “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” but had traded in singing for acting in movies, served as game-show host and filled in for Jack Paar on late-night television. Then, in 1962, NBC gave him his own daytime show, “The Merv Griffin Show.” It started the same day that Johnny Carson began as host of “The Tonight Show,” and although Mr. Griffin’s reviews were initially better, his ratings quickly faded. The show was canceled in less than a year.

    But Mr. Griffin had secured an agreement with NBC to allow him to set up a production company. He turned to a game-show idea in which the contestants would be given answers and would have to come up with the questions, losing money — an anomaly for game shows at the time — if they were wrong. “Jeopardy!” ran for 11 years, then was revived nearly a decade later.

    After “Jeopardy!,” Mr. Griffin came up with “Wheel of Fortune,” which has run continuously since 1975, making it the longest-running game show on syndicated television. Most recently, Mr. Griffin had been developing “Crosswords,” a new game show based on his passion for crossword puzzles. It is scheduled to have its premiere on Sept. 10.

    But after his initial setback, Mr. Griffin still was not finished with talk shows. In 1965, two years after being canceled, “The Merv Griffin Show” was revived as a syndicated program sold directly to local stations. It was a free-wheeling amalgam of interviews with celebrities who, their lips loosened by backstage cocktails, let down their guard at Mr. Griffin’s deceptively probing questions, and segments focused on once-taboo themes — incest and transsexuals were popular topics — that anticipated all manner of talk shows that followed, from “Oprah” to “The Jerry Springer Show.” Mr. Griffin’s program survived, in various formats, until 1986, when he sold his production company, Merv Griffin Enterprises, to Coca-Cola for $250 million.

    By that time, he was already an astute investor, having started buying radio stations and other media outlets more than 20 years earlier. Among them was Teleview Racing Patrol, which he built into the leading source of closed-circuit broadcasts of horse racing to off-track betting and intertrack wagering sites in the country.

    Mr. Griffin later expanded his investments into hotels and casinos, jousting with Donald Trump and taking over Mr. Trump’s Resorts International property in Atlantic City and the Trump casino on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. But the deal came with a heavy debt burden that ultimately swallowed much of his investment, and the company was forced into bankruptcy in 1989. When it emerged, Mr. Griffin began upgrading the properties and using them for game-show tryouts, which produced customers for the casinos. In 1993, he sold much of his casino interests to Sun International.

    Mr. Griffin similarly bought and refurbished the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, turning it into a preferred spot for Hollywood awards shows and opening a nightclub, the Coconut Club, modeled after the famed Cocoanut Grove, where Griffin sang early in his career. He sold the hotel in 2003.
    *SNIP*

    Mr. Griffin and his wife, the former Julann Wright, were divorced in 1976. They had a son, Anthony, who, along with two grandchildren, survives him. Over the years, he squired many Hollywood actresses, including Eva Gabor, and he was close friends with Nancy Reagan, introducing her to Joan Quigley, the San Francisco astrologer.

    But he was also dogged by sex scandals and insinuations that he was gay. In 1991, he was sued by Denny Terrio, the host of “Dance Fever,” another show Mr. Griffin created, alleging sexual harassment. The same year, Brent Plott, a longtime employee who worked as a bodyguard, horse trainer and driver, filed a $200 million palimony lawsuit. Mr. Griffin characterized both lawsuits as extortion; ultimately, both suits were dismissed.

    Mr. Griffin consistently evaded answering questions about his sexuality. In a 2005 interview with The New York Times, he said: “I tell everybody that I’m a quartre-sexual. I will do anything with anybody for a quarter.”
    What he was rarely reluctant to talk about was his success, particularly those ventures that produced significant portions of his wealth. When he was creating “Jeopardy!,” he realized the show needed some music to fill the time while contestants were puzzling out a question. Sitting at a piano, he plunked out a few notes, then a repetitive melody, and within about a half hour had the show’s familiar theme music. He retained the rights to the song even after selling the shows, and royalties from the ditty “made me a fortune, millions,” he said in 2005.
    How much? he was asked. “Probably close to $70-80 million.”



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  2. B_cyrus

    B_cyrus New Member

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  3. meatpackingbubba

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    Sorry to hear of his passing. A nice guy.

    Thanks for posting.
     
  4. umass1

    umass1 New Member

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    He was great.....RIP
     
  5. Pecker

    Pecker Retired Moderator
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    Merv, we hardly knew ye.
     
  6. gjorg

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    He was notorious for all the rent boys on the deck of his cruise ship. I thought he did not care that people knew. Seems like I have known that Merv was gay for longer that I care to remember. One of his best friends was Nancy Reagan.You can dispute this all you want but Nancy is just as big a fag hag as Liz Taylor. All of Hollywood Has known this since the 1940's.
     
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