Who was Merv Griffin?
Mervyn Edward ‘Merv’ Griffin Jr. was born in San Mateo, California USA, on 6 July 1925 – his zodiac sign was Cancer, and he held American nationality. He was a TV show host and media mogul, while he’s perhaps still remembered best for his talk-show “The Merv Griffin Show”, which aired on NBC.
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Early life and education
Merv was raised in San Mateo alongside his older sister Barbara, born in 1923, by their mother Rita Elizabeth Griffin (nee Robinson) who was a housewife, and their father Mervyn Edward Griffin, Sr. who was a stockbroker.
Merv was still very young when he began playing the game “Hangman”, mostly with his sister during their family road trips; it was this game that later inspired Merv to create game-shows which remain popular to this day, such as “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” He was also into singing while growing up, and sang with his church choir, then became his church’s organist in his teenage years.
Merv studied at San Mateo High School, and was interested in various activities during his four years there, including playing the piano and practicing dancing. Upon matriculating in 1942, he enrolled at San Mateo Junior College, and then progressed to the University of San Francisco, from which he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 1946.
Merv wasn’t drafted during World War II because of a heart murmur which the doctor had detected, and he was already over 26 during the Korean War, and thus wasn’t drafted again.
Career as a singer
He launched his career as a singer aged 19, when he sang on the radio show “San Francisco Sketchbook”; at that time, Merv was slightly overweight and thus disappointed his fans when they got to see him in person. This hurt his feelings, and Merv then lost 80lbs (35kgs) in four months.
He then spent four years touring with Freddy Martin and his orchestra, and having saved up enough money, Merv recorded his first album “Songs by Merv Griffin” under Panda Records; it was also the first album in the USA to be recorded on magnetic tape.
His 1950 song “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” became a hit, and topped the Hit Parade Chart; it was around this time that Merv fell in love with performing at nightclubs, and also met the late American actress and singer Doris Day.
The following years saw Merv appear in a couple of movies, including the 1953 biographical drama “So This Is Love”, in which he kissed the American actress Kathryn Grayson, the first kiss in a movie since 1934 (introduction of the ‘Production Code’).
It was in 1954 that he became the host of the show “Summer Holiday”, which aired on CBS, and then steadily transitioned from being a musician to being a game-show and talk-show host.
Hosting game-shows and talk-shows
Between 1958 and 1962, Merv hosted the game-shows “Play Your Hunch” and “Keep Talking”, while he was also a fill-in host for “To Tell the Truth” and “The Price Is Right”. In 1963, Merv produced and hosted the game-show “Word for Word”, and he then went on to produce “Let’s Play Post Office” in 1965, and “Reach for the Stars” in 1967, both for NBC, and “One in a Million” in 1967 for ABC.
He launched his own talk-show “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1965, hosting it alongside the British actor Arthur Veary Treacher. Arthur left in 1970 and Merv continued to run the show on his own, going on for 21 years, and winning 11 Emmys.
What made the show popular was the fact that Merv didn’t shy away from discussing controversial topics, such as the war in Vietnam. He had many guests who were considered controversial, such as the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, the American novelist and journalist Norman Mailer, and the American comedian and actor Richard Pryor.
When his show ended in 1986, Merv retired.
His two famous game-shows
Merv produced the TV game-show “Jeopardy!” in 1964, and later revealed that it was his wife Julann’s idea, and that when he went on to pitch it to NBC, they bought it without even wanting a pilot episode. It began airing on 30 March 1964 under the title “What’s the Question?”, and was cancelled 11 years later; the syndicated version of “Jeopardy!” began airing on 10 September 1984, and remains on air today.
On 6 January 1975, Merv’s new game-show premiered, entitled “Wheel of Fortune”, and ran through 1989; a syndicated version of the show was created not long after that, and has been airing to this day.
Merv became a businessman in 1987, after having purchased the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and the following year saw him buy Resorts International, including two of their hotels.
He was also the owner of the Palm Springs’ Merv Griffin Givenchy Resort & Spa, a ranch in La Quinta, California, and a boutique hotel in County Galway, Ireland.
Love life and wife
Between 1958 and 1976, Merv was married to Julann Wright, and she gave birth to their son Tony Griffin in 1959; following their divorce, they remained close friends.
There are rumors circulating the internet, claiming that Merv was gay. He was sued by the American choreographer Deney Terrio in 1991, who claimed that Merv had sexually harassed him when he worked on his show “Dance Fever”, but the lawsuit was eventually dismissed. In the same year, Merv was sued by his former bodyguard Brent Plott, who claimed that the two were in a romantic relationship for years.
When asked about his love life, Merv used to say ‘I tell everybody that I’m a quarter-sexual. I will do anything with anybody for a quarter’.
Merv didn’t speak of any other men or women whom he had perhaps been with, and was single at the time of his death – he was married once, and had one son and two grandchildren.
Hobbies and interesting facts
Merv won numerous awards during his career, and in 1974 received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the National University of Ireland, Galway in 2005.
Merv liked to travel, and his career took him all around the world; he visited many countries on every continent with the exception of the Antarctic, and his dream travel destination was Ireland.
He was friends with numerous famous actors and actress, but was closest with Arnold Schwarzenegger; Merv enjoyed watching Arnold’s movies, especially “Kindergarten Cop” and “The Terminator”.
Although he was one of the richest entertainers in the world, Merv preferred to keep this a secret, claiming that ‘if people know you’re rich, they don’t talk with you when you walk down the street.’
Merv was treated for prostate cancer in 1996, but the cancer later returned, and led to his death on 12 August 2007. Numerous celebrities attended his funeral, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, the American comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, and the American actor and comedian Dick Van Patten.
Age, height and net worth
Merv died aged 82, so would’ve been 96 today. He had short grey hair and brown eyes, his height was 5ft 9ins (1.75m) and he weighed around 175lbs (80kgs).
At the time of Merv’s death, his net worth was estimated at more than $1 billion.