The Merv Griffin Show
“I've been in the public eye for more than fifty years as Merv Griffin, not as somebody else's creation. I've never pretended to be someone I wasn't. If there was anything really important that people didn't know about me by now, then I would have to be world's greatest actor. Forget Brando, forget Hoffman, forget DeNiro...I would have to be the best.” Merv Griffin
Four times Daytime Emmy Award winner Merv Griffin (born in 1925, died in 2007) became famous as the host of “The Merv Griffin Show” (1962-1986), from which he received his first three Daytime Emmy Awards. He then created “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune,” which are two of the best known game shows in television syndication history. Upon his retirement from “The Merv Griffin Show,” the former actor established the business conglomerate Griffin Group, which consists of seven different companies. Griffin remained in television as executive producer or producer until his death in 2007.
Griffin won his forth Daytime Emmy Award in 2005 for the Lifetime Achievement honor. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“...my business success is equal to my personal life.” Merv Griffin
Griffin and his ex-wife Julann Wright, whom he was married to from 1958 to 1976, had one son. He was longtime friend of President Ronald Reagan, Nancy Davis, Eva Gabor and Zsa Zsa Gabor and the best friend of Robert Loggia.
In 1991, Griffin made headlines when he was sued for $11.3 million by Deney Terrio, an ex-host of “Dance Fever,” for sexual harassment and by former secretary/driver/horse trainer/bodyguard Brent Plott for $200 million in a palimony claim. Both suits were ultimately discharged with prejudice.
Childhood and Family:
Born on July 6, 1925, in San Mateo, California, Mervyn Edward Griffin Jr. was raised in a middle class Irish American family by a stock broker father, Mervyn Griffin Sr., and a housewife mother, Rita Griffin. Inspired by his dad's job, 4-year-old Mervyn earned money by selling newspapers door to door before producing his own two-cent newspaper, in which he wrote the day-to-day events of his neighborhood. Around the same time, the Roman Catholic raised youngster began singing in his church choir and by the time he was a teen, supported himself as a professional organist. He even donated some of his money to the San Mateo High School, from which he graduated in 1942.
Classical piano-trained Mervyn left San Mateo for San Francisco to chase his dreams. He attended the University of San Francisco.
During WWII, Mervyn tried to pass several military physical exams but failed because he was overweight and had other health issues. When he finally could pass the physical test for service during the Korean War, 27-year-old Mervyn was considered too old because the draft limit was 26.
At age 33, on May 18, 1958, Mervyn married Julann Wright. He welcomed his son, Anthony Patrick Griffin, a year later in 1959. Mervyn and his wife divorced in June 1976.
On October 22, 2001, Mervyn's older sister, Barbara Griffin Eyre, passed away because of cancer. Six years later, in July 2007, Mervyn, who had dealt with prostate cancer since the mid-1990s, was hospitalized for a recurrence of his illness. He died on August 12 that same year and was buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles. He is survived by his son and two grandchildren.
Creator of Jeopardy
Singing and playing the piano at a very young age, Merv Griffin embarked on a professional career by the time he was 19 years old. He sang on “San Francisco Sketchbook,” a nationally syndicated radio program, and immediately became a fan favorite. Within two days of his debut, the show was morphed into “The Merv Griffin Show,” which led Griffin to earn over $1000 a week, and by 1946, he had founded Panda Records. The label produced “Songs by Merv Griffin,” the first album recorded on magnetic tape.
After an embarrassing experience about his weight with fans, Merv decided to lose weight and renew his image. In 1948, the slender and handsome Griffin came to the attention of big band leader Freddy Martin and was soon hired as the vocalist of Martin's orchestra. He toured with Freddy Martin for four years. Also a popular nightclub performer, Griffin had several sold-out engagements at Hollywood's renowned Cocoanut Grove club, but it was in 1950 that Griffin's popularity soared. He recorded the song “I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” which peaked at No. 1 on the Hit Parade and went triple-platinum.
During one of his nightclub performances, Griffin charmed singer-turned-actress Doris Day, and with her help scored a screen test at Warner Bros. He was signed to a long term contract in 1952 and subsequently made his debut with a small part in an action film starring Dennis Morgan called “Cattle Town” (1952). He followed it up with a string of unaccredited parts in such films as “Stop, You're Killing Me” (1952), “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” (1953) and “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953) before graduating to a supporting role in “So This Is Love” (1953), opposite Kathryn Grayson. The musical biography created a minor controversy over Griffin's open-mouthed kiss with his costar, which was considered the first shown in theaters since the introduction of the Production Code in 1934. Griffin went on to appear in three more films, including “Phantom of the Rue Morgue” (1954), but soon grew bored with films. After buying his contract back from Warner Brothers Studio, he tried his luck on the small screen.
In 1951, Griffin appeared as a vocalist in “The Freddy Martin Show,” became a regular performer on the variety show “Summer Holiday” in 1954, and after a stint on Broadway in the musical-comedy “Finian's Rainbow” in 1956, got his status as an in-demand player thanks to his appearances in variety series like “The Arthur Murray Party” and “The Jack Paar Tonight Show.” The confident Griffin next embarked on his new career as a TV host.
Making his debut on CBS' “Look Up and Live” (1956), Griffin was given the chance to host his own TV show in 1958 with “Play Your Hunch,” a primetime game show on NBC, and followed it up with gigs on “The Price Is Right” (1959), “Keep Talking” (1959-1960) and “Saturday Prom” (1960). In 1962, after a successful stint as a substitute host on “The Jack Paar Tonight Show,” he began hosting what would become his landmark show, “The Merv Griffin Show.”
Debuting on NBC on October 1, 1962, the hour long daytime talk show received low ratings and was canceled in April 1963. The cancellation made the show’s loyal viewers angry and upon their protests, NBC brought Griffin back to host a new game show, “Word for Word” (1963), where he also served as producer. Griffin's success with NBC arrived the following year with “Jeopardy,” a game show he developed from an idea of his then-wife, Julann Wright, in which the answers were given and contestants came up with the questions. Debuting in March 1964, “Jeopardy” was a smash hit.
In 1965, Griffin reproduced “The Merv Griffin Show” for Westinghouse Broadcasting’s Group W. The syndication program, which was broadcasted in different time slots across the country, received significant success and in 1969, Griffin and his talk show made their debut on CBS. Aired at 11:30 p.m., the show was set to compete with Johnny Carson's “The Tonight Show” on NBC, but was canceled in 1972 after disputes with producers and CBS executives.
It was not until Griffin brought back the show to daytime in 1972 that “The Merv Griffin Show” enjoyed real triumph. Now a syndication program for Metromedia, “The Merv Griffin Show” had an impressive run until 1986 and brought Griffin three Daytime Emmys in the category of Best Writing for a Talk, Service or Variety Program (1974) and Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Variety Series (1982 and 1984).
In 1975, Griffin created “Wheel of Fortune.” Hosted by Chuck Woolery, the game show was a moderate hit on NBC where it became part of the network's daytime lineup. After its cancellation in 1981, Griffin re-launched the show for the syndicated nighttime market and hired Pat Sajak and nameless model Vanna White as hosts. Thanks to his revision, “Wheel of Fortune” soon became a massive hit and remains one of the best known programs in the history of television syndication.
1975 also saw Griffin produce the syndicated evening version of “Jeopardy” with Art Fleming as the host. The show, however, only had a short life. Almost a decade later, in 1984, through Merv Griffin Enterprises, he attempted to revise the game once more and scored success. The new program was hosted by Alex Trebek. Later, in 1998, as an executive producer and creator, Griffin jointly nabbed a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Audience Participation Show/Game Show.
Griffin retired from broadcasting in 1986 and then sold his Merv Griffin Enterprises to Columbia Pictures. In 1987, he founded the Griffin Group, an empire of seven different companies, and started his venture into the world of real estate. So far, the Griffin Group has taken control of the Donald Trump's Resorts International, Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, as well as six casino resorts, 17 radio stations and 22 hotels, to name a few.
Griffin maintained his presence in show business by holding his executive producer duty on both “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” and serving as creative consultant for the many spin-off games, including “Wheel 2000” (CBS, 1997) and “Rock & Roll Jeopardy” (VH1, 1998-2001). He went on to executive produce such TV programs as “Murder at the Cannes Film Festival” (2000), “Inside the Osmonds” (2001), “Gilda Radner: It's Always Something “ (2002), “Dance Fever” (2003), “Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead” (2006) and the thriller film “Shade (2003), directed and written by Damian Nieman. In 2001, he resumed his singing career by releasing the album “It’s like a Dream.”
Before his death, Griffin produced the game show “Crosswords” (2007), hosted by Ty Treadway.
Daytime Emmy: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2005
BMI Film & TV: President's Award, 2003
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Audience Participation Show/Game Show, “Jeopardy,” 1998
Young Artist: Michael Landon Award, “Jeopardy” (also for “Wheel of Fortune”), 1994
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Variety Series, “The Merv Griffin Show,” 1984
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Variety Series, “The Merv Griffin Show,” 1982
Daytime Emmy: Best Writing for a Talk, Service or Variety Program, “The Merv Griffin Show,” 1974