THE MERV GRIFFIN OF IT ALL

Merv Griffin–talk show host, game show creator, media mogul, hotel and resort tycoon–was my first late-night talk show host. That’s because he wasn’t on late-night. He was on KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles at 9PM. So as a ten year old obsessed with show-biz I was able to stay awake (for an hour or so) and see the likes of Milton Berle, Sammy Davis Jr., George Burns…the list is too long to recount. There were also controversial guest appearances and rants about the Vietnam war. These I generally tuned out from. It was Merv and his swinging casualness, his comfort with and admiration for his guests and the way he beamed while listening to them and then swiveled his head toward the camera and said: ‘We’ll be right back!’ that I truly loved. Recently a friend sent me the above video of a Merv show honoring the great composer Jule Styne with a stellar guest list–Sammy, Ethel Merman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Phyllis Newman (Mrs. Green) and Jule Style himself. I’d never seen Mr. Styne and was struck buy a couple of things. One is his shortness. One is his toupee. And one is his frankness. He opens up about being in analysis to cure his addiction to gambling–he was a race-track junkie and lost most of his money on the ponies. This leads him to some rather sour memories of his father who wanted him to be a concert pianist and never really admired the fact that his son wrote hit tunes instead. Also, Styne plays the piano for us–his songs, natch–and is better than good, though he plays in a florid mid-century arpeggio-heavy style. He actually sounds a bit like a one-man Ferrente and Teicher. But he can’t get off the subject of his father and one begins to suspect that his attraction to the story of ‘Gypsy’ (Sondheim, in remembering the hiring of Styne, says ‘he really wanted the job’) was the fact that it dealt with an overbearing parent who wanted something from their offspring that they just weren’t able to deliver…and that the offspring eventually delivered something different and great, but at the expense of the parental relationship.

By the way, Merv sings on this show and rather brashly. Apparently he had a hit record in the early 50s of ‘I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Cocoanuts’–his crooner days are of some interest to me as an inauspicious start to a career that eventually earned him a net worth of 1.2 billion dollars. More on Merv throughout this week…

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