(CBS11) – It is rare in the media/entertainment industry for people to be gifted, not only with excellent acting and performing skills, but also with a sharp business mind and acumen. Those two characteristics typically do not go together often. But Merv Griffin had it.
Born in San Mateo CA on July 6, 1925, Griffin started with his musical talents as a child singing in his church choir and as church organist and pianist. He started on radio in 1949 on KFRC/San Francisco. Orchestra leader Freddy Martin heard him and asked him to tour with him which he did for four years. Griffin also formed his own record label, Panda Records, in which he recorded the first American album on magnetic tape. He also worked the nightclub circuit. Later he was discovered by actress Doris Day and subsequently signed a contract with Warner Brothers. He auditioned to be in By The Light Of The Silvery Moon but didn’t get a part but it led to appearing in So This Is Love with Kathryn Grayson. Griffin shared an open mouthed kiss with Grayson in the movie which caused a bit of a stir, the first such kiss in Hollywood film history since the adoption of the 1934 Production Code.
Finally, Griffin turned his attention to television. From 1958-1962, he hosted a game show from Mark Goodson and Bill Todman (the leaders in game shows at that times and for years afterwards) called Play Your Hunch. The show was on all three networks but primarily NBC. He substituted for Bill Cullen on The Price Is Right and Bud Collyer on To Tell The Truth.
Finally, as luck has it, NBC’s Tonight Show host Jack Paar ended up on the set of Play Your Hunch during a live broadcast and Griffin was able to get him to stay for a bit. In the period between Jack Paar’s departure and Johnny Carson’s arrival, Griffin was a fill-in host on the show. He did so well that NBC gave him a daytime show in 1962. In 1965, Griffin launched a syndicated talk show for the Group W TV stations (these stations today are a division of the CBS Corporation). His announcer was British character actor Arthur Treacher. The show ran for 21 years and won eleven Emmy Awards.
But the best part of his career was being not in front of the camera but behind it. He created Jeopardy in 1964 (which he credited his ex-wife Julann with the idea) and Wheel Of Fortune in 1975, both of which are still running in local syndication. I still remember the 60’s version of Jeopardy with host Art Fleming and legendary NBC announcer Don Pardo…..”and now here’s the star of Jeopardy…..Arrrrrrt Fleming!!!” Wheel Of Fortune’s first host was Chuck Woolery. Today, Jeopardy is hosted by Alex Trebek and Wheel by Pat Sajak.
Griffin later sold his production company, Merv Griffin Enterprises, to Columbia Pictures Television in 1986 for $250 million. Other businesses he ventured into were real estate and the hospitality business.
There is so much more to this extraordinary individual than I have room for here in this blog. Griffin passed away on August 12, 2007 at age 82.
Recently, getTV, a digital TV network owned by SONY Pictures Television, has been airing some of the episodes of The Merv Griffin Show.
From November 1981, here’s a clip of Merv’s interview with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.