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Griffin was born into a middle class Irish American family on July 6, 1925 in San Mateo, California to Mervyn Griffin Sr., a stock broker and Rita Griffin (née Robinson), a homemaker. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Griffin started singing in his church choir as a boy, and by his teens was earning extra money as a church organist. He attended San Mateo High School, class of 1942, and continued to aid in financing the school.
During World War II, Merv was declared after failing several military physical exams due to increased weight and having a slight heart murmur. Drafted for service during the Korean War, he was slimmed down and passed the physical, but was deemed too old as the draft limit was 26 and he had just turned 27.
Singing at 19
Griffin started as a singer on radio at age 19, appearing on San Francisco Sketchbook, a nationally syndicated program based at KFRC. Griffin was slightly overweight as a teenager, which disappointed his radio fans. Embarrassed by their reaction, Griffin resolved to lose weight and change his image, losing 80 pounds in four months. Freddy Martin heard him on the radio show and asked Griffin to tour with his orchestra, which he did for four years.
Within a year, Griffin earned enough to form his own record label, Panda Records, which produced Songs by Merv Griffin, the first American album ever recorded on magnetic tape. He became increasingly popular with nightclub audiences, and his fame soared among the general public with his 1950 hit I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. The song reached the number one spot on the Hit Parade and sold three million copies.
During one of his nightclub performances, Griffin was discovered by Doris Day. Day arranged for a screen test at Warner Brothers Studios for a role in By the Light of the Silvery Moon. Griffin didn't get the part, but the screen test led to supporting roles in other musical films such as So This is Love in 1953. The film caused a minor controversy when Griffin shared an open-mouthed kiss with Kathryn Grayson. The kiss was a first in Hollywood film history since the introduction of the Production Code in 1934.
Griffin would go on to film more pictures, namely, The Boy From Oklahoma and Phantom of the Rue Morgue, but soon became disillusioned with movie making. Griffin bought his contract back from Warner Brothers and decided to focus on a new medium: television.
Game show host
From 1958 to 1962, Griffin hosted a game show produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman called Play Your Hunch. The show appeared on all three networks, but primarily on NBC. He also hosted a prime time game show for ABC called Keep Talking. In 1963, NBC offered him the opportunity to host a new game show, Word for Word, which Griffin produced. He also produced Let's Play Post Office for NBC in 1965; Reach for the Stars for NBC in 1967; One in a Million for ABC in 1967, and in 1990, an ambitious but unsuccessful attempt at making a game show out of the venerable board game Monopoly.
Talk show host
Griffin scored a coup when Jack Paar accidentally emerged onto the set of Play Your Hunch during a live broadcast, and Griffin got him to stay for a spontaneous interview. He parlayed that into a guest-hosting spot on The Tonight Show, then hosted by Paar, and his own daytime talk show on NBC in 1962.
In 1965, Griffin launched a syndicated talk show for Group W (Westinghouse Broadcasting): The Merv Griffin Show. The show aired in a variety of time slots throughout North America; many stations ran it in the daytime, some broadcast it opposite Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, and it was carried for many years in prime time on WNEW in New York. Griffin's announcer/sidekick was the veteran British character actor Arthur Treacher, who had been his mentor. Treacher would read the list of guests for that evening's show and introduce Griffin with the phrase: "And now, the dear boy himself: Merrrrrrrr-vin!" After Treacher left the show, Griffin would do the announcing himself, and walk on stage with the phrase: "And now..., here I come!" According to an obituary article on August 24, 2007 in Entertainment Weekly, The Merv Griffin Show was on the air for 21 years and won eleven Emmy Awards during its run.
Griffin was not shy about tackling controversial subjects, especially the Vietnam War. The guests on the Westinghouse show were an eclectic mix of entertainers, authors, politicians, and "personality" performers like Zsa Zsa Gabor. Griffin also booked controversial guests like George Carlin, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Norman Mailer, and Bertrand Russell. Griffin received critical acclaim for booking such guests, but was also widely criticized for it. When anti-war activist Bertrand Russell used Griffin's show to condemn the war in Vietnam, Griffin was criticized for letting Russell have his say. Arnold Schwarzenegger made his talk show debut in the United States on Griffin's talk show in 1974 after moving from Austria and becoming a bodybuilder. Griffin would also frequently chat with audience members. One regular audience member, Lillian Miller, would become a fixture on Griffin's program throughout its run.
Merv's best friend since the sixth grade, Robert (Bob) Murphy, was the producer of The Merv Griffin Show, and eventually became president of Merv Griffin Enterprises.
CBS gave Griffin a late-night show opposite Johnny Carson in 1969, a move which proved disastrous. The network was uncomfortable with the guests Griffin wanted, who often spoke out against the Vietnam War and on other taboo topics. When political activist Abbie Hoffman was Griffin's guest in April 1970, CBS blurred the video of Hoffman so viewers at home would not see his trademark American flag pattern shirt even though other guests had worn the same shirt in the past, uncensored. Griffin disliked the censorship imposed by CBS and complained.
Sensing that his time at CBS was ending, and tired of the restrictions imposed by the network, Griffin secretly signed a contract with rival company Metromedia. The contract with Metromedia would give him a syndicated daytime talk show deal as soon as CBS canceled Griffin's show. Within a few months, Griffin was fired by CBS. His new show began the following Monday and ran until the mid 1980s. By 1986, Griffin was ready to retire and ended his talk show run. Due to profits from his highly successful game shows, Griffin had become one of the wealthiest entertainers on the planet.
 Game show creator
Griffin created and produced the successful television game show Jeopardy! in 1964; in an Associated Press profile released right before the show premiered, Griffin talked about the show's origins:
My wife Julann just came up with the idea one day when we were in a plane bringing us back to New York from Duluth. I was mulling over game show ideas, when she noted that there had not been a successful 'question and answer' game on the air since the quiz show scandals. Why not do a switch, and give the answers to the contestant and let them come up with the question.
She fired a couple of answers to me: '5,280' and the question of course was how many feet in a mile. Another was '79 Wistful Vista.' That was Fibber and Mollie McGee's address. I loved the idea, went straight to NBC with the idea, and they bought it without even looking at a pilot show.
The show premiered on NBC on March 30, 1964, hosted by Art Fleming, and lasted for 11 years. Merv wrote the 30-second piece of music heard during the show's Final Jeopardy! Round, and which later became the melody of the theme for the show in the Alex Trebek era.
In 1975, NBC canceled Jeopardy! after moving it twice on their daytime schedule and despite having an additional year on its network contract left to fulfill. Griffin produced the show's successor, Wheel of Fortune. Premiering on January 3, 1975, Wheel became a modest hit on daytime television with Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford as host and hostess, which later became a phenomenon when on September 13, 1983, Wheel of Fortune hit the syndication market with Pat Sajak and Vanna White in the same respective roles. Two different revivals of Jeopardy! would be produced: one on NBC that ran for five months in late 1978/early 1979 with Art Fleming returning as host, and the other airing in first-run syndication beginning on September 10, 1984 starring Alex Trebek. Both Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! remain on the air today.
Upon his retirement, Griffin sold his production company, Merv Griffin Enterprises, to Columbia Pictures Television unit for US$250 million, the largest acquisition of an entertainment company owned by a single individual at that time. Following the sale, Forbes named him the richest Hollywood performer in history. He retained the title of creator of both shows.
The two powerhouses spun off numerous programs, and Griffin often would sign on as a creative consultant. The spinoffs included Wheel 2000 and Jep!, both for children; Rock & Roll Jeopardy! for purveyors of pop music trivia; a teen-oriented game called Click! and in association with Wink Martindale, Headline Chasers.
In 2007, Griffin's production company, Merv Griffin Entertainment, began pre-production on a new syndicated game show Merv Griffin's Crosswords (originally titled Let's Play Crosswords and Let's Do Crosswords). The show taped in Los Angeles after initial reports that it would be produced at WMAQ-TV in Chicago. The show was produced in association with Program Partners and the William Morris Agency and began airing September 10, 2007. NBC-owned-and-operated stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas will carry the show, with many stations airing two episodes per day.
Griffin ventured into real estate, purchasing the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. He also purchased Resorts Hotel and Casino, formerly Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel in Atlantic City from Donald Trump in 1988. An active desert resident, he has been a supporter of the La Quinta Arts Festival and the owner of the Merv Griffin Givenchy Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, now The Parker. He owned a ranch near La Quinta, California where he raised thoroughbred racehorses, as well as St. Clerans Manor, a boutique hotel, set in an eighteen century estate once owned by director John Huston, near Craughwell, County Galway Galway, Ireland. In the 1980s, Griffin purchased Paradise Island in the Bahamas for US$400 million from Donald Trump, but he later sold it for just US$125 million.
In March 2001, Griffin returned to singing with the release of the album It's Like a Dream.
Griffin kept many details of his personal and business life private. On being wealthy he said that "if people know you're rich they don't talk with you when you walk down the street." He kept his wealth as an open secret amassing media outlets, hotels and casinos with a net worth widely estimated at more than a billion dollars. Griffin stated he didn't really know his worth because it “would keep me from sleeping at night.”
He and former First Lady Nancy Reagan exchanged birthday greetings each July 6, for they shared the same birthday. Griffin was also an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of President Ronald Reagan in 2004. He was friends with the both the Reagans for many years.
“ I tell everybody that I’m a quatre-sexual. I will do anything with anybody for a quarter. ”
—Merv Griffin, The New York Times, May 26, 2005
Two same-sex palimony and sexual harassment lawsuits in 1991 brought questions about Griffin's sexuality to a national level. In 1991, Griffin was hit with both a US$200 million palimony lawsuit by former "secretary/driver/horse-trainer/bodyguard" Brent Plott, and an US$11.3 million sexual harassment lawsuit from Dance Fever host "Denny" Deney Terrio; both suits were ultimately dismissed with prejudice (the Plott claim after Griffin filed a countersuit). A 2006 article in Rolling Stone magazine by John Colapinto stated: "Merv does not refute the underlying implication in both cases: that he is gay. Nor does he admit to it. Instead, he mentions the high-profile relationship that he began with actress Eva Gabor at the time of his legal troubles. They were photographed everywhere: Atlantic City, La Quinta, Hollywood premieres. Griffin says that they discussed marriage, and he parries any direct questions about his sexual orientation. 'You're asking an eighty-year-old man about his sexuality right now!', he cries. 'Get a life!'". Griffin was outed immediately after his death in the tabloid media, and in the mainstream media by the Hollywood Reporter. While his homosexuality was an open secret in Hollywood, the article caused a minor scandal. Pressure from various sources resulted in its being pulled and republished in a less blunt tone, although its basic assertions remained unchanged.
Illness and death
Griffin's prostate cancer, treated originally in 1996, returned and he was admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, where his condition deteriorated leading to his death on August 12, 2007. Griffin is survived by his son, Tony, from Griffin's only marriage to Julann Wright during 1958 from 1976, and two grandchildren.
Funeral services were held for Griffin in on 17 August 2007 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. The well attended service included former First Lady, longtime friend Nancy Reagan, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who gave the eulogy along with Griffin's son Tony, Maria Shriver, actors, television stars, employees and friends including Pat Sajak, Vanna White, Alex Trebek, Dick Van Dyke, Jack Klugman, Dick Van Patten, Ellen de Generes and partner Portia di Rossi, Ryan Seacrest, Catherine Oxenberg and husband Casper Van Dien. Pallbearers included Ron Ward, Vice Chairman of the Griffin Group, Griffin Group President Robert Pritchard, Griffin Group Vice President Michael Eyre, and Griffin's son Tony. His 7-year old grandson Donovan Mervyn was an honorary pallbearer as was Nancy Reagan. His 12 year old granddaughter Farah gave a reading. A post-burial reception was held at the Beverly Hilton, a property owned by Griffin from 1987 to 2003. He was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery and his headstone reads "I will not be right back after this message," an epitaph Griffin announced on The Late Late Show with Craig Fergusen."
GSN honored Griffin by airing ten-episode marathons of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! during the weekend of August 18-19, 2007. The Wheel marathon included two episodes with cameos by Griffin–Pat Sajak's departure from the daytime version in 1989 and a 1992-93 episode that ended with Griffin, the MervTones, and Vanna White singing at a dinner club in Orlando, Florida. The Jeopardy! marathon consisted of a rerun of the Jeopardy! Million Dollar Masters Tournament from 2002.
Selected popular songs
"I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts"
"Never Been Kissed"
"Jeopardy! theme songs"
The Wheel of Fortune (US game show) Theme - "Changing Keys"
Popular or famous Merv Griffin music songs:
All the Livelong Day, Call Out the Engines, Do You Remember Me?, Five Cups of Coffee Five Cups of Tea, Frou-Frou. More music songs Ginny, Girl With a Figure Like an Hour-Glass, A, Handful of Dreams, Hey, Garcon!, Hot-Cha-Cha, I Kiss Your Hand, Madame. More music songs I Never Has Seen Snow, I'll Be There, Joey, Joey, Joey, Merengue, The I Couldn't Get the Hang of, Much Too Young to Die. More music songs Prunes, Sail! Sail! Sail!, Story of Tina, The, Sweet and Gentle Me lo Dijo Adela, .
Top SongsTotal plays on Last.fm over the last 6 months
- House of Horrors - 5,556 plays
- I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts - 2,980 plays
- Sleigh Ride - 896 plays
- Along Came Joe - 609 plays
- The Screemin' Meemies from Planet X - 768 plays
- A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square - 310 plays
- Banned In Boston - 323 plays
- You Better Go Now - 204 plays
- It's Like a Dream - 191 plays
- Sweet Lips - 184 plays