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Bio Brief: Merv Griffin

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Bio Brief: Merv Griffin

Merv Griffin

Charley Callay/Getty Images

Merv Griffin was born:

… July 6, 1925, in San Mateo, Calif. His father was a businessman, his mother a homemaker. He died on August 12, 2007, succumbing to prostate cancer.

The Early Years:

Always an entertainer, Griffin – in ‘Our Gang’ style – hosted neighborhood stage shows. The show biz bug wouldn’t go away, and so, before he was 19, Griffin was making a name for himself on local syndicated radio.

His soft voice caught the ear of big band mogul Freddy Martin, and Griffin was soon asked to join his crew. That was 1948. A year later, the band made it big with the hit song I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.

Griffin found his way into the movie business, but that career was short-lived. A few bit roles alongside Doris Day and then it was back to the music business. He recorded a self-titled album and made his rounds as a nightclub singer.

Television Tunes In:

While living in New York, Griffin began to make several television appearances, including that as a game show host and a guest host for Jack Paar on The Tonight Show. Many thought Griffin would succeed Paar, but that job went to Johnny Carson.

Instead, Griffin created the one TV show that would earn him a fortune: the game show Jeopardy. And as that show kicked off, Griffin slid behind the desk of his own daytime talk show.

The Merv Griffin Show:

The Merv Griffin Show debuted in 1965 and ran – in fits and starts – for 21 years, ending in 1986. It began on NBC and, after it’s cancellation, Griffin took the show into syndication, where it flourished for years.

NBC had considered the show too brainy, but Griffin knew his viewers were smarter than all of that. He refused to talk down to them, and credits that for his show’s long tenure.

Early guests include Jay Leno, who would go on to host The Tonight Show, Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Pryor and more. But Griffin would also welcome politicians and members of academia to discuss issues of the day, not unlike The Daily Show.

Fortunes Made:

p]While his talk show career was long-lived and successful, he made his fortune from his game show career, creating the hits Jeopardy andWheel of Fortune. Griffin sold the rights to the two shows in 1986 for $250 million.

He took that windfall and invested it in real estate, eventually purchasing, renovating and rechristening the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Griffin also invested in Resorts Hotel in Casino, eventually establishing himself as a perennial name on Forbes list.

And Just for Fun:

  • Griffin has battled weight all his life, a surprise to many of his early fans, who first got to know him on the radio.

  • Got his start as a big band singer, and returned to music in 2001 with a new album, It’s Like a Dream.

  • Was married once, to Julann Elizabeth Wright. The couple divorced and Griffin never remarried.

  • Was good friends with former President Ronald Reagan and his family.

  • He has one son and two grandchildren/

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