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Fact or Fiction? Five Talk Show Legends and Rumors


Fact or Fiction? Five Talk Show Legends and Rumors

Did talk show legend Merv Griffin ask for something funny to be put on his tombstone?

Getty Images

Did you hear that late night talk show hosts Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert got into a backstage fight after a week long feud about who was instrumental in launching the national political career of Mike Huckabee? It’s true! It happened.

Can’t you almost see this little nugget winding up in your e-mail in box? You’d immediately dismiss it as rumor, of course, but you’d wonder. Was there a kernel of truth behind the commentary? Was it taken out of context? Or was it all just made up to begin with? (Note: If you follow the link, you’ll find out.)

In the spirit of ferreting out what’s real and what’s fake, About Talk Shows presents, to you, Fact or Fiction? Five Talk Show Legends.

1. Did you hear that designer Tommy Hilfiger made a racist comment on Oprah?

I did! And so did most of the world. Only problem? It didn’t happen.

It’s probably the most famous rumor in recent talk show history, and it finds designer Tommy Hilfiger making a racist remark – usually involving some group of people and how Hilfiger would have shunned the fashion industry had he known that this group would be wearing his clothes – on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Some versions of the story find Hilfiger chatting with Elsa Klensch on CNN – but that didn’t happen either. In fact, when this rumor broke, Hilfiger hadn’t appeared on either program – ever.

Oprah and Hilfiger have fought the rumor since its creation. In January 1999, Oprah proclaimed the rumor as just that on her program. “I want to set the record straight .. I just want to say that is not true because it just never happened. Tommy Hilfiger has never appeared on this show. Read my lips, Tommy Hilfiger has never appeared on this show.”

Nearly a decade later, with the rumor still churning through the mill, Hilfiger made his first appearance on Oprah (reported here) to try – again – to put an end to the rumor.

On that program, Oprah asks: “Did you ever say anything close to that?”

Hilfiger replies: “I have no idea. We hired FBI agents, I did an investigation, I paid investigators a lot of money to go out and investigate, and they traced it back to a college campus, but couldn’t put their finger on it.”

In fact, the rumor is so pervasive, that Hilfiger has a sub-page on his corporate Web site titled “Tommy and Oprah” dedicated to dispelling the thing. The site includes links to press releases, statements and other facts that should put this zombie like beast to rest.

2. Was Jimmy Kimmel bitten by a snake on live TV?

Nope, didn’t happen. Though you may discover a clip of the incident among your e-mail messages at some point. Ne’er do wells (or just lazy e-mail forwarders) have shot the clip ‘round the world.

If you get the clip, realize that it’s just a snippet from a very special episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live. It’s a ratings stunt, in which Jimmy is “bitten” by a snake and rushed (via sketch comedy) to the set of Grey’s Anatomy, where he interacts with characters from the show and then continues his show – interviews and all – from his hospital bed.

3. Did Jay Leno Really Pen an Essay on Staying Positive and Not Complaining?

This one has flown over my transom, but apparently there’s an e-mail bouncing about that attributes an essay to Tonight Show host Jay Lenoabout how good we have it in America and why so many of us shouldn’t complain.

It’s not something Leno wouldn’t do, I guess you could say. But in this case, it is something he didn’t do. The essay was written by Craig R. Smith, an author, commentator and media guest. It’s titled Made in the USA: Spoiled Brats and you can read the whole thing here.

Leno’s name was eventually attached to the piece after someone out there in e-mail land decided to cut and paste one of Leno’s one-liners (performed by Leno during his monologue following the events of Hurricane Katrina and during a time when the nation was debating whether to remove “God” from the Pledge of Allegiance): “As you know, Hurricane Rita is headed toward Florida, Texas and Louisiana. It’s like the ninth hurricane this season. Maybe this is not a good time to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The cut-and-paster must have felt it necessary to include the attribution. Guilt maybe. And the rest is e-mail history.

4. Does Merv Griffin’s tombstone really read “I will not be right back after this message”?

Actually, it does. Television talk show host and game show creator Merv Griffin died of prostate canter on August 12, 2007. But before his exit, this prolific producer often made it known to friends, family and the press that he’d like his tombstone to read, “I will not be right back after this message.”

A little humor from a titan in the talk show world. And something he carried with him to the next level.

5. Is it true that a guest died during a broadcast of The Dick Cavett Show?

Believe it or not, this one’s 100 percent true. But the show has never been broadcast.

Back in the day, 72-year-old Jerome Rodale, a self-proclaimed longevity guru, was sitting with Cavett and political guest Pete Hamill. While Hamill and Cavett were chatting, Rodale’s head dipped, he let out a low groan, and (here’s a bit of legend) Cavett asked him: “We’re not boring you, are we?”

Nope. Rodale had died of a heart attack.

The irony is that he’d quipped a day before to a magazine journalist that he’d expected to live past his 100th birthday.

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