Merv Griffin: '70s Showbiz Ringmaster
I probably didn’t really watch the MervGriffin Show every night as a kid in the ’70s, but lookingback on it, it sure feels that way. In a pre-cable era when there wereonly six channels to choose from on any given night (and one of thosewas PBS, which, to an 11-year-old, didn’t count), there was a one-in-fivechance at some point I’d be spending at least a little time with Merv,whose show aired in New York for 90 minutes a night, five nights aweek.
In the retrospectives I’ve seen since Merv Griffin’sdeath yesterday at age 82, the focus has been on his manyaccomplishments as a businessman, with his on-camera life representedby clips of his sit-downs with Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy,Richard Nixon, and other figures of significance. All to be applauded —but those aren’t the moments that left the deepest impression on me.For me, the Merv Griffin Show was a nightly seminarin showbiz as circus.
On any given night, Merv would give us life’s richpageant, ’70s showbiz-style. Orson Welles and Fred Travelena; RichardBurton and McHale’s Navy‘s Joe Flynn. Entertainerswho mattered, and those who maybe didn’t so much, yet there they allwere, interacting, gathered together because on some level, all were inthe business of saying, Hey, look at me. And we did, and to asurprising degree it stuck with me, maybe more than is healthy toadmit. Here are some flashes I remember, mostly moments when mismatchedshowbiz worlds collided with each other, or simply with reality, as in this clip:
- Andy Kaufman spending a segment telling Merv thathe could fly, then seeming to do his best to convince the next guest,old-time, snooty-persona’d actress Hermione Gingold, that he wascertifiable.
- Monty Python’s Graham Chapmanmaking Zsa Zsa Gabor livid by his (truthful) insistence he was amedical doctor, because she didn’t think he had the proper demeanor.
- An entire show devoted to Jerry Lewis’ starringrole in a movie adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick ofAnother Kind, treated with the solemnity of the second comingof Citizen Kane, illustrated with clips that lookedunwatchable. (Merv, coincidentally or not, had a small role in themovie. I can’t pinpoint this, but I think it was quite a while betweenthe time this show aired, and the film’s actual limited, lambastedrelease.)
- Crooner Steve Lawrence introducing his recording ofthe “Love Theme from Rocky,” with Merv telling himover and over that it was a No. 1 record, which made me laugh, thinkingthere was no way Steve Lawrence in the mid-’70s could have a No. 1record. (Yet Merv would actually be sort of right on that one —unfortunately for Steve, it was the similar, but mostly instrumental,”Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)” that topped thecharts. I’d always think of Steve Lawrence whenever I heard it.)
- Thor, as seen video clip embedded above.(I have to admit, I don’t actually remember seeing this when it aired —but it sums up pretty well what I think of when I think of the endlesspossibilities of what you might stumble upon any given night on theMerv Griffin Show. Please stick with it long enoughto see him stop mid-song to blow up the hot water bottle.)
I guess there’s no telling what TV images you’llnever shake. Odd as they are, all of these still make me smile, and Iguess that’s as good a testament to Merv’s legacy as any. Now, willsomeone please put the great SCTV “Merv GriffithShow” skit, with Merv dropped into the Mayberry universe of AndyGriffith, on YouTube?