The MERV GRIFFIN I knew……..1958
The legendary entertainer and entrepreneur Merv Griffin has died. (July 6, 1925 - August 12, 2007). I’ve followed his career for many years and couldn’t help but remember the short time that he crossed my path.
In 1958 I was working for WABC Radio in New York City. It was an exciting and exhilarating time for me but it was a very shaky time for the radio industry. The stations were losing audiences by the droves, as TV was just cresting over the horizon.
WABC was making a last ditch stand with their promotion, “Live and Lively Radio”. My job was to write promotional material aimed at selling time on these live shows. We had the “Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club”, out of Chicago and the NY based “Jim Reeves Show”, which was music and not much talk, and a prime-time game show called “Keep Talking”, starring the young and up-coming Merv Griffin.
Our studios were on West 86th Street and I was in a constant state of turmoil. I was either writing a proposal, presenting one of re-doing it. (This was where I learned that it is possible to manipulate facts and figures to say what you want...by inference, leaving things out, etc., and I‘ve never trusted advertising since then.)
I never actually met Merv but I was in his presence quite a few times. It was part of my job to evaluate the shows and then to be “inspired” to write a winning proposal. Merv certainly exuded charisma, both off and on the air but I never would have guessed that he’d become one of the most successful business men in the world.
I knew that he was a great ladies man and one night I spied him in the same restaurant where I was. He was squiring an older woman who was literally dripping in jewels. Their conversation was anything but private since it became louder and louder with each drink they consumed. At one point it looked as if they were both going to end up under the table but they managed to stagger out before that happened.
Merv was still pretty heavy at that time and it was just a short time later that he decided to “clean up his act”. He lost a lot of weight and either quit or cut way back on his drinking. I guess he knew that TV was in his future and he was right. When NBC TV came out with color it was the end of the live radio era as I’d known it...and the beginning of the “newly invented” Merv Griffin.
“The Merv Griffin TV Show” was a huge success and “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” are just two of the many legacies that he left for us to enjoy. I’m glad that Merv’s many talents didn’t go to waste and that he lived a long and full life.