Monday, June 16, 2014

Merv by Michael Druxman

Michael Druxman. Merv. New York: Leisure Books, 1980.

Every guest on “The Merv Griffin Show”, a 90 minute talk show hosted by Merv Griffin, received the same scale salary as determined by the American Federation of Television / Radio Artists which (in the last 1970s) wa $337.50. Many large stars appeared for exposure, to increased demands for booking their performances, or to publication a work product.

Miss Miller was a fan who was in the audiences of the show as well as in the audience of other shows. Merv often recognized her. She was asked to give a review of a Broadway show for Merv’s show.

Merv Griffin was the late night talk show host on CBS-TV in 1969-72 against NBC’s Johnny Carson and ABC’s Joey Bishop and then Dick Cavett. Merv usually came in second in the ratings with Carson first.

Johnny Carson’s style was his quick wit and taking command of his show. Merv was better at letting guests have their say and Merv was better at making guests feel more comfortable.

Merv’s uncle Peter Griffin was a three time U.S. tennis doubles champion and Marv’’s father Mervyn Griffin was a California and Pacific Coast singles tennis champion.

Merv learned playing classical piano as a child and performed in backyard shows.

Merv spent some time with his Uncle Elmer who was rooming with actor Errol Flynn. Merv was stunned that Flynn was totally naked when he arrived. As Merv related, “but what really threw me is wen these beautiful ladies would come over and he still wouldn’t put any clothes on.” Merv enjoyed that he was constantly being sent to go see movies.

On Merv’s 18th birthday, he felt on inner voice that made him feel that the entertainment  business was his future. At 19, he went into radio station KFRC while driving by and asked for a staff musician job. There were no job available. A friend mentioned that Merv could sing. He was asked to sign and he was hired. Merv had a 25 minute daily “San Francisco Sketchbook” slot on a Thursday for $100. The next Monday, the show’s name was changed to “The Merv

Merv created Panda Records to release an album. His income was $1,100 a week and then $1,500 a week. Merv would make local San Francisco appearance with the orchestra on weekends.

As Merv was overweight with acne, no photos were sent to fans. Nor were there any studio audiences at his radio show.

Merv dieted and lost 80 pounds in four months.

Art Hickman in 1913 was among the first to have a band with an organized dance group.

Orchestra leader Freddy Martin needed a new lead singer when Stuart Wade left his band to try acting. Martin’s secretary listened to records of two singers and chose Merv. Martin auditioned Merv and offered him $175 per week with $25 raises ever 13 weeks. Martin wanted Merv to his vocalist and second piano player. Merv realized this was less than his $1,5000 weekly radio salary yet decided that touring would bring more exposure.

Merv recorded several hit records with Freddy Martin. Merv was paid a flat fee of $50

RCA Victor gave Merv a solo recording contract.

Merv appeared on a 1950 Universal 15 minute short film “Music by Martin” which was a Freddy Marti concert film. It took a day to film.

Merv did live commercials. He once did a commercial for a non-smear lipstick where a women kissed him. He wiped his lips with a handkerchief to show there was no smear, only to have his facial makeup appear.

Merv roomed in New York with Robert Clary. Clary would later appear in “Hogan’s Heroes”.

After four years of singing with Freddy Martin, Merv took a screen test that got him hired at Warner Brothers. He was requested to change his name to Mark yet refused.

Merv had a bit part in his first movie. Gossip columnists claimed that Merv feuded with Gordon MacRae. Merv states that was not true and was based on a Sammy Cahn joke that Merv was seeking to replace MacRae. Merc had one line in his second movie which starred MacRae. Merv was not in the billing.

Merv received second billing in his third film “So This is Love”.

Merv used to appear at premiers with a studio arranged fake date, Delores Dorn-Heft. They would speak to the press, go into the theater, separate, and leave. They wouldn’t stay to watch the film yet went only for publicity’s sake.

Merv and his date Marily Erskine went on a double date with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. They all cross dressed as movie characters for a Jerry Lewis party. They were pulled over by a motorcycle police officer leading to much explanations.

Merv did voiceover work in a couple of films. He also re-dubbed an actor’s voice. He did background work while standing behind Jack E. Leonard. As Merv put it, “all through the movie it looked like Jack had a wart on his head-me!” He also recalled that Leonard was so heavy he had it written into his contract that a limo would drive him 50 feet to the commissary.

Merv’s personal manager then was George “Bullets” Durgom, who also represented Jackie Gleason. Durgom helped get Merv appearances on “The Jackie Gleason Show”.

Merv was in “The Boy from Oklahoma”. His character rode a horse, something Merv had never done. Merv was promised to be given two weeks of horse riding lessons. Yet he was called to ride a horse on his first day. He constantly fell off the horse. Merv ad-libbed Jackie Gleason’s expression “away we go” which was kept in the movie that was set in the 19th century,

Merv drove cross country when his engine block cracked in Harrisburg, Pa. The Ford dealer was not helpful until Merv called his friend Edsel Ford who told the dealer to give Merv a new motor.

Merv was dropped from appearing in a Kate Smith TV show which was sponsored by Esquire Boot Polish because of his name Griffin. A competitor to Esquire Boot Polish was Griffin Shoe Polish.

In 1955, Merv hosted the CBS Sunday morning program “Look Up and Live”. He was paid $119 per week. He would introduce singers and Protestant pastors plus provide background before drama skits. Merv lasted 13 weeks, The next 13 weeks had Catholics on. Merv was replaced rven though Merv was Catholic,

Merv hosted the CBS “The Morning Show” for six months until he was replaced by Will Rogers, Jr.

Merv was offered to replace Bob Smith, who had a heart attack, and appear as Hoody Doody. Merv declined.

In 1957, Merv hosted the ABC-TV weekend show “Going Places”. It began as a 45 minute program. Two months later it was increased to 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Merv parted company amicably with his manager Bullets Durgom. He hired Marty Kummer of MCA who would pay more attention to Merv’s career.

Merv had a CBS game show “Play Your Hunch”. ABC picked it up after CBS canceled it. After eight months it move to NBC/

In 1959, Merv had two records in the top 20.

Merv replaced Carl Reiner as a moderator on ABC-TV’s “Keep Talking” for $1,500 per show. He was also appearing regularly on “The Arthur Murray Party”. Merv substitued for Bud Collyer when vacationing as the host of “To Tell the Truth”. He also was a singer on the TV series “Music for a Summer Night”.

Merv in 1960 hosted NBCs “Saturday Prom” with a live orchestra led by Bobby Vinton and 500 teenagers dancing. A friend told Merv the show “looked like an auto accident”.

Merv hosted a game show “Play Your Hunch”. Jack Parr used to make a short cut through the studio where “Play Your Hunch” aired. Paar made an unscheduled appeared on “Play Your Hunch” while taking his short cut unaware the studio was in use. Paar was impressed with how Merv ad libbed. Paar used Merv to substitute for him in his interview show. Paar then left the show. Merv lasted for two weeks while a new host was sought. Merv enjoyed chatting with guest Arthur Treacher. Merv offered to make Treacher his side kick if Merv ever got his own show. Johnny Carson was selected as the new host.

Merv was replaced by Gene Rayburn in “Play That Hunch” in July 1962 as Merv begin his own 45 minute daytime chat show.

Merv had his show appeal to men and women. He also hired Bob Shanks to produce the show for $1,000 a week. Merv admits he could have hired Shanks for less yet he wanted to pay his producer more than Johnny Carson paid his.

Merv’s show lost to “Password” which had four times the number of viewers. Merv’s show was canceled April 1, 1963. Hundreds of letters were sent to NBC upset by the cancellation. It was the os tletters then ever received regarding a cancellation.

CBS hired Merv to host the summer show “Talent Scouts”.

Merv created his own TV company. He created the game show “Word for Word”. Merv then developed the idea for a game show “Jeopardy”. NBC bought the idea in 1964. “Jeopardy” was hosted by Art Fleming. It ran until 1974. In 1968, Merv’s company had four more game shows aired, although most did not last long.

Merv was approached to do an evening CBS talk show to compete against Johnny Carson Merv asked for double what Carson was paid, creative control, and he wanted to keep his same team of producer Bob Shaksn, band leader Mort Lindsey, director Kirk Alexander, and chief writer Bob Howard. There was a quick 20 negotiation and the deal was made. CBS then spent $2 million to make the Cort Theatre in New York City into a TV studio.

Merv’s first week ratings were close to Carson’s. Merv then lost about 30% of his audience as he slid into second place. Merv’s show was on CBS for 30 months.

CBS censored Abbie Hoffman, refusing to show him wearing his American flag shirt during his 40 minute interview. Ironically, a Ford commercial with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans that aired during the interview showed Rogers and Evans wearing the exact same shirt.

Merv’s show appeared on 150 CBS stations compared to Carson being on 210 NBC stations. Some CBS stations began showing Merv’s show in the afternoon instead.

Merv decided to move the show to Hollywood. Arthur Treacher ad Bob Shanks opted not to move with him The others did. The show was taped. Two tapes flew in two different airplanes to the east coast. The show aired two days after it was taped.

CBS network programmer Fred Silverman began suggesting a different type of show replace Merv. Merv asked to be released form his contract.

Merv left CBS knowing Metromedia would offer to take him.

CBS erased all their tapes of Merv’s shows.

Merv’s new show was directed by Dick Carso, brother of Johnny Carson. The show had guests centered around a theme.

I 1973, Carson moved his show from New York to Burbank.

Merv’s show, which was syndicated, had its highest ratings during its last half hour. THis was the opposite of late nights that lost viewers from 11:30 pm to 1 am.

No comments: