Mervyn Edward Griffin, Jr. was born on July 6, 1925 in San Mateo, CA. He spent his younger years writing and singing songs. He sang on KFRC in San Francisco, and joined Freddy Martin And His Orchestra as a singer in the late 1940s.
In 1950, his version of "I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts" reached number one on the Hit Parade. He followed this success with a short string of other hit songs, and signed with RCA in New York. This basically ended when Doris Day saw him singing at a nightclub and thought that he should be in the movies. She set him up with a screen test at Warner Brothers, and Merv's acting career was born.
This phase of his life, like the musical one before it, was soon eclipsed by the next one: television. By 1958, Merv was a regular guest and performer for Arthur Murray's and Jack Paar's television shows. That year, he was offered the hosting spot on a new show, "Play Your Hunch." The show was enough of a success that in 1963, Merv produced his own show (that he also hosted) called "Word for Word".
In 1962, Merv hit the top. Jack Paar asked him to guest host "The Tonight Show" and the audience response was so incredible that NBC gave him his own daytime talk show, aptly titled "The Merv Griffin Show." The guests he had were frequently controversial, many of them concerned with the conflict in Vietnam.
The show moved to late nights on CBS, in order to compete with the already vicious field of late night talk shows. He was intended to be the main competition of Johnny Carson, who started work on the Tonight Show the same day Griffin's show started airing in the daytime, and who was the most popular host in the country, with Griffin a close second. Merv continued to embrace controversy, constantly annoying and frustrating the censors. In 1969, CBS sent him a letter asking why there had been 34 anti-Vietnam statements on the show in six weeks and only one pro-war, that given by John Wayne. Griffin responded that no one else as prominent as Wayne was in favor of the war. In 1970, Abbie Hoffman appeared on the show, but his face and red, white, and blue shirt were blurred out by the censors. CBS wanted him to fire his co-host, who they thought was too old, and to not allow certain guest hosts, because they were too young.
By now quite tired of all of this, Merv negotiated a deal with Metromedia to give him a new show, in syndication, immediately after he was fired. This happened in 1972, and Merv's new (and presumably less controversial) talk show continued until 1986.
What Merv Griffin is probably most famous for, however, are his game shows. While hosting "Word for Word," Merv created "Jeopardy," even writing the famous music that ticks off the thirty seconds in Final Jeopardy. (Incidentally, the song is officially titled "Time, For Tony" and was written for Merv's son Anthony.) The show was a huge success, and Merv followed it up with other successful shows, "One in a Million," "Joe Garagiola’s Memory Game," "Let’s Play Post Office," and "Reach for the Stars."
In 1975, Merv created his most popular show ever, "Wheel Of Fortune." The show quickly became the longest running game show to be consistently the most popular. In 1986, he retired from his talk show and also sold Merv Griffin Enterprises, his production company, to Columbia Pictures Television. Sony later bought Columbia, and Merv was kept on as executive producer of his two most popular shows, "Wheel" and "Jeopardy."
In 1987, Merv got into the hospitality business (a decision spurred by the many years he spent traveling and "living in hotels") by purchasing the Beverly Hilton Hotel. He later went on to buy a resort hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona, an estate in Ireland, and a spa in Palm Springs.
He released a CD in March 2001, including at least one song that he wrote. He continues to write questions and puzzles for "Wheel" and "Jeopardy."
He died August 12, 2007.
- Merv has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- He has received 15 Emmys for the various incarnations of the Merv Griffin Show.
- Along with "Time, for Tony," Merv also wrote most if not all of the music for "Wheel of Fortune," and the theme to his talk show.
- He was awarded an honorary L.H.D from Emerson College.
- He was married once, to Julann Elizabeth Wright, from 1958 to 1976. They had one son, Anthony Patrick.