It's so weird -- and sad -- that just after I post an obit about an influential talk show host's passing (Tom Snyder, PCR #384), another, equally influential talk show host passes away. I'm taking, of course, about the recent passing of Merv Griffin, 82, from complications of prostate cancer.
Of course, Merv was much more than a talk show host. His resumé usually trumpets the wildly successful game shows he invented and produced, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, and justifiably so. (Interestingly, he was in the midst of creating another game show, Merv Griffin's Crosswords when he died.)
My earliest memories of Merv Griffin date back to the '60s when he had his daytime talk show, The Merv Griffin Show, basically patterned after Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. His "Ed McMahon"-type sidekick and announcer was none other than the legendary Arthur Treacher, yes the Arthur Treacher of Fish & Chips fame! (Curiously I have not seen this interesting fact mentioned in any online obit of Griffin so far.) Treacher came off as an old fuddy-duddy English butler, presumably to offfset Griffin's attempt at a rich playboy image.
I say "attempt" because, to me, Griffin always came across as someone seeking the same rareified air as the Johnny Carsons and Bing Crosbys of the world, but never quite believing he attained it. Not hard to see where such a thing came from. He was rather short. He bore a striking resemblance to another daytime talk show host, Mike Douglas (who passed away last year). He had problems with his weight. But most of all, Merv's was a legacy of frustrated ambition.
His original job was as the frontman singer for The Freddy Martin Band, a fairly big band of its day (when big bands were the thing). Griffin would sometimes comment that after all the singing lessons his parents paid for (resulting in Merv's by-the-book singing style), his biggest hit was "I've Got a Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts" (Freddy Martin Band, 1950), a faux-English pub style novelty song.
Whatever his identity crisis may or may not have been, Merv made up for any shortcomings big time with his ruthless ambition to become one of the world's wealthiest men, which he did, mostly through real estate, hotels (over which he sparred with Donald Trump), and as previously mentioned, game shows.
While the nighttime version of The Merv Griffin Show failed to unseat Johnny Carson as king of late night, I must admit his later daytime '70s version ruled the roost as far as I'm concerned. Extremely interesting, insightful, and when egos didn't get in the way (an annoying weak spot of the show), some of the best interviews ever done on television. Every once in a while, Merv would have a big band reunion show, proclaiming "They're comin' back, baby!". While entertaining as far as they went, this typified Merv's never having quite gotten over the big bands' obsolesence. Still, nobody else was doing them, so good on Merv.
Interestingly, two members of his own house band at that time were, in themselves, celebrities: Herb Ellis, jazz guitarist extraordinaire (who once performed a devastating version of "The Flintstones Theme" on the show!) and trumpet-player Jack Sheldon of '70s TV's The Girl With Something Extra.
My fascination with TV talk shows and their hosts/formats faded somewhat during the '90s. Besides Carson retiring, cable television's saturation with talk shows diluted the playing field and increasingly became centered around celebrity tabloid fodder. But the legacy of the giants made an indelible impression on me and (if I may) influenced me tremendously on personal indulgences like The World of Nolan video series.
Merv Griffin, entrepreneur and talk show pioneer, will be sorely missed.
Birthday Boy, Hooters Pics
OK, OK, I am red-faced about this. Last Sunday, August 12th, was targeted as my "birthday Hooters" gathering. I didn't realize until I got to Hooters that my camera's batteries were nearly dead, so I only mananged to take three pictures before it tanked. Chris Woods had brought his camera, but a blinding rainstorm outside discouraged any attemtps to bring it in before or during the festivites. I thought I had secured a pic of Joel D. Wynkoop, but alas, his pic didn't take (sorry Joel). But the six of us there had a great time: Andy Lalino, Terence Nuzum, Chris Woods, Joel D. Wynkoop, Ron Canova, and, of course, the birthday boy himself, yours truly, Nolan B. Canova. I turned 52 years old the next day.
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I didn't think Clearwater horror film legend and PCR contributor Andy Lalino would show for this, but he surprised me. That's him on the left, talking with my brother Ron Canova. Andy was caught in the terrible rainstorm we had, but he made it anyway. Thanks, Andy.
My biological li'l bro', Ron, on the left, with my figurative li'l bro', the dark one of filmmaking, Terence Nuzum on right. I pixelated his "love salute" here, but its in full glory in the enlargement. One day I'll remember to move the !?@*$#! paper towel spindle before snapping shots!!
Our old friend, the !?@*$#! paper towel spindle is back in view, while I listen to Andy spin some filmmaking tales. St. Pete filmmaker and PCR contributor, Chris Woods, right, washes down some chicken wings! Joel Wynkoop was sitting next to Chris. I tried to get a pic but my batteries died. Sorry, Joel.
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