There were only a handful of truly gifted talk show hosts that brought Broadway to the masses through television. There wasn’t a weekday that would go by that you couldn’t turn on Dinah Shore, Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin and see the greatest Broadway talents performing their biggest and not so biggest hits and sitting down and telling their life story, all viewed from the comfort of your bed or living room lazy boy recliner. It was these talk show hosts that gave generations their first exposure to musical theatre. It wasn’t until Rosie O’Donnell’s show that there was anything even close to what these great hosts did for theatre through the medium of television.
Sadly, today, Sunday, August 12, 2007, the last of these greats left us. Merv Griffin died this morning of prostate cancer. Though many now only know Merv Griffin from the game shows he created, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, to the forty-somethings on up, he will always be known as the consummate talk show host who truly cared about his guests and made them feel comfortable and welcome.
Though I was always interested in musicals when I was growing up, it wasn’t until I heard Patti LuPone sing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” on Merv’s show that I knew that stage musicals would dominate my life.
A glimpse of the Broadway world Merv Griffin gave to us can be found by going to www.youtube.com and searching “Merv Griffin Broadway”. There you will find Ethel Merman singing “What I Did For Love”, Chita Rivera doing a number from “Merlin”, Ann Miller performing “Anything Goes” and the list goes on and on.
Merv was a recording star in his own right with a #1 hit record in 1950 entitled, “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”. He also starred in the original production of Finian’s Rainbow on Broadway in the mid 1950’s.
Everyone in this country owes Merv Griffin and his contemporaries our gratitude for bringing just a little piece of Broadway and its’ stars into our homes. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.