Monday, November 10, 2014

Massive Merv Griffin DVD set is must-have for show biz fans

By Steve Crum
The Merv Griffin Show, 1962-86 DVD boxed set is arguably the most entertaining and eclectic show business celebration ever produced. The multiple Emmy Award winning talk show, which was more aptly a variety show, is represented via 12 DVD’s aka 42 hours (!) of dynamite guests, all introduced and interviewed by Merv Griffin. 
This is not to say all was song, dance, and comedy in the Griffin Show world. Like Jack Paar before him, Merv’s guest list often included extended and incisive conversations with the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, then former Vice President Richard Nixon, authors Alex Haley and Gore Vidal, and drug culture guru Dr. Timothy Leary. They are all part of this terrifically fun and fascinating DVD set which also serves as a social document of the mid to late 20th Century. 
Two years in the making, this massive broadcasting gem is a collaborative effort between Reelin’ in the Years Productions and The Griffin Group. During that time, outside sources were necessarily tapped since a majority of the 4,500-plus episodes were missing due to original video masters being erased, a common practice to save money decades back. 
As described in the set’s informative 52-page booklet, many of the Griffin shows included were found in private collections, including one gem from Merv’s own video stash. That particular program, helmed by Isaac Hayes, is an hour long, star packed musical salute to vintage Stax recording artists.
The Nixon library supplied two segments with—no surprise—Richard Nixon. Thanks to CBS Television, DVD producers were able able to include segments featuring Dennis Hopper and Willie Mays (who bats baseballs into the audience).  At search’s end, nearly 1,800 of the 4,500 shows were found and, when necessary, restored to pristine condition. The early black and white shows through the later color programs are in superb audio and video shape. 
Show business fans like yours truly will geek out on this massive overdose of movie, TV, music, books, sports, and political luminaries. Griffin seems to have had every conceivable name on his show at one time or another, and often in some of the oddest celebrity combinations imaginable. Take “King of the One-Liners” Henny Youngman, please. Henny shares Merv’s Nov. 11, 1965 dais with Frankie Laine, Minnie Pearl, George Carlin, and Col. John Glenn. Laine sings two songs, Pearl sings one, and Carlin does a standup. Oh yes, and Youngman does a standup. And Glenn does a sit-down interview. 
Incidentally, the shows vary in length from under an hour to 80 minutes, with commercials omitted. Merv’s shows over the years were from 60-90 minutes. Locales also vary, from Hollywood to New York to Las Vegas. Shorter celebrity spots are also added, usually in the “Extras” portion of each disc. 
Merv incorporated filmed segments into many of his shows, including a must-see 1970 hour with John Wayne at his ranch. Within that segment an earlier Wayne interview in Mexico is also shown. Both Wayne and Griffin had been hitting the tequila, so their repartee is a bit under the influence. Classic.
From a young Stevie Wonder singing and playing the harmonica to Jayne Mansfield accompanied by her three children (including a toddler named Mariska Hargitay) and their dogs, eye candy and name dropping abound. I am still both pleased and disturbed about seeing the 1985 show featuring Orson Welles. For the first time publicly, Welles talked about his marriage to Rita Hayworth and films, including Citizen Kane. Hours after the taping, Welles died at his home. 
I feel like splashing the pluses of this boxed set like a Golden Age of Hollywood publicist: SEE Miss Lillian Carter dance with Andy Williams after he sings “Moon River”…Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland in a salute to William Wyler…the cast of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan…the cast of The Golden Girls…the cast of Rocky III…Whitney Houston's debut...Jerry Lewis doing extreme spit takes with Merv and Richard Pryor…Burt Ward and Adam West of Batman…Lucille Ball and Family…Danny Kaye literally taking over Merv’s show…and Moms Mabley, The Muppets, Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, and onward. 
Equally fascinating is Merv Griffin himself, a talented, educated, humorous, and extremely good host and interviewer. He leans into his guests’ comments, and listens. It is also obvious he did his homework in preparation. Thanks to Merv, venerable Hollywood movie actor Arthur Treacher enjoyed a happy, late career as Merv’s sidekick and announcer. Treacher is featured on the early shows from NYC, but declined to move when the show relocated to the West Coast in 1970. 
The accompanying booklet includes an impressively detailed, lengthy overview of the Griffin show by Steve Randisi and an introduction by Dick Cavett, who is also featured on a couple of the shows. 

The Welles and John Wayne pieces alone are worth the admission price. 
GRADE on an A to F Scale: A