Sunday, October 28, 2018

‘The Merv Griffin Show’—with all its showbiz trappings—realized by author Steve Randisi

By Steve Crum
Fans of the long running TV talk/variety program, The Merv Griffin Show, will love the aptly titled The Merv Griffin Show: The Inside Story. I am one of those fans. So is Steve Randisi, who has written a well researched, revealing, and vastly entertaining work about the evolution of the Griffin TV show over its 22 years on the air, 1962-86. Covered in some detail is the life of Griffin himself, on and off stage. 
In the preface, Randisi explains the scope of his writing: “This book is not a full-scale biography of Merv Griffin. Rather, it’s the story of the television program bearing his name.” Still, there is a ton of fascinating information about Griffin’s personal and professional life before and after the TV series that bore his name.
We learn of Grffin’s early showbiz days in the 1940s as “America’s Mystery Voice” singer on local radio, and how his excessive body poundage per se “weighed in” to his fledgling career. Covered are his big band singer days with Freddy Martin, and Merv’s hit song, “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” 
There is more than passing mention of Griffin’s penchant for creating and producing TV game shows, a period within his resume that began with his hosting of Goodson-Todman’s Play Your Hunch in 1958. Soon he was producing his own game shows, notably Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Griffin was even composing their theme music. 
But the meat of Randisi’s book is The Merv Griffin Show, and its development and journey from network(s) to syndication. His professional and personal relationship with Johnny Carson is explored in some detail—appropriate considering Carson’s Tonight Show was Merv’s most formidable ratings opponent. 
I particularly enjoyed reading of Arthur Treacher’s tenure on Merv’s show, from being personally chosen as the announcer/sidekick, to his interactions with Merv and his guests. 
Included are backstage vignettes about tardy or absent guests, including a few big names reluctant to go on at the last minute. There are stories about Jack Paar, who influenced Merv’s talk show style, and Jean Arthur, Dr. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Joey Bishop, Eva Gabor, Mike Douglas, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and a slew more. They all were guests on Merv’s show, some repeatedly. 
The book’s 420 pages end with a helpful index—in case one seeks specific references regarding dozens of names ranging from Orson Welles to Abbie Hoffman to Joan Crawford, and beyond. Fifty-nine rarely seen photos are icing on this enticing cake. 
Randisi’s book is a fine tribute to Merv Griffin and his long running talk show. As well, it serves as an anecdotal history of mid to latter 20th Century show business.
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GRADE on an A-F Scale: A
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The book is available in both hardback and softback via Bear Manor Media.

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