The Merv Griffin Show
40 of the Most Interesting People of Our Time (Alpha Home Entertainment-2006)
The problem with Merv calling this 40 of the Most Interesting People of Our Time is that it’s strictly based on Merv’s opinion. Not that we disrespect Merv for a minute – he’s given us more than our share of TV memories and we long for a return of his brand of high-road talk show. No matter what his estimation, here’s your chance to appreciate him and this more genteel time: afternoon chat free of road rage and gutter trash—and not a single Oprah moment.
However, who other than Merv is to determine that Ronald Reagan or Tony Danza are more interesting than – say – Rip Taylor? The people Merv thinks are most interesting are up for debate – Jimmy Carter may have been President, but is he interesting? And Denzel Washington is charming and likable, but in a boring way.
Nevertheless, what it boils down to is what life itself is all about: some conversations are simply more interesting than others. Merv shows us both: Richard Burton (1974), when asked by Merv what is the most important thing he’s done in the last ten years, replies, “nothing.” And you can’t get more tragic than the once-great Orson Welles’ last television appearance, literally (1985) – he up and died two hours after the interview. And what conversation could be more meaningful than with Clarence “Ducky” Nash, the original voice of Donald Duck, who happens to out cute the cartoon character who made him famous.
Another dilemma here has little to do with the DVD’s title but with the man himself. We get over eight-and-a-half hours of footage here, but not once do we hear Merv utter his infamous but urgently necessary, “we’ll be right back,” nor does he offer his guttural laugh (first brought to our attention by SCTV’s Rick Moranis), which is a spontaneous outburst of “boo-hoo-ha-ha-ha.” However, we do get to hear him speak his famous, guttural “luuuvvv,” as in “I luuuvvved everything I saw of Ingrid Bergman.”
Last complaint: where is Mrs. Miller? She was the older woman who sat in his studio audience on a daily basis; she would often have untimely outbursts of opinions that Merv would patiently address. Now there’s an interesting person.
However, just as importantly, we do get to see Merv smoke like a chimney throughout the sixties before the cigarette completely vanishes during the following decade. We also get a first-hand history of his hair, going from dark to his eventual trademarked gray.
There is plenty to graze on with this buffet, and it can even become emotional for those old enough to remember. Take a look at the young and promising Christopher Reeve (1985), who speaks of his love of taking chances (sailing, flying, making annual trips behind the Iron Curtain). He’s articulate, frank, and well-bred, making his sad story feel suddenly very immediate.
Also, meet young Tom Hanks (1984 – skinny tie and all!) who is honing his skill at making his movie (Splash) sound as important as curing cancer and ending the conflict in the Middle East.
We also learn (not that we ever really doubted) that Hanks is not the only one who is a master at false humility and superstar humbleness. Try Jane Fonda (1967), who, while doing her usual enunciating rather than chatting, recounts how she is bargaining at the market in France, just like you and me, or at the very least, like a regular housewife. Or Grace Kelly (1976), then-current princess of Monaco/caring mom and former Philly girl (where is her Philly accent? Whom does she think she’s fooling?).
Also, consider Sammy Davis, Jr. (1966), who modestly tells Merv that he is “the first colored cat who ever had a variety show.” Of course, this isn’t true, since Nat King Cole had a run at one a decade before, but we get to see both Sam and Merv (and both admit they’re age 40!) try to out-smoke each other as they converse. And hands-down on faux-humbleness is Joan Collins (1984) at the height of her comeback, saying with a trembling lower lip how she misses the anonymity.
Another great mystery of life – Tom Cruise – is unsuccessfully uncovered as Merv interviews the young up-and-comer (1983). Cruise describes the prostitute in Risky Business as a “metaphor for capitalism;” and although he admits in all seriousness that “I do feel very fortunate,” we still wonder what is inside if anything at all. And speaking of superstars without an inside, who else but Merv could get John Wayne (1966), when asked if he rides horses for leisure, to give the blunt but shocking reply, “I get on a horse to make money.”
Please hand it to Merv, who is perennially deprived of receiving his propers: he was the one who brought blacks, Jews, gays, and old-time Hollywood to Middle America each afternoon, during that hazy time between after-school and before dinner, where most of his viewers had never conversed with anyone other than people who resembled themselves.
Thoughtful kids tired of cartoons and hurried housewives defrosting the pot roast would receive an eyeful of the important, the extravagant and the frivolous.
What afternoon programming today could offer former President Gerald Ford (1981) dishing about the lameness of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, and how his better half is building a facility for recovering alcoholics; and the great Danny DeVito (1985) letting us know what cut-ups Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are. We don’t care, but DeVito makes us pay attention. On interesting, DeVito always gets a pass.
Watch Merv offer up Martin Luther King (1967) discussing Negroes in front of a 100% white audience, while during the same turbulent year, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is attempting to explain hippies.
Taking impossible explanations a step further, Robert Blake (1981) takes it upon himself to ask David Niven, “You’re not a kid. You’ve been workin’ all your life. You’re in great shape. I just would personally like to know, have you lived your life? Are you into health food? Do you work out? Do you drink? How does it come down to the fact that you’re still cookin’ and that everything is okay?” Merv could not have done a better job himself, and you even get to hear the veddy British Niven use the word “ad-VER-tisements.”
Not that Merv needs any help in the question-asking department. He had an Ed-McMahon-like co-host for years (the overgrown British actor Arthur Treacher, who is barely acknowledged in this DVD), but that soon gave way to Merv flying solo.
Ain’t nobody – but nobody – funnier and more watchable than Don Rickles (1985), who says to Merv, “You’re a big star. You’ve told me that many times.” Rickles gets a whole hour (well-deserved) and speaks of a Members Only tennis tournament (that’s right, regarding the Members Only jacket), attended by “the kids from The Love Boat.” He also relates to us his taking his two children to a rock concert: “the kid’s name was Bruce Springsteen.” With this, Merv is visibly impressed: “Boy, you’re coming into the 80s!”
Another surprise is Jerry Seinfeld (1986), eager and smart and the last person in the world to predict the good fortune that was about to befall him. He does his monologue about nothing (being able to put back items in a supermarket anywhere he wants) and we learn, shockingly, that he once skydived.
Some of the material is dated, but that’s a good thing. In fact, it makes it all more, well, interesting. A strait-laced, non-hippified George Carlin (1965) claims that he hates TV commercials and talks about many of them specifically even though we’ve never seen them. Jay Leno (1982) makes cracks about the Falkland Islands and “the phone company,” and Jackie Mason (1965) complains about the new phenomena of crime in New York City: “500 more cops on the streets, so now the criminals will take the subway.” Mason is also asked if he advocates nudism, and he answers, “only for Elizabeth Taylor.” Now that’s dated.
Sections of the DVD are disorienting to the point of distraction. During the sixties, guests sat to Merv’s left, which is inherently wrong. And gravel-voiced comedian Selma Diamond is chatting it up with Richard M. Nixon (1967), while America’s first gay, Monti Rock III (1966), sings a rockin’ version of “You Are My Sunshine,” wearing an earring and a three-piece suit (this wouldn’t get a second glance today, but in 1966 on The Merv Griffin Show, this was truly decadent.).
Pity poor Rose Kennedy (1969), who makes a rare television appearance not long after the assassination of her second son, saying, “the ecstasies and the triumphs are greater than the tragedies.” And Walter Cronkite (1983) discussing the complexities of the media in that quaint pre-cable, pre-internet world. Little did he (or we) know what was to come, but boy, do we sure need Uncle Walter now.
In the end, these are not persons but personas, and Merv is so present for them, so locked into their gaze, so focused on what they are saying. The only professional holding a candle up to him today is Charlie Rose, but Rose does not have an orchestra, glittering curtains or comfortable sofas.
Come back, Merv.
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 4, 2006.