Mervgate !

Surely the facts are in considerable dispute. Merv Griffin — band singer, talk show host, game show producer, hotel/casino entrepreneur, and all-round mega-powerful multi-billionaire — is dead at 82 from prostate cancer diagnosed several years back. The media have gone into full Celebrity-Grief mode, with Entertainment Tonight outdoing itself with retrospective clips of Merv-through-the-years being his cheerful elf self, smiling that smarmily contented smile and cooing over all and sundry in a manner Rick Moranis captured so deliciously on SCTV when he turned Merv’s “We’ll be right back” into a kind of mantra.

But then THIS happened.

Ray Richmond, longtime Hollywood Reporter scribe and all-round professional journalist, devoted his weekly column to Merv, noting that the mega-mogul was a Big Ol’ Gay Homosexual – a fact that everyone in the industry knew as surely as they knew their own names.

All Hell Broke Loose.

Merv’s people called the Reporter, making all manner of threats and the piece was yanked hours after it went up. It was also yanked from Ray’s blog So then called in Michelangelo Signorile’s SIRIUS OUT Q radio show to inform him of this development. He was just talking about Ray’s piece. In no time at all outraged listeners were deluging the Hollywood Reporter switchboard with demands that the piece be put back up. And in a few hours it was — with a statement of support for Ray to boot.

Meaning, of course, that this is not over.

Far from it.

It goes without saying that times have changed in what might well be called Post-Doogie Culture

More and more gays and lesbians in show business are “out” now. Ellen and Portia, resplendent in white, were caught by camera walking hand in hand towards the chapel for Merv’s funeral. David Geffen, every bit as rich and successful a megamogul as Merv, is “out.”

But they’re of “a different generation,” you say.

Well more than a mere “generational” difference is involved.

Back in the early 1980s the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (of which I’m a member) had one of its annual awards presentations held on The Merv Griffin Show. The studio was turned into a small night club set, and we all dined with Dustin Hoffman (nice but boring) Natassia Kinski ( gorgeous beyond belief) and Peter O’Toole (charming beyond belief) among others. During the untelevised dinner portion of the event we didn’t see Merv at all. Rather a surprise, we thought, as while he might not deign to dine with us he surely would drop by before showtime for a greeting or two. But Merv didn’t do that. What came by instead were the Mervettes. A gaggle of gorgeous muscle boys in multi-colored Izod shirts running about hither thither and yon they did all sorts of things: showing us to our tables, delivering messages from the stars to an offstage Merv and such.

There’s no doubt he hired each and every one of them personally.

The nanosecond airtime arrived, Merv suddenly materialized. He introduced himself as he always does to the TV audience and went about his host duties as the awards program progressed. The nanosecond it was over, Merv was gone.

And so were the Mervettes.

The stars were as gobsmacked as the critics by all of this — a male harem to rival Hef’s Playboy Bunnies in every way. And the message was clear: “Look at what I’ve got!” IOW, Merv’s “common man” pose was just that. A pose. No “common man” — especially “common gay” ones could boast such a bevvy of Babes.

One wonders where the Mervettes are today. Did they
survive the AIDS onslaught as Merv (surprisingly) did? Did they don their black Izods for the funeral? Or were they “not on the guest list”? If they were nice, quiet little hustlers then perhaps they were. That was acceptable.

“Out” Mervettes — or “out” gay men of any sort, weren’t.

As Michelangelo shows in his book Queer in America, if you worked for Merv and he found out you were “out” — you were out the door.

“We don’t want your kind here,” the secretary/executioner would tell the hapless homo getting the bum’s rush.

Of course thanks to a civil rights movement Merv was doubtless utterly hostile to that’s all changed.

And everything else has changed too, though as is obvious from this affair the ghost of Mike Connolly still stalks the halls of the Hollywood Reporter.

And now some last words from a grandson:

“He was funny, just the nicest grandfather,” said Donovan Griffin, who had served as a pallbearer with his father.

“He always remembered everyone’s names.”

No shit!

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