Last night, my friend and former co-worker, The Hollywood Reporter columnist Ray Richmond, used his blog Past Deadline to broadcast the latest in his several tributes to the late Merv Griffin. It read, in part:
Merv Griffin was gay.
There. Is that plain enough for ya? No gossip, no scandal, no snickering behind the back. Just reality. Why should that be so uncomfortable to contemplate? Why is it so difficult to write? Why are we still so jittery even about raising the issue in purportedly liberal-minded Hollywood, in 2007? We can refer to it casually in conversation without a second thought, but the mainstream media still somehow remains trapped in the Dark Ages as relates to the gay label. Even in the capital of entertainment -- in a business where homosexuality isn't exactly a rare phenomenon -- it's still spoken of in hushed tones or, more often, not at all.
I loved the guy, finding him charismatic and charming, as I pointed out repeatedly in posts here over the weekend. And also as mentioned, I had more than a passing acquaintance with Merv, having worked as a talent coordinator/segment producer on "The Merv Griffin Show" in 1985-86 as the talk show was winding down its lengthy run. Around the office, the boss's being gay was merely a fact of life, understood but rarely discussed (and certainly never with him). We knew nothing of his actual relationships because he guarded his privacy fiercely, and it didn't behoove us to pry.
I can't think that I'm "out"-ing Griffin here. His being gay was well known throughout the showbiz culture, if not necessarily the wider America. I also don't believe the revelation at all taints his legacy, unless we are to buy into the notion that there remains shame in homosexual behavior. That only applies to the homophobes among us. But Merv came out of a generation that overwhelmingly believed there was something very wrong with being gay, and thus he never felt free to rise above sneaking around like a common cheat. That was the only shame in this equation.
This essay also appeared in this morning's Hollywood Reporter. But the online version is gone, scrubbed from the site, and I'm trying to find out why.
Knowing Ray, I doubt he had second thoughts about what he wrote; it was a well-considered, compassionate essay about someone he knew well. If I had to guess, I'd say that there was some pressure put on him, but we're not in the business of guesswork here.
But just look at this furious rejoinder from the longtime industry columnist Nikki Finke -- a woman who's made her career by being a contrarian, by being unafraid to speak truth to power -- and you'll get an idea of just how furious Ray's words have made some in Hollywood:
Sure, Richmond, who'd worked as a talent coordinator/segment producer on The Merv Griffin Show in 1985-86, had every right to express his opinion. But publishing it was unworthy of the Industry friendly trade and more suited to a sensation seeking tabloid.
Since when is reporting the truth an 'opinion'? And why would a columnist-critic like Nikki Finke whine that the 'trades' (which are newspapers, or should be) are supposed to be 'industry-friendly' to the industries they cover?
I've now written to Ray twice asking what happened, but haven't heard back from him. If I do, I'll update this post. [Update, 08/17/07 1:34 PM: Richmond telephoned me for an on-the-record interview, which is here.]
I don't care a fig about Merv Griffin, but I damn sure do care when journalism is 'vanished' from the Internet, whether it's political speech or anything else. To that end, I've saved the original column here (with all the angry comments and furious discussion intact).
Download away. Put it on your own site if you like. Whether you like it or not, I hope you agree that it shouldn't be 'disappeared.'