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Saying What Merv Griffin Never Felt He Could

Merv7Merv 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.

Maybe that helps explain why Griffin, who died Sunday at 82 from prostate cancer, stayed inside the closet throughout his life. Perhaps he figured it was preferable to remain the object of rumor and smug ridicule rather than live openly as "one of them." But how tremendously sad that a man of Merv's considerable gifts, of his gregarious nature and social dexterity, would feel compelled to endure such a stealthy double-life even as the gay community's clout, and its levels of acceptance and equality, rose steadily from the ashes of ignorance.

I'm not at all insinuating that Griffin had a responsibility to come out. That was up to him and him alone.

But what a powerful message Griffin might have sent had he squired his male companions around town rather than Eva Gabor, his longtime good friend and platonic public pal. Imagine the amount of good Merv could have done as a well-respected, hugely successful, beloved and uncloseted gay man in embodying a positive image.

As it was, 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. In being gay, Merv was what he was, but was never permitted in his mind to freely express it.

It's an interesting question, but one on which I side with disclosure. Particularly after someone passes, should their "secret" die with them? To my mind, when the media is fearful of raising the gay issue for whatever reason, it serves to further fuel the shame concept, not puncture it (that is, if it's fact, as it is in this case, and not mere conjecture). One can also say this was nobody's business but Merv's, but that isn't actually true. Griffin was a public figure whose sex life -- which played a significant role in defining him, as it does most of us -- was swaddled in concealment. Like it or not, that is part of his story. I have to think even Merv himself would be OK with having such a burdensome deceit taken off his back at last.

Over the past 16 years -- in the wake of a pair of lawsuits filed against him in 1991, by "Dance Fever" host Denny Terrio alleging sexual harrassment and by assistant Brent Plott seeking $200 million in palimony -- Merv consistently deflected questions surrounding his sexuality with a quip. He certainly didn't owe us any explanation, but you might conclude he owed it to himself to remove the suffocating veil he'd long been forced to hide behind. Then again, Merv carved his niche in the entertainment world in an era when being gay wasn't OK, when confession was unthinkable and the allegation alone could deep-six one's career.

If you're Griffin, why would you think a judgmental culture would be any more tolerant as you grew into middle and old age? Too, Merv's twin brushes with tabloid scandal in 1991 no doubt only drove him further into the closet. And while it might seem everything has changed today, little actually has. You can count on the fingers of one hand, or at most two, the number of high-powered stars, executives and public figures who have come out. Those who don't can't really be faulted, either, as rarely do such honesty and vulnerability prove a boon to one's showbiz livelihood.

Nonetheless, the elephant that was his sexual orientation never stopped following Merv from room to room. He could duck it for a while, but it would always find him. And it's disheartening that he had to die to finally shake that unwieldy pachyderm for good.

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I'm shocked and disapppointed Ray. What on God's Green Earth would compel you to write such a thing? I have been thouroghly enjoying your blogging about Merv Griffin this past week. But then, this? I feel as if I've been hit by a truck reading this. Why all this? Why now? I don't understand why you feel you have the right or obligation to publicly out a man like Griffin who made a very clear choice until his dying day to keep his sex life and orientation ultra private. And yes that is what you are doing. If everybody already knew this, then why is it suddenlyl such a big deal for you to write about it in this way? And all just so you for the purposes of a tittillating website article can blow it all to heck? I'm sure this will get people talking. Maybe that's all ur doing. But that's sort of a cheap shot. Maybe he was gay. Maybe he wasn't. Maybe, who cares? Especially now? Esp. less than a week after he was lost to us? I'm just flabbergasted to see this and don't knwo what to think. And to find it here after all the previous kind words. What gives? What is your goal here? I can't be the only person to be wondering about this. I might not've been shocked as much to find this sort of self indulgent commentary elsewhre, but on your site it strikes me as unusual. My jaw is still on the ground. I'm am sorry for such a long comment but it's just very disappointing.

Gawd, what a thumping newsflash. And an original story, by the way. Others have already gotten into this. I think even his obituary in the NYtimes addressed it days ago. And so what? Why are we harping on this. Merv obviously didn't feel it was anyone's right to know his biz while he was here, so why is it suddenly our right now that he's gone? Who cares anyway? Merv's biz, not ours. Some thanks he gets for all the pure joy he gave to us. I will personally always choose to remember him for all that he did generously share with us during his amazing and brilliant life. Not what - he didn't. The media exposing all of Anna Nicole's dirtly laundry - or what was left of it - after her death was tacky and disrepectful enough, but Merv? You can't be serious. He was a good and generous oneofakind spirit, the likes of which we'll never have the fortune of experiencing again. Leave him be, ya cowards. If you were so set on exposing his sex life, why wait until he's gone to do it? Now it's just crass. Not to mention pointless and dare I say meanspirited. I'm just glad he's not here to feel you people twisting the knife in his back, for what seems like no good reason. Rest in peace, Griff. We just bought your old DVDs and will look forward to basking in the memories you left for us this weekend.

All interesting thoughts. But Merv alwasys seemed the sort of guy who was way ahead of his time, and who lived life exactly as he wanted to. If he didn't parade his sexual orientation around, I have to imagine that was just his personal choice. It's not for us to decide or declare. But he surely didn't seem the type that would give a crap what anyone else might think. It's possible he didn't make this sort of thing public for the simple reason he was thinking of his family and didn't want to bring any possible shame(however undeserved) or public ridicule upon them. Who knows. But ultimately it's probably none of our business. There's so much more to Merv than was he or wasn't he?

I didn't know but I always wondered about Merv-I never bought him and the Eva Gabor thing. It always struck me as the "Elizabeth Taylor/Malcolm Forbes thing".
However, I still am not sure you did the right thing here Mr. Richmond. If Merv Griffin wanted people to know he was gay, he would have told us when he was alive. Perhaps it would have been better to let the wonderful man rest in peace. Just because you have a column to spread your knowledge, doesn't mean you have to use it. Use your power carefully, Mr. Richmond.

Debra, Merv's orientation was the worst-kept secret in Hollywood. It was, in fact, no secret at all. You'd have a very hard time finding someone in the Thirty Mile Zone who didn't know.

Merv's being gay was a secret only to himself. Now that he's passed, it seems a reasonable discussion. I loved the guy, respected him immensely. I also admired his choice to remain mostly private about his affairs (no pun intended).

No harm nor invasion can come now that he's gone, however, and being that gay men and women need all the inspiration they can get in this sadly bigoted world of ours, talking about Merv's homosexuality might actually help shake things a bit.

For the unwashed, it's got to be a shock that a man of Merv's stature, power, and obvious sophistication could actually be gay. I wonder what they'd think of Da Vinci?

L.

P.S. Here's some interesting reading, which you're unlikely to see on Rush Limbaugh anytime soon... http://www.gayheroes.com/

Thank you so much for speaking the simple truth about Merv. It is truly sad that people still consider being 'gay' some horrible stigma. In last night's "So You Think You Can Dance", the runner-up was openly gay Danny Tidwell. Danny has been in a long-term relationship with his partner David for years. They live together, publish a magazine together, and each have websites celebrating their relationship. Still if you were to mention this at the FOX show site (as I did) you would be screamed at and threatened: "How dare you spread such a malicious rumor about Danny". Just acknowledging the simple fact of someone's sexual orientation (which has never been a private characterisitc for heterosexuals) is enough to make people go ballistic with homophobic rage.

You know, Mr. Griffin must have had his reasons for not "coming out" so what gives you the right to speak out after his death? How can you possibly call yourself a journalist? What happened? Slow news day? Your article was irresponsible and was impossibly long and repititious. I would suggest applying your writing skills to a more suitable venue, i.e. the men's room wall.

I would like to commend you on your honest and accurate discussions of Merv Griffin. I wish that Mr. Griffin had able to fully express himself in life, ending some of the fear that he must have had about people finding out.

Thanks for telling the truth, Ray. It was indeed a shame that Merv could not affirm his gayness and a commentary on how far we have to go as a society and an industry. When we cannot treat information about the social lives of gay people the same as we treat those of straight people, we make gayness out to be something evil and shameful.

In her post, Debra asks the question, "Who cares?" If nobody cared about who was gay and who wasn't, kids wouldn't commit suicide over it, parents wouldn't throw their kids out because of it, and being gay would be no different from being left-handed. But just this week, a man in Texas was denied a funeral in a "Christian" church because he was gay. The rightwing in this country is OBSESSED with homosexuality. Karl Rove (who had a gay stepfather) lesbian-baited Ann Richards to win the Texas governor's race for a guy named George Bush. Who cares, indeed.

Many people feel that once a person has died that it is in bad taste to say anything bad about them. People, therefore, were nice about Jesse Helms' death, even though he was, IMHO, an awful man. I would say the same about Ronald Reagan, whose leadership was very detrimental to the gay cause.

Merv Griffin was a gay man ... just like me. He grew up in another time when being gay wasn't a good thing. So I can understand his Zsa Zsa beard. But David Geffen somehow found the courage to be an "out" man. And he's also a very successful Hollywood player.

I have to admit that I agree with what Ray has written. Although Merv Griffin brought me hours of happiness with the entertainment shows he produced and starred in ... I'm kind of angry with him. I'm sorry he died. And I'm sad for his family. But as a gay man, I'm angry that Merv is being honored with good words when he really did, IMHO, do some damage to other gays by remaining a "closet case".

I'm glad to see someone writing something about the man himself rather than the fawning thats been in the press for the past week or so.

What about Merv firing openly gay staffers for fear that it would raise questions about his own sexuality?

Apparently he wasn't always the congenial "straight" guy that he tried to pass himself off as.

Thank god he wasn't in a position in the Government.

'85-86 ? You must know Fred E. He was my bf at the time.
Maybe we met?
huh.

Yes Debra, how disappointing it must be when your complacent bubble is popped and you're forced to glimpse for a moment what happens when a culture that devalues people simply because of their sexuality then drives them to hide it and develop self-loathing to the extent that they give money to a political party which oppresses them and dismiss employees who refuse to remain in the closet. All of which Griffin was guilty of.

I have to agree with the previous comment. If it (obviously) was Mr. Griffin's choice to be closeted, how do you, a colleague and supposed friend, honor him by exposing that which he preferred concealed?

Methinks you protesteth too much, as if Merv owed it to you and the community to come out. Shame on you.

Hey, lady, Merv wasn't "lost to you," you didn't know him. He was just a guy on TV to you.

Ray knew him. Ray liked him. A lot. Can't you tell that from reading this?

Merv did not keep his sexual orientation ultra-private, obviously, because most of the people who worked for and with him knew he was gay. People who watched on TV or bought his records in the 50s and 60s? Not so much.

The point here is that no one should have to be less than honest about who they are just because you, a person who was a "fan" (like you) might or might not approve of who he was other than an entertainer.

And trust me, living in the closet is destructive to all the people that are shoved in there. It's dark and lonely and sad.

Would like that for Merv's memory as well as the life he lead because that story would please you more?

Now who's evil?

Bravo, Ray. I'm not one that favors speaking ill of the dead -- but that's not what you did. You simply pointed out that Merv was gay; and unless you believe that gay people are necessarily inferior to straight people, there's no problem.

Unfortunately, Merv probably did believe exactly that. And how sad.

I understand and respect you for the goal of your writing being TRUTH. And the truth was that Merv Griffin was a gay man. He was a gay man who was in the closet and you, me and the rest of anybody reading and/or breathing have the right to say that his life was needlessly pained much longer than necessary because he was either incapable or unwilling to say "I am a gay man and i love myself." To the rest of you who think he deserves to be buried with his secret, i only say "kindly keep it to yourselves."

Good for you, Ray. I have to say that I am appalled at some of the comments that are being posted here and elsewhere about your words today. What has gotten into all you people? I suppose everyone is titled to an opinion, but all this attacking! This is nuts. Everyone calm down. Anyone who knows anything about Ray Richmond, and not only his history with Merv Griffin but his skill and reputation as a uniquely perceptive, creative and responsible journalist should not be surprised at anything he's written here today. Just because he's choosing to invite discussion about something that was "common knowledge" to most people (in AND out of the "industry"), that suddenly makes him a bad object? Give me a break. So it's a little unexpected and somewhat provocative on the surface that he's discussing this. At the end of the day, Ray quite clearly loved and respected Merv Griffin, and even if you only read Ray's blog this week you would know that. And I'm sure Merv always had respect for Ray's work, as well, and would likely feel no different after seeing this. As usual, Ray presents an original and insightful analysis of a situation that nobody else has chosen to pay any close attention to. Who cares what Nikki Finke and some of the others are saying. Jealousy is an ugly thing, people. Why don't you all get a life and worry about something that's really important, like, say, the very stigma about homosexuality that likely kept Merv in the closet in the first place?

I say BRAVO to you, Ray. You have one of the best columns, best blogs, and best creative minds in the business. Not only does it seem I see your byline on nearly every other piece in that magazine most of the time, but that combined with your stellar column and now what has become one of my favorite industry blogs, I have to say that you're one of the ONLY elements that brings any real energy and spice to the Hollywood Reporter (and frankly, the only reason that I'm still a loyal reader). They should count themselves lucky to have you, and in my opinion, they had better be figuring out how to keep you before Variety or EW or Esquire or someone else rightfully steals you away. Merv was a good man, and so far as I can tell, so are you. Keep up the great work. And we will keep reading...

What's the point of printing it if it's the worst kept secret?

What's your next exclusive? Liberace?

Why must some gay "leaders" out other (closeted) gays in the name of gay acceptance? If they really wanted gay acceptance, they would leave people like Merv alone and respect their privacy. Merv had class. Ray does not, and sadly neither does the Hollywood Reporter any more.

Glad to see Ray was willing to talk about the truth. People who are in the public eye have a duty to come out and help the next generations of GLBT kids live freely.

Funny how the media will talk about what Paris did, and what Brittney did, and what Lindsay did - and even show pictures, but we CAN'T talk about who is Gay... It's just straight society protecting it's own... Just pretend Gay people don't exist, and they don't...

Maybe if enough of the entertainers who we all KNOW are Gay or Lesbian would come out, the press would start to be honest, and not have a double standard.

Amazing how people think it's a "cheap shot" to talk about a person's true life - they're either bigots or closet cases. I hope if they're straight they take off their wedding rings, take down any pictures of their families in their offices or homes, and shut up about their lives, cuz we're sick of your heterosexual privilige.

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