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Merv Griffin Took His Most Damning Secret to the Grave

The late-great Merv Griffin wore many hats. He was a successful businessman, talk show host, entertainer, singer, and game show creator. He was also gay during a time period in American history when it was a lot more difficult for LGBTQIA+ celebrities to be out and open about their sexuality.

Perhaps this is why Griffin, who died of prostate cancer at the age of 82 in 2007, remained in the closet throughout his life.

join Facts Verse as we discuss the big secret that he took to the grave.

Merv’s Father Disapproved Of His Show Business Dreams

Merv Griffin was born on the 6th of July, 1925, to parents Rita Robinson and Mervyn Edward Griffin Sr – a successful stockbroker and businessman.

As a child, Griffin proved to be a piano prodigy. While growing up, his aunt taught him how to play music, which he preferred over sports. His first passion was for classical music, be he later transitioned to playing popular music, which he felt was more rewarding.

Playing pop music at parties, funerals, and weddings helped him to earn some money, and as a teen, he started singing at church.

After graduating from high school, Merv enrolled at San Mateo Junior College. He later moved to the University of San Francisco, where he studied for some time before dropping out. While academia wasn’t his scene, Griffin still had high hopes of making it big as an entertainer.

Since childhood, Merv would organize shows, recruiting neighbor kids to be actors, stagehands, and audience members for his performances. He had a blast doing this, but his father deeply disapproved of his career choice and managed to convince Merv to take a job as a teller at a local bank.

Griffin ended up resigning from his teller job after he learned that one of his colleagues, who had been working as a teller for more than three decades, was still earning the same meager pay as he was.

After quitting that dead-end job, Griffin, who was just 18 at the time, put everything he had into show business. Within a year, he scored a job playing piano at the San Francisco radio station, KRFC.

He eventually moved on from that gig and started singing with a 30-piece orchestra show called San Francisco Sketchbook Show. That program was later renamed The Merv Griffin Show.

In his mid-20s, Griffin left for Palm Springs. He became even more popular after putting out the hit song ‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’.

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Show Business and Smart Investments

The Merv Griffin Show premiered in 1962. Although he started with stellar ratings, the show was canceled in a little under a year.

Griffin then secured a deal with NBC, which allowed him to start his own production company. It was then that he came up with the idea for a game show in which contestants would be provided trivia answers but have to come up with the questions. If they failed at that task, they would lose their prize money.

That game show, of course, was Jeopardy, which Griffin worked on for 11 years before coming up with the idea of Wheel Of Fortune in 1975.

Griffin later sold his production company, Merv Griffin Enterprises to the Coca-Cola company for a mind-blowing $250 million in 1986. Before he sold off his business, Griffin was a very cautious yet determined investor in radio stations and media outlets.

One of those investment was in a company called Teleview Racing Patrol which he transformed into major source of closed-circuit horse racing broadcasts at betting and wagering sites across the country.

Grffin further diversified his investments with casino and hotel properties. Two of his biggest acquisitions were Donald Trump’s Resorts International property in Atlantic City and the Trump Casino.

These two deals came with heavy debts, and the companies were left with no other choice but to declare bankruptcy in 1989. Griffin then upgraded the properties and used them to test out new game shows before selling them off to Sun International Company in 1993.

In a similar manner, Griffin purchased and renovated the Beverly Hills hotel and opened up a nightclub which he named the Coconut Club, modeled after the world-famous Coconut Grove.

Griffin continued to grow his wealth into the billions – a feat that is quite rare for a former television star. Despite retiring from acting, Merv continued to work non-stop until his death on August 12, 2007, at the age of 82.

Although he had a remarkably successful career, Griffin was never able to present his genuine self to the public.

Griffin Was Married And Hid His Sexuality

It’s not uncommon for queer celebrities, especially those from times past, to get married as a means of hiding their sexual orientation. Countless stars, including Rock Hudson, Anthony Perkins, and Elton John have taken this tried-and-true route.

After marrying his wife, Julann Weight, in 1958 and divorcing her in 1976, Merv hid his sexuality by dating actress Eva Gabor. While he was rumored to have been involved with many stars, none of these alleged relationships caught the media’s attention quite like his connection with Gabor did.

Griffin and Eva were friends for 17 years. Gabor was born into an upper-middle class family in Budapest, and she began her professional career as an ice skater and cafe singer.

In time, Eva moved to the US after meeting and marrying a Swedish-born LA physician in 1939. Gabor’s mother, Jolie, and her sisters Magda and Zsa Zsa Gabor arrived in America in the early 1940s.

After arriving in the United States, Eva signed a contract with Paramount Pictures, started taking acting lessons, and learned to speak English fluently. Soon enough, she appeared in the 1941 film Forced Landing, which, while not being that successful, helped launch her acting career.

By the 1950s, Gabor and her sisters were full-fledged celebs. During that period, she received praise for her appearances in Broadway productions like The Happy Time. This eventually led to the development of The Eva Gabor Show.

By 1953, all three sisters had nightclub acts in Las Vegas. Eva then appeared in another film called The Last Time I Saw Paris. Eva’s most noteworthy acting role came when she was cast as Lisa Douglas on Green Acres. The show aired on CBS from 1965 to 1971.

In the 1990s, Eva and Griffin were regularly seen beside each other. The television mogul also starred alongside her in the film Return of Green Acres. Griffin, when asked, would explain his relationship with Gabor by stating that while they loved each other, they often pursued relationships with other people.

Eva and Griffin went everywhere together. From Morocco to other island getaways, the two were always in each other’s company. They at one point planned on getting married. Eva even asked Nancy Reagan to be her matron of honor.

Unfortunately, those plans never materialized. According to Merv, he and Eva were driven apart by their inability to agree on the house they would live in together and which staff members Eva would bring along with her. He later revealed that the breakup happened just before Eva’s tragic death.

Gabor died of respiratory distress at the age of 74 on July 4, 1995.

Merv’s Marriage to Julann Wright Was Likely For Show

As we previously mentioned, Merv Griffin married Julann Wright in 1958. Together, the couple had a son whom they named Tony Griffin. Whenever asked about his private life, Griffin would frequently quip that he was a ‘quarter-sexual’, as he was willing to do anything with anyone for a quarter. It’s unclear if he and Julann really ever loved each other or if the marriage was purely to deflect the rumors that he was gay, because most of the time he was very secretive about his business and personal life. Either way, he and wright separated and divorced in 1976. After going their separate ways, the two remained friends for many years.

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