Interview: David recalls late Merv Griffin

 

Merv Griffin

 

Here’s an interview from Times Colonist, David Foster speaks about his friend entertainer Merv Griffin, recently died.

If you’ve been watching Larry King Live lately, chances are you thought you learned everything there was to know about Merv Griffin, the larger-than-life entertainer who died of prostate cancer at age 82 this week.

Obituaries have charted his rise from a San Francisco radio singer to a stage and screen actor, composer, philanthropist, TV talk show host, creator of two of the longest-running game shows in history, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, and an entertainment mogul and real estate tycoon.

What they didn’t mention was how on a cloudy, drizzly evening in December of 1995, nine years after The Merv Griffin Show ended its 23-year run, the genial impresario resurrected his variety show in Victoria for one night only.

“I just had a sense he’d be happy to do it,” recalled Grammy Award-winning musician David Foster. “He was very giving.”

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the David Foster Foundation, the Victoria native’s charity that aids families of children who need organ transplants, Griffin agreed to do the show as a fundraiser at the Victoria Conference Centre.

Details about the charity gala were a closely guarded secret.

“Gala simply Mervelous!” gushed a headline in the Times Colonist over a front-page story recalling the night.

Behind a stage adorned with a white grand piano, plump white couches and Merv’s desk shone a backdrop featuring the legislative buildings and Inner Harbour, with “The Merv Griffin Show” and “Hollywood North” rendered in flowerbeds.

Time and again, Merv and his guests — disco diva Patti LaBelle, crooner Johnny Mathis, 1960s rocker Johnny Rivers and comedian Marty Brill — brought the black-tie crowd to its feet.

Quipped Merv: “It’ll give you a chance to straighten your underwear.”

For Foster, the surreal revival brought back fond memories of his own appearances on The Merv Griffin Show.

“What struck me about Merv was how he took time out for every unknown talent,” recalled Foster.

“I’d sit at the piano and he’d say, ‘Play me some of those pieces you wrote.’ ”

Another little-known fact, he says, was that Griffin and Paul Anka helped Foster get his U.S. green card. “Merv would always remind me, ‘You’re legal because of me, pal!’ ” he said, laughing.

I interviewed Griffin shortly after he flew in from Los Angeles on his Challenger jet that weekend. With his silky silver hair, sapphire-blue eyes and a thick pastel V-neck draped over his rotund frame, he cut a striking figure.

Our conversation remains one of my most pleasurable such experiences because of Griffin’s graciousness. Although he stopped short of singing I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts, his richly distinctive voice, infectious laughter and congeniality were transfixing.

Times Colonist photographer Bruce Stotesbury became a big Merv Griffin fan that day when he showed up for a photo shoot and security wouldn’t let him pass.

“Merv yells, ‘It’s OK, let the photographer through.’ Then he got up and gave me a big handshake. He was great,” Stotesbury said.

I remember wondering whether I should tell Griffin he had ruined the town’s best-kept secret a few nights before the big event when he spilled the beans about his Victoria gig to Tom Snyder on The Late Show on CBS.

It was worth taking the chance it might annoy him just to experience that megawatt smile and hearty laugh close-up.

“That’s very funny!” he said, howling. “Thanks for telling me. No one ever told me it was a secret.”

The Merv Griffin Show, Victoria-style, wasn’t the first time he visited our shores.

During our chat, Griffin reminisced about how during a trip to Seattle as a child he landed in Nanaimo and had to drive through a torrential rainstorm. He also visited Campbell River and April Point for fishing expeditions and his behemoth-like yacht, the Griff, often sailed into the Inner Harbour.

Foster remained friends with Griffin until his death.

One of his favourite reunions was a few years ago when Foster sat around a piano singing Christmas songs with Griffin, Johnny Mathis and former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan.

Foster says he’ll miss his old friend.

“Merv was a superb human being. He left the world a better place. The man was a saint.”

Source: Times Colonist

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