Griffin leaves his mark on Mid-Missouri

The entertainer, dead at 82, touched the lives of many through his work.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:44 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mid-Missouri residents recall that Merv Griffin changed the face of the American entertainment industry through not only his work, but also his grandiose personality.

In 1990, AJ Schnack graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree from MU. Schnack is now a filmmaker in Los Angeles and has directed four movies. But his beginnings in Hollywood are what connect him to Griffin. Schnack’s second full-time job in Los Angeles was working on one of Griffin’s game shows, “Ruckus.” Schnack described the show Aug. 12 in his blog as “the biggest game show flop Merv Griffin ever created.”

“I first met Merv when he ambled down the hall from his office at the Beverly Hilton Hotel,” Schnack wrote. “He was introduced to everyone in quick succession. And that was it. From then on, he knew your name. I half suspect that had I run into him a year ago and made some mention of having worked for him once, he’d immediately remember my name, the show and my hometown.

“Merv was, frankly, larger than life. Sometimes with celebrities you are struck by how they seem less than their public image — shorter, less attractive, less commanding. But Merv was big — not just his waist size, although that too — and he strode around his hotel, his Atlantic City casino, glad-handing the guests, the tourists, the workers. He was a showman. And he was in total control.”

Griffin had the ability to have a big impact in even a small amount of time, Schnack wrote.

“He was one of a kind, that Merv. And although I had to endure a job from hell, his small cameo appearance in my life has left me with some cracking stories. And I have to believe that the master storyteller wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Kerri Yost, co-chair of Mass Media at Stephens College, said she admires and appreciates Griffin’s role in the history of American entertainment.

“He was very, very influential in the world of comedy,” she said. “He’s certainly been one of the most long-standing guys in entertainment history and key in getting a lot of young people’s starts back on the Merv Griffin Show.”

Rich Hancock, a radio personality on 103.9 KRLI, saw Griffin while working in Las Vegas in the ’70s.

“Merv Griffin touched a generation of Americans in several ways,” Hancock said. “His TV show was one of the best, highlighting great musicians, actors and interesting guests.” Hancock remembers Griffin as both personable and real.

“He looked and sounded like the guy you would like to have as a neighbor,” he said. “And, I suppose, he was a neighbor to a generation of TV viewers. His musical background, which goes back to singing with big bands, was eclipsed by his ability to entertain on TV and develop new TV concepts including ‘Jeopardy’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ He had a knack of finding what people liked to watch. In a nutshell, he was likable. He was the real deal and he leaves many friends.”

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