In a nutshell, that's his epitaph—from the gay community, at least.
You would expect editorials about Griffin from the Washington Blade and other gay publications. But yesterday, the not-so-totally-gay Hollywood Reporter published a stunning editorial from Ray Raymond: 'Merv Griffin died a closeted homosexual.'
"Merv Griffin was gay," it begins.
Reuters picked it up, and more media have begun to run it. (Hat tip to PageOneQ, the compendium of gay online news, for the ongoing Griffin alerts.)
[The article was deleted hours after this diary on August 17, 2007 from the Hollywood Reporter website, according to HuffPo and other sources. Later, the article was restored under a new title: 'Griffin never revealed man behind the curtain.' See UPDATES below.]
[H]ow tremendously sad it is that a man of Merv's renown, 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.
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.
A lot of gay people are sympathetic to the closet, because many of them know the pain of once having lived that fiction — I am sympathetic, even if my generation of gay 30- and 40-somethings, the 'tween generation', came out of the closet years ago and knows there is no going back.
(I live in Los Angeles, and have sometimes joked that I am of a gay generation 20 years younger than David Geffen, but one that has been out longer than him... And that's not a dig at Geffen. It's an acknowledgment of the way the movement has evolved, and how our elders have evolved with it.)
Merv Griffin, who died at 82, came of age when homosexuality was something very difficult to talk about, even by homosexuals. I have met old, openly-gay men who can still only bring themselves talk about the "friend" they have lived with for 50 years. It's a matter of custom for them, of habitual discretion. I understand that. I respect that.
But Merv lived in Hollywood, and Merv knew better—he surely knew that times had changed. And so the lack of mourning for Merv Griffin from a younger generation of gay men is notable.
Ray Raymond wrote about Griffin from firsthand experience:
I had more than a passing acquaintance with him, having worked on "The Merv Griffin Show" as a talent coordinator/segment producer in 1985-86 as the show was winding down. Around the office, Merv's being gay was understood but rarely discussed (and certainly never with him). We knew nothing of his relationships because he guarded his privacy fiercely, and we didn't pry.
Merv's secret gay life was widely known throughout showbiz culture, if not the wider America. It gained traction in 1991 when he was targeted in a pair of lawsuits: by "Dance Fever" host Denny Terrio, alleging sexual harassment; and by assistant Brent Plott seeking $200 million in palimony. Both ultimately were dismissed.
When I was a teenager back in the 1980s, I remember reading a short Enquirer or tabloid item about Merv Griffin. It insinuated the he liked to rent two young men at the same time: one with surfer blond California looks, another with dark Italian-American New Yorker looks.
As titillating as that image was (I was so young and naive myself, I didn't even know you could rent boys, let alone a three-way!), it hardly served as a gay life inspiration... If the image did anything, it pathologized homosexuality, and alienated me from accepting the label. There was no word in that lurid tabloid item about whether Merv had anything like a normal gay relationship.
Years later, if you were reading carefully, you found out that Merv Griffin apparently papered-over his long-term lovers — one of them a hunky horse-trainer who shared his bed for years — in massive legal counterclaims. That can't have been a happy experience for anyone involved. What a sad, miserable, gay life.
If you're Griffin, why would you think a judgmental culture would be any more tolerant as you grew into middle and old age? 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. And Merv's brush with tabloid scandal no doubt only drove him further into the closet.
Poor Merv... They say he died with $1.6 billion.
He could have afforded to be honest.
UPDATE: It's not a crime! I probably should have mentioned that Merv Griffin gave nothing to gay causes, and used none of his fortune or fame to help gay men as the AIDS epidemic ravaged America even as he was hiring street kids for his own personal delectation. My bad!
And to those of you who 'don't care' about his sexuality, per corvo, "I think it helps explain why he was such a rabid Republican: defense mechanism, overcompensation." Griffin gave generously to Republican causes. And no, he never came out, which is why the New York Times (in its obituary) reported "insinuations" that he was gay, but could confirm no relationships.
UPDATE II: It's not the crime, it's the cover-up! (August 18, 2007): Reuters the editorial (and its link) within hours of this diary being posted. And this just in: the Hollywood Reporter pulled the article later in the day, according to Huffington Post. The editorial is still visible on Raymond's website and other places on the net (and on Yahoo! News and Canada.com with its original title intact).
UPDATE III: Poetic justice? (August 19, 2007): Rosie O'Donnell attended the 1995 funeral of Eva Gabor, who was Merv Griffin's friend and 'beard' for many years.
I recommend Rosie's memorial poem, "MERV GRIFFIN," from August 13th. An excerpt:
"get up odonnell
we’re the only 2 catholics in here
for gods sake
take the host"
and i did
Following an old Hollywood custom, O'Donnell didn't (exactly) say Merv was gay. Not in so many words.
Editor and Publisher weighs in, as the newly-dubbed 'Mervgate' scandal continues...