The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic blogs at TVWeek.com with wit, humor and strong opinion.


Tom Shales

The Quality of Mercy

August 15, 2007 8:26 AM

tomshalesblog.jpgIt took only a few hours after news circulated that entertainer and entrepreneur Merv Griffin had died (at 82, Sunday, in Los Angeles) for a drumbeat of wrath—yes, wrath—to begin on some of the Internet's fringe Web sites, where Griffin was assailed by various contributors for allegedly having been a "closeted" homosexual who should have announced he was gay to the world—though at which stage of his career he should have made the declaration was not specified.

Perhaps when he was a big-band singer in the '40s? Or a talk-show host from the '60s through the '80s? Perhaps when he emcee'd "Play Your Hunch" in the '50s. It would have been career suicide at any rate, but some of the angry voices implied Griffin should have gone public with his sexuality anyway—whatever it may have been.

Griffin—just "Merv" to the world—was married early in his career and had one son. In later decades rumors did indeed circulate about Griffin allegedly throwing gay parties and being escorted by handsome young men. Two lawsuits from men claiming Griffin essentially jilted them were dismissed.

Whatever, the vehemence and fury in the attacks was disheartening. "A bloated pig like that should burn in hell," wrote one anonymous assailant. Michelangelo Signorile, who runs a Web site called The Gist, wrote that Griffin could have helped prevent the AIDS epidemic if only he had spoken to his friends Ronald and Nancy Reagan about it, but that "it is highly unlikely" he ever did, preferring to remain "shockingly silent" even as "his own people were dying."

No benefit of a doubt for poor old Merv.

There were lots of allegations, virtually no documentation, and a discomfortingly virulent tone to many of the entries (one writer referred to the late star as "Perv Griffin"), but others wrote to defend Griffin and to say that his sexuality was his own business. A few noted that for Griffin to have declared himself gay during the period of his greatest success would likely have ended it, times and attitudes being what they were.

The Internet is rife with rantings from what sometimes sound like members of a lynch mob. In this case, one might think that victims of persecution would feel a tad more reluctant to persecute someone else, especially a recently deceased man.

It would, of course, be just as wrong ever to think that a vocal malicious minority is representative of any race, political party or sexual persuasion.

Or so let us hope.


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Comments (6)

Mr. Shales, "Me thinks thou dost protest too much."

I don't know what those fags are complaining about. Everybody in showbiz knew about Merv, as well as a lot of others who kept it to themselves.(You want a list?) Those 'different' people seem to want everybody to go by their rules, just like the thought police who object to certain words, even as they speak them themselves.

Tom Shales is right. There is no mercy for Merv Griffin or anyone else in this internet age of "burn'em dead or alive, just be sure to burn'em."

One can only imagine how the lives of the Virgin Mary or Christ would be "reported" if they walked among us today.

So sad. Rest in peace, Merv.


Merv Griffin was under no obligation to share his sexual preference.

Just as we have to realize that choices among those who regard themselves as pro-choice include choosing not to have an abortion, the GLBT community must realize that, just as they have a right to "come out," they have no right to "out" anyone else- unless that person says one thing and does another.

Stacy Harris

I would suggest you all read Ray Richmond's column about Merv. Ray worked for Merv in the mid 80s.

It's not slamming the guy to say that he was gay. It's actually sad that he couldn't be himself.

It's always sad when people can't be themselves, Mr. Shales.


Tom, there's no use going after anonymous commenters on a celebrity blog. Look hard enough and you can find anonymous trolls who would claim that Mother Teresa was a pedophile crackhead.

However, Signorile's essay is fair game -- and what Signorile noted was that Merv Griffin wasn't just closeted, which would have been his own business, but homophobic to those outside himself. He fired openly gay men who worked at his studio, which makes him just as mean-spirited and closed-minded as a straight homophobe who would do the same thing. The results are the same, anyway.

I assume that Merv remained closeted because of shame and personal demons; there certainly weren't any external circumstances that could have prevented his coming out, at least not after 1986 when he was no longer on the air but making millions trading in Hollywood real estate. For his crippling shame, I feel compassion. But if he could have summoned the courage (yes, courage), he would have come out ... and the gay men in his circle and in his employ -- those who DID possess the courage I speak of -- would have been better off for it.

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