Merv Griffin, host of “The Merv Griffin Show,” married his friend and became a father of one son during their marriage

    It has been alleged that legendary TV producer and the game show host of “The Merv Griffin Show,” Merv Griffin led a “secret gay life” while he was alive. The media mogul was previously married to Julann Wright, and the two share a son, Tony Griffin. After the couple divorced, Griffin allegedly entered a romantic relationship with Hungarian-American actress Eva Gabor.

    However, it was reported that their relationship was strictly platonic. When asked about his sexuality, Griffin never confirmed nor denied rumors about him being gay; his co-stars and staff members have purported this to be true. Griffin was also charged with two lawsuits by two men, confirming that the TV star led a secret life.

    Merv Griffin was among the most popular and successful television talk-show hosts in the 60s. In thirty years, he was able to build the Merv Griffin Enterprises empire that was home to an array of the best game shows on television, including the classic favorite “Wheel of Fortune.” Shortly after he became an “Atlantic City casino magnate,” at the pinnacle of his career, Griffin was charged with a palimony suit in April 1991.

    Merv Griffin and Bjorn Borg at a tennis charity match event in Las Vegas 1986 | Source: Getty Images

    A gentleman named Brent Plott from Florida, who was thirty-seven at the time, sued Griffin for $200 million, claiming a breach of contract. According to Plott, Griffin promised to care for him for the rest of his life. Plott stated that Griffin had professed his love for him and that the two men had lived together and even slept in the same bed for four years before Plott decided to leave in 1985.

    The suit that Plott filed was based on the grounds of him not only being Griffin’s “lover” who he promised “solace and emotional support” but also for the fact that Plott claimed to have been a business consultant of Griffin’s and stated that he helped the TV mogul select Vanna White for “Wheel of Fortune.” Griffin dismissed Plott’s claims, chalking it up to the fact that Plott was only trying to extort him by lying:

    “This is a shameless attempt to extort money from me. This former bodyguard and horse trainer was paid $250 a week, lived in one of two apartments underneath my former house as part of his security function, and left my payroll six or seven years ago. His charges are ridiculous and untrue.”

    Plott claimed to have met Griffin in Monte Carlo the same year Griffin divorced his ex-wife, Julann Wright, in 1976. It was alleged that Griffin had been the one to beg Plott to move in with him for years before Plott eventually agreed. The case was dismissed with prejudice in November 1991 by Los Angeles Superior Court judge Diane Wayne, who also granted monetary sanctions of $2,000 against Plott.

    The following month after Griffin’s first case was dismissed, “Dance Fever” host Deney Terrio filed an additional lawsuit against Griffin. The TV host claimed that he had been sexually assaulted by Griffin in 1978 and sought $11.3 million as reparation. Terrio’s suit alleged:

    “Commencing in 1978 and continuing through the parties’ business relationship, the Defendant, Merv Griffin, made ongoing explicit homosexual advances towards [Terrio]. Griffin persisted in said advances, often speaking of the financial gains that [Terrio] would enjoy.”

    Griffin’s lawyer denied the claims, and the Los Angeles federal court threw the case out in June 1992. After the lawsuits were dismissed, a plethora of gay men located in New York started to wear T-shirts with the slogan: “I didn’t sleep with Merv” printed on them. The constant allegations and outings about Merv’s sexuality caused him to steer entirely clear of the gay community and refrain from supporting gay rights initiatives.

    Merv Griffin at the 38th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in California 1986 | Source: Getty Images

    For many years, Griffin was seen in the company of “Green Acres” actress Eva Gabor. The pair went out on regular dates that were said to be strictly “platonic” up until she died in 1995. Though the public at large believed that Griffin would use the company of Gabor to “cover up” or “hide” his homosexuality, Eva’s sister, Zsa Zsa, believed otherwise:

    “Eva is going to marry Merv Griffin. They are just coming back from the Bahamas. I’m not supposed to tell, but I just can’t shut up.”

    Despite Zsa Zsa claiming that Eva and Griffin were in a serious and “real” relationship, Griffin’s publicist, Warren Cowan, stated that he could not, in fact, confirm that wedding plans were en route for the couple. Cowan even went so far as to say that he would be “surprised” if Eva and Griffin got married. Nonetheless, Griffin remained “close friends” with the Gabor family, and Zsa Zsa described him as a “wonderful, wonderful man.”

    Eva Gabor and Merv Griffin posing for a picture together in Los Angeles 1985 | Source: Getty Images

    Griffin’s sexual history and sexual orientation only got fully disclosed after the “Jeopardy!” creator passed away in 2007. Many people who have explicitly commented on his “closeted lifestyle” have stated that the TV host kept his sexual identity hidden because of the homophobic nature of the times he was living in. As a result, Griffin would do his best to keep his life private, but his staff and workers reported to know about his secret identity:

    “Around the office, Merv’s being gay was understood but rarely discussed. We knew nothing of his relationships because he guarded his privacy fiercely, and we didn’t pry.”

    Griffin being gay was a widely known truth in Hollywood that did not need to be mentioned because of the “privacy laws” that protect such information from being outed. This is juxtapositioned with the non-judgment that comes with someone saying they have a wife and children instead of being honest about their sexual orientation, which is what Griffin did.

    Using the company of his longtime friend Gabor, Griffin avoided being asked directly about his sexuality; however, he remained known as a “closeted gay talk show host.” When theorizing why Griffin may have felt the need to keep his sexual identity hidden, game show producer Bob Stewart made the following assumption:

    “He could have been honest without repercussions [because] he wasn’t a leading man or sex symbol. He was his own boss. [It] could be [because of] his Catholic background, his Republican persuasion, and his generation, which internalized shame and guilt.”

    Stewart goes on to reveal that four game show announcers who had worked for Griffin in the past came forward to confirm Griffin being in the closet. According to the four sources, it would get increasingly difficult for Griffin to hide his attraction when working with very handsome men. Additionally, the sources reported witnessing Griffin on a cozy date in a dimly lit restaurant with another man, where the two were very clearly flirting.

    Merv Griffin and Eva Gabor at the 20th Annual Scopus Awards in 1990 | Source: Getty Images

    On another separate occasion, American film director Matt Tyrnauer mentioned that Scotty Bowers had confirmed Griffin’s sexuality in a conversation the two men had had in previous years. According to Bowers, Griffin told him about a gas station that doubled as a sort of brothel for gay men where “you would go to get in trouble.”

    The public is still unclear on whether or not what Wright and Griffin shared was, in fact, “real” love. Many continue to speculate whether their marriage was used to deflect rumors that the TV production mogul was gay.

    Griffin did his best to shy away from disclosing his sexuality on numerous occasions. The TV production icon constantly navigated his way through Hollywood under the guise of having relationships with women. However, when it came to Griffin facing the fact that his business was being outed to the public regardless of anything he did to try and keep his life private, the TV host admitted:

    “I tell everybody that I’m a quarter-sexual. I will do anything with anybody for a quarter.”

    Merv Griffin posing for a portrait in Los Angeles 1985 | Source: Getty Images

    This quote from Griffin was later confirmed in the same year The New York Times captured it by CNN Entertainment Correspondent Lola Ogunnaike. On live broadcasting, Ogunnaike doubled down on Griffin’s statement:

    “Well, you know, he was married, he was divorced, and he was dating Eva Gabor. There had been rumors swirling about his sexuality. One of his ex-employees sued him for palimony [and] the case was thrown out of court. But, you know, I said, “Merv, this stuff is out there; talk to me about it,” and he was very frank. He said, “I’m a quarter-sexual.”

    Griffin met his first and only wife, Julann Wright, through Robert Q. Lewis on a radio show. The couple started hanging out as friends before proceeding to wed in May 1958. In 1976, Wright and Griffin divorced but remained lifelong friends until Griffin’s passing on August 12, 2007.

    The ex-couple share one son, Tony Griffin, who is an American actor and writer. Tony is married to Tricia Griffin, and the couple have a daughter, Farah Griffin, and a son, Donovan Mervyn.

    Griffin died from prostate cancer at age 82, taking his secret identity to his grave. Around that time in Hollywood, it was a pretty standard habit for men to hide their sexuality and keep it a secret from the public, especially ones who were in the public eye. According to Facts Verse:

    “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.”

    Donovan Mervyn and Farah Griffin at their grandfather, Merv Griffin's funeral in Beverly Hills 2007 | Source: Getty Images

    Despite having a remarkable career based on his charisma and charm, the authentic Griffin was never able to make an appearance. Until his death, Griffin sought identity coverage from Wright and Gabor.

    The public is still unclear on whether or not what Wright and Griffin shared was, in fact, “real” love. Many continue to speculate whether their marriage was used to deflect rumors that the TV production mogul was gay.

    Wright is now 94, and her son Tony is now 63. The mother and son have yet to comment on whether or not they believe that Merv led a “secret” lifestyle behind closed doors. Nonetheless, Griffin’s legacy is long remembered by his family, who celebrated his life to the fullest at his funeral in 2007.

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