Main | Friday, August 17, 2007

Rethinking Merv Griffin

Spurred by Michelangelo Signorile's withering appraisal of Merv Griffin's legacy as a closeted gay man, the Hollywood Reporter yesterday published a column posthumously outing Griffin, something the mainstream media had failed to do definitively, despite some making references to Griffin's sexual harassment and gay palimony lawsuits.

After reading Signorile's post and stewing over it a couple a days, I appeared on his Sirius OutQ show on Tuesday to elaborate on my change of opinion on Griffin. As a teenage boy, I would rush home from school to catch Griffin's afternoon show, unaware that the I had been entranced by the show's quintessentially queer subtext. Unable to stay up late for Carson, on Merv I found glamor, movie stars, staged cat fights between divas, and gay act after gay act. On Merv, I saw Sylvester live for the first time. I saw Truman Capote, Sir Monti Rock III, Liberace, and on and on. I didn't know at the time exactly what it was about Merv that struck such a chord with me, but there it was. Merv was gay, his show was gay. I knew it, but I didn't know I knew it.

Once Merv's show left the air, I pretty much forgot about him. I read the occasional news story about his post-show biz triumphs as a real estate mogul, and I suppose I admired him for his ingenious crafting of game shows with such broad appeal that local versions popped up in every country in the world. But now, we must review Merv Griffin in a different light.

For over 20 years after leaving the public eye, utterly safe from any career damage that coming out might have cost him, Merv Griffin remained silent. He remained silently by the side of the Reagans, his good friends, as AIDS devastated his show business colleagues. His billions, undirected to the fight. His name, unlent. Some may say that no man is required to come out, no man is obligated to come to the aid of his fellow queer, that a life lived quietly - doing no harm - is all that we should ask.

I disagree.

With enormous wealth, power, and prestige, comes enormous responsibility. Merv Griffin had a moral responsibility to publicly, with great noise, come to aid of his fellow queers, wielding his heavy checkbook. He had a moral responsibility to disavow Ronald Reagan, instead he carried Reagan's casket. How different might the early AIDS years have been, if Merv Griffin, who had the ear of Ronald Reagan, had coaxed the man to pay some FUCKING ATTENTION? How different would the early plague years have been had Merv Griffin tossed a couple of hundred of his millions to researchers, who were screaming for more government funding?

Tim Gill. Brooke Astor. Bill Gates. Those are names that history will treat kindly. Those are humans who recognized that their awesome wealth imbued them with awesome responsibilities. I'm not interested in whatever charities Merv Griffin may have supported. He did not support us, queers, his people. Merv Griffin was a successful singer. A successful TV personality. A successful entrepreneur. But as a gay man, as a human being, he was a failure.

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