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Hollywood trade mag discusses Merv's closet

[UPDATE: The Hollywood Reporter yanked the Richmond piece! You can still find it on Reuters’ web site.]

Merv Griffin, the entertainment mogul who passed away the other day at 82, has been rightfully lionized for his role in Hollywood history. Michelangelo Signorile notes in his post, the truth on Merv is bubbling up, Griffin’s semi-closeted life — and the lack of media coverage about it — has finally become a newsworthy topic on its own, with a dustup along the way.

Ray Richmond, a former colleague on Merv’s talk show in the 80s (and was well aware of Griffin’s orientation), stepped up to the plate and wrote a piece for one of the industry’s trade magazines, The Hollywood Reporter (“Griffin never revealed man behind the curtain”).

[W]hat 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.

As it was, I loved the guy, finding him charismatic and charming. And 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. We knew nothing of his relationships because he guarded his privacy fiercely, and we didn’t pry.

This reporting on the subject of Merv Griffin’s sexual orientation was likely spurred by Mike’s no-holds-barred examination, Merv Griffin’s Dangerous Closet. Signorile, the author of the landmark Queer in America (1993) discussed how the protected, openly closeted life of the late entertainer and mogul led to silence during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. Griffin, a close friend of the Reagans, and who served as a pallbearer at the former president’s funeral, chose not to leverage his personal influence.

Mike was swiftly upbraided by Tom Shales the other day for daring to open up Griffin’s publicly closeted life. Someone needs to send Shales a copy of The Hollywood Reporter and ask him if that’s unfair discussion of Merv’s life — a colleague pointing out the hypocrisy of an industry that still has way too many locked closets.

As I wrote over at Pandagon, it is clearly a personal decision to become an out activist when you’re not a political figure or elected official.  It’s unfortunate and tragic that, given the access to the Reagans he had, Griffin didn’t feel he could do more, even privately. As he was a multimillionaire and smart businessman, there was little risk to him financially for coming out. Griffin was a man of a different era when it came to the closet, it’s unlikely that any celebrity of his era would have been willing to go on the record in the media for any kind of gay rights advocacy. It just didn’t happen. And the right likes it that way — witness their increasing hysteria as more gays and lesbians kick the closet door open.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding