Sunday, August 12, 2007

All Out of Coconuts

Well, Merv Griffen died today, and why should we care? After all: he wasn't Diddy or even Donald Trump. He was a crooner, for God's sake, who was best known as a talk show host. What's the big deal?

Well, for one thing, he is an example of how, if you are willing to get into the business side of entertainment--where the real money is--you can parley a modicum of notoriety into a powerful career. Griffen was as much a tycoon as Hearst or Murdoch, and that's an accomplishment for a guy who started his career as the on-air vocalist at KFRC in San Francisco in the 40s for $100 a week. All successful entertainers start out small, but it was where Griffen went that was amazing. After a singing career he became a talk show host. Then he invented two of the most successful shows on television, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. When he sold the rights to these for $250 million plus a cut of the profits, he invested in real estate, bought the Beverly Hilton, and then wrested control of Resorts International from Trump. I was at the Breeder's Cup in 2005 when his horse Steviewonderboy won the juvenile. He played the crowd like the pro he was. He was great.

Here's what I learned from Merv Griffen: the rich don't technically make that much money. When People profiled him back in the 80s as a media tycoon, he noted that while he lived in a big house and had nice cars and a limo with a driver, that his salary was only $600 a week, which was his spending money. I made almost that much in 1998. It was an eye opener on how money really works.

I always admired Merv Griffen. He'll be missed. One day we'll probably be talking about Diddy and Jay Z in the same way.


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