Questioning Merv’s Sexuality

Sunday August 12, 2007

If you read the Associated Press report on Merv Griffin's death yesterday, you may have been aware there was something missing: persistent rumors of Griffin's homosexuality made public by a number of lawsuits brought against the entertainment mogul by former employees.

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) took a look at the way a number of major news outlets reported this aspect of Griffin's life. Below are their findings:

Washington Post: Merv Griffin, long the escort of 'Green Acres' actress Eva Gabor, refrained from discussing his personal relationships in any real detail -- even in two autobiographies. Two lawsuits did nothing to quell persistent rumors of his homosexuality. In the early 1990s, he was sued for $200 million by a former male employee, Brent Plott, on palimony charges, and for $11.5 million by former 'Dance Fever' host Deney Terrio for sexual harassment. Both cases were eventually dismissed.

The New York Times: Mr. Griffin and his wife, the former Julann Wright, were divorced in 1976. They had a son, Anthony, who, along with two grandchildren, survives him. Over the years, he squired many Hollywood actresses, including Eva Gabor, and he was close friends with Nancy Reagan, introducing her to Joan Quigley, the San Francisco astrologer.

But he was also dogged by sex scandals and insinuations that he was gay. In 1991, he was sued by Denny Terrio, the host of "Dance Fever," another show Mr. Griffin created, alleging sexual harassment. The same year, Brent Plott, a longtime employee who worked as a bodyguard, horse trainer and driver, filed a $200 million palimony lawsuit. Mr. Griffin characterized both lawsuits as extortion; ultimately, both suits were dismissed.

Mr. Griffin consistently evaded answering questions about his sexuality. In a 2005 interview with The New York Times, he said: "I tell everybody that I'm a quartre-sexual. I will do anything with anybody for a quarter."

The Los Angeles Times: Griffin's 1958 marriage to Julann Wright, whom he met when she was TV personality Robert Q. Lewis' secretary-assistant, produced a son, Tony, and ended in divorce in 1976. Griffin later had a close relationship with actress Eva Gabor, who died in 1995. He was also good friends with former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

In 1991, Griffin, then 65, was facing a multimillion-dollar palimony suit from Brent Plott, a 37-year-old former employee who claimed that for years he had been Griffin's business consultant and lover and was entitled to a large share of his fortune.

"We lived together, shared the same bed, same house," Plott told NBC News. "He told me he loved me."

In a statement issued by his attorney, Griffin denied Plott's claims.

"This is a shameless attempt to extort money from me," he said. "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."

The same year, Deney Terrio, the host of "Dance Fever," the disco show executive-produced by Griffin in the late 1970s and '80s, filed an $11.3-million sexual harassment suit against him.

Both cases reportedly were eventually dismissed, but questions about Griffin's sexuality lingered.

For his part, Griffin dismissed the issue with characteristic good humor, telling the New York Times in 2005 with a sly grin: "I tell everybody that I'm a quatre-sexual: I will do anything with anybody for a quarter."

Associated Press: Griffin and Julann Elizabeth Wright were married in 1958, and their son, Anthony, was born the following year. They divorced in 1973 because of "irreconcilable differences."

"It was a pivotal time in my career, one of uncertainty and constant doubt," he wrote in the autobiography. "So much attention was being focused on me that my marriage felt the strain." He never remarried.

(No mention of palimony/harassment suits or homosexuality.)