Merv Griffin’s Book of People by Merv Griffin and Peter Barsocchini. Review by Ken Puddicombe

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BY MERV GRIFFIN WITH PETER BARSOCCHINI Copyright 1982 By Merv Griffin and Nippersink Enterprises, Inc.


Merv Griffin (1925-2007) was an internationally famous TV host and author. Peter Barsocchini was the producer of “The Merv Griffin Show” 

Merv Griffin’s Book Of People was one of the books languishing in my library over several years. I was looking for a non-fiction book to replace the one I’d just completed (I tend to alternate between fiction, poetry and non-fiction simultaneously, for balance) when it caught my eye. In this pandemic year (2020) I was pleasantly surprised with the wisdom and acuity that spilled from its pages and from the many personalities Griffin interviewed over the years.

Orson Welles was interviewed by Griffin several times (a rarity) on his show and was adamant during preliminary research on him that he didn’t want to talk about the past. “There won’t be any trips down memory lane with this guy,” Griffin’s talent coordinator told him. Welles told Griffin: “…there are places you shouldn’t go back to.” “It’s like saying you can’t go home again,” Griffin adds. “Once I fall in love with a place I’m not in love with it after it’s changed; I have not found anywhere in the world that is better than it was.” So true! Nothing remains static. Not time, nor place, not friends or family.

Welles lost both parents in his teens and found it a traumatic experience. It prompted Griffin to ponder whether there is a link between the early death of a parent and genius. Griffin: “Time and again I have heard from these people (gifted writers and actors, painters and politicians interviewed on his show) that early in their lives they suffered the loss of one or both parents. I hear it often enough to call it a pattern…one might suggest that the loss of a parent leaves a void often filled, or perhaps replaced, by a remarkable career.” Aristotle, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton are among those who fall in this category. Famous celebrities include Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts, Paul McCartney. 

Griffin also explores the connection, even obsession, between the need to accomplish as one grows older and senses that time is running out. “I fear dying before I have accomplished something that I’m not ashamed of, that I’m even a little proud of,” Welles told him. Griffin recalled writers like James Jones (From Here To Eternity), Irving Stone (Love is Eternal), James Michener (South Pacific) telling him of the many books they hoped to write before they died. Hope springs eternal and this is what drove them in later years — the thought of being able to complete the manuscript(s) fomenting in the inner recesses of their consciousness, and perhaps dreams.

Welles deplored the “awful idleness of the old…the old have no purpose unless they have power. It is not love so much that keeps us going, it’s power. That’s why symphony conductors never die; they have that enormous orchestra in front of them, and they exercise in front of it like an athlete.” So true. I also think that switching gears in mid-life, reverting back to a long-cherished goal, pursuing a career one gave up early in life due to expediency, helps to cultivate that drive.

A final word from Welles. “I don’t want to admit anything I’ve done is good enough to be remembered anymore…the books we write are printed on paper of a nature which will fall to pieces in forty or fifty years. The paint today’s artists use is badly made and is falling off the canvas. We now make only color movies and color fades, and the very color of our celluloid will be gone in sixty or seventy years. So why do we all labor so, trying to create works of art? I think we do it for the best reason in the world: for ourselves, for the joy of the work. Anything else that comes with it is so much gravy.” For the best reason in the world: ourselves. No better reason to write! 

In direct contradiction with Griffin, actor Burt Reynolds (Deliverance) told him: “The most important thing in the world to me…are the friends…I grew up with…That’s why I keep coming back home.” But it’s an everchanging world out there where nothing remains the same. The friends I knew in childhood are no longer there —they are scattered all over the world. The place where I grew up no longer exists, for all intent and purposes. Family is the one constant that brings happiness, no matter what part of the world one lives. Family is home!

Griffin on Alfred Hitchcock: “Mystery did not matter to him; suspense did.” Hitchcock believed in plot instead of excessive violence, and the need to bring the viewer’s imagination actively into play. So much similarity in effective and appealing writing. The audience (readers) must go through emotions but you can’t go through emotions by telling them without showing! Writing has to be the right. Mix of telling and showing.

Accepting who and what we are and the point in time where we are. Sophia Loren (1961 Best Actress for Two Women): “I never think about age. Never. I think you have to get along with the years and look the best you can, and be free to be age that you are.”

Time and again, famous people interviewed by Griffin came back to the central theme that it was important to enjoy what you do, above everything else. Francis Ford Coppola (Best Director: The Godfather): “Our wealth is not based on money — that is not my concept of wealth…it’s based on what we can do. So if I was to be wiped out financially, I’d still have some good ideas, I’d still want to make movies.” It’s a principle that has driven me my entire life, especially in those phases where an economic downturn necessitated movement in the workforce. While there’s life, there’s always hope and no job is demeaning if it results in an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work!

Griffin on writing and writers, and he interviewed scores over the years. “Because I’m used to the instant feedback of the stage and television, I had developed a deep curiosity and respect for these people who labor privately, relying on their instincts to guide their work…men and women who spent their days in isolation, confronting their muse and challenging their intellect, hoping to produce in a year’s time, or two years, or ten years, a book that would be read and remembered.” No better tribute to a writer can be paid. A lonelier profession does not exist and the outcome more unpredictable than that of a writer.

Still on the subject of writers and writing. Griffin asked James Jones: “Didn’t living in Paris…with a view of Notre Dame…have to be a more favorable atmosphere for writing than a trailer?” Jones response: “No…Everything is terrible for writing. I need a blank wall and a typewriter. If I have a window or a good view I never work, I’ll sit and look at the view.” Every writer has his own approach on obtaining that necessary muse that provides inspiration. Jones’ method was simple: he looked on writing as hard work demanding blood, sweat and tears. 

Griffin interviewed Interviewer Barbara Walters (two Emmy Awards for Best Interviewer). Walters was noted for her conversations with famous politicians and world figures such as Anwar Sadat (President of Egypt), Jimmy Carter (President of USA), King Hussein (of Jordan) and in one of her most famous sessions, Fidel Castro who, according to Walters, “bends over backwards to treat men and women just the same. Before going down there (Cuba) I read reports about how macho he is and how he flirts with all the female reporters; it’s baloney. He treated me as a professional.” What seemed to stand out in Griffin’s interview of Walters, though, was her bitter reflection on the jealousy and misogynistic attitudes in the television industry. It got worse when she became a $1M a year newswoman with criticism leveled against her for the way she did her interviews, or even for the way she dressed, without focusing on her work itself! Has misogynistic behavior changed in today’s (2020) society?

Still on the subject of misogynism and lack of recognition of women’s invaluable role in society, Griffin interviewed Will and Ariel Durant (both winners of Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction). He pointed out that the couple “seemed to lead a life feminists of the sixties and seventies strived for: that rare combination of fulfilling a noteworthy career andhaving a successful marriage. I asked if those two decades would produce great women of history.” Ariel Durant’s response that history’s greatest women lived four hundred years ago, surprised him. She said: “In France especially… The manners of a nation were the responsibility of the women… It was these women who kept education and refinement going. Men returned from wars with their crude mannerisms, so it was up to the women of that time to educate not only the children but also the men.”  

Timothy Leary (Harvard professor famous for his advocacy of LSD) told Griffin: 
“Religious beliefs are a vital factor in every civilization, because the State itself is not strong enough to maintain social order. Without religion, we probably wouldn’t have had a civilization.” People need to believe. People need to believe in something! Anything! It’s the reason why people followed Jim Jones into the jungles of Guyana and committed mass suicide

I highly recommend this book if still in print or on eBook.


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3 thoughts on “Merv Griffin’s Book of People by Merv Griffin and Peter Barsocchini. Review by Ken Puddicombe

  1. An excellent and in-depth review. Interviewing is an art, and Merv Griffin had it in spades, burrowing to the heart of the matter without having the subject storm off the set. That takes tact and the intuition in knowing how far is too far. Merv Griffin loved an audience. Would he have continued if he had none? I guess we will never know now.

    Liked by 1 person

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