Merv Griffin Delivers G2E Keynote Speech

20 September 2002

by Jeff Simpson

LAS VEGAS--Merv Griffin found himself in an unusual position Thursday as he delivered a keynote speech at the Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Instead of asking the questions, the longtime TV talk-show host answered them for about an hour, sharing some of his exploits as an entertainer, television producer and casino owner with about 800 expo-goers.

Griffin was introduced by a former employee, a New York lawyer Griffin hired to run his casino operations, including Resorts International in Atlantic City and Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

Griffin said the former employee, Park Place Entertainment President and CEO Tom Gallagher, was a brilliant lawyer and executive.

"And now he runs the biggest company in the business," Griffin said. "Tom's so bright it's terrifying."

Gallagher couldn't hide his affection for his mentor.

"Merv's a man I know and admire, a man who's taught me more than anyone else," the Park Place boss said.

Most of Griffin's memories centered on his Las Vegas days, first as a singer at Strip casinos, later as the host of "The Merv Griffin Show," a television talk show that filmed eight weeks a year at Caesars Palace.

"I am a part of the history of this city," Griffin said. "My first journey (here) was down a little two-lane highway: Las Vegas Boulevard."

From his first appearance as a singer at the Last Frontier in 1948, Griffin said he enjoyed the Las Vegas resort environment. He mentioned Bugsy Siegal's Flamingo, calling the Strip property "too far out of town. But with Benjamin Siegal we never used the other name, or you'd end up dead in the desert."

Griffin once surprised Caesars Palace bosses when he was able to get singer and actor Bing Crosby to appear on one of his shows at the resort.

Caesars executives hadn't been able to lure Crosby to entertain at the property's showroom, but the singer wanted to visit a Las Vegas dentist and Griffin was able to get the penny-pinching Crosby to appear by paying the crooner's air fare.

"I paid for his air fare down, he performed, he got his teeth fixed, and he flew home," Griffin explained.

On another occasion the "fabulous" Siegfried and Roy appeared on the TV show and one of the Teutonic twosome's bengal tigers escaped its handler.

"The cameraman ran and the orchestra ran into the dressing room and the tiger sat on my foot," Griffin said. "Siegfried and Roy started talking in German, and finally they got him and I lived."

Griffin said that one of then-Strip casino owner Howard Hughes' aides said Griffin was Hughes' favorite singer.

Griffin wasn't pleased.

"How'd you like to be the favorite singer of a deaf man?" he deadpanned.

Griffin explained why his popular creations "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" have been very successful game shows, the two top syndicated programs in TV history.

"It's the edge where the person watching at home thinks she knows the answer, the son-in-law that can answer a 'Jeopardy!' question before the television contestant," Griffin said.

And as for why he hired Vanna White, he offered two surprising answers.

"Because she knew the alphabet," he first said, before saying that he was struck by the size of her head when he compared glossy photos of prospecctive Wheel of Fortune hostesses.

"She has a big head," Griffin said. "But then all of the big stars have big heads: Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe. Even my head is big. It's a size 7 7/8."

Related Links
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2002