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BOOK REVIEW Merv Griffin: A Life in the Closet
by Terri Schlichmeyer
2009-08-12

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Written by Darwin Porter $26.95; Blood Moon; 560 pages

You just can't help it.

Much as you try, you can't help picking up one of those tabloids while you're waiting in line at the grocery store. This star divorced that one after he had an affair with this one over there because she split up another star's marriage and…

It's just way too much fun to stargaze.

Read the new book Merv Griffin: A Life in the Closet by Darwin Porter, and you'll get an eyeful. Just remember—you've been warned.

One of the most powerful memories Merv Griffin ever had was when his parents were forced out of their home, their belongings confiscated, when young Merv was just five years old. Even at that tender age, he vowed to his mother that he would build her a mansion someday.

Though his father didn't want him to be a performer, talented Merv loved "putting on shows" for neighbors in his aunt's house. That same aunt taught the boy to play piano and, in short order, he was a better pianist than she.

Long before he was a teenager, Porter says, Merv knew he was attracted to boys. That attraction, though his father tried early-on to quash it, strengthened during Merv's adolescence.

Because his uncle was a tennis pro who owned a club and gave lessons to Hollywood's elite, young Merv was able to meet and spend time with stars such as Errol Flynn, Johnny Weissmuller and others. Though Porter said much of that time was spent ogling men in the locker room, Merv became close friends with people—both men and women—who quickly furthered his budding career. Soon, he was singing for and with some of Hollywood's brightest stars.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Merv manipulated his career at every turn by pouncing on every opportunity he found. Porter indicates that, by the time Merv was called for an audition with Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, he was well-known and had an established fan base.

And he had quite a reputation in Hollywood … for more than just his singing.

Reading like a Naked Who's Who of Hollywood, Merv Griffin: A Life in the Closet is, on one hand, a delightful guilty pleasure.

On the other hand, it's a bit overwhelming because names are tossed out like fastballs and chronology seems to be merely a suggestion.

Author Darwin Porter said in his acknowledgements that he spoke to "hundreds of people associated with the entertainment industry," and not just about Merv. His research, though staggering, is nothing if not thorough. Astute readers, however, will notice a lot of direct quotes and entire conversations that purportedly happened decades ago, which makes for an engaging read but eventually feels tabloid-fakey. While it's true that this book fits with others in the tell-all genre, I would've been happier with just the facts, ma'am.

Still, if you're a hopeless tab junkie and you can't get enough scandal, pick up this book. For you, Merv Griffin: A Life in the Closet will have you hung up and hooked.

Want more? Look for Hollywood Babylon—It's Back by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince, or Merv: Making the Good Life Last by Merv Griffin and David Bender.

BOOK REVIEW

My Judy

Garland Life

Written by Susie Boyt

$25; Bloomsbury USA;

320 pages

REVIEW BY TERRI SCHLICHMEYER

You weren't stalking. Really, you weren't.

And you'd like to think of yourself as a nice, normal adult human being who's got it together. But when you had a chance, random encounter with your favorite celebrity, your mouth suddenly stopped working and you could barely remember your name. Acting like a gushing 13-year-old, you asked for an autograph.

Embarrassing, maybe. But you've got a piece of ink-and-paper to prove that you had a brush with celebrity, and that's pretty great.

Author Susie Boyt never had a chance to ask for an autograph from her favorite star because that star died five months after Boyt was born. Still, in the new book My Judy Garland Life, Boyt explains why she will always love Judy.

When you understand that her beloved mother had a penchant for dramatic adventure—once, she bought a ship and sailed the entire family to Trinidad—it's not hard to see why Susie Boyt became fascinated with Judy Garland.

"Matters of life and death hang in the balance when Judy Garland sings," Boyt said.

Boyt wasn't born during the high-seas adventure but she said she never tired of the ship story, and begged for details. Neither did she tire of her father's memory of meeting with Judy Garland: Boyt's dad started to shake hands with Garland, and one of Garland's fingers was "missed" in the clasp.

"I feel for that finger sometimes," Boyt writes wistfully.

Hero worship doesn't preclude an acknowledgement of flaws, of course, and although Boyt admits she has contemplated violence when someone said something negative about Judy Garland, she's willing to see the ( few ) bad things. Garland was known to have pulled knives on people. She was reportedly careless with extravagances. She took drugs, to which Boyt admits there is no heroism.

Decades after her death, though, Judy Garland continues to gain fans. Some "crazy-good fans," as Boyt calls some admirers, want to keep Garland to themselves, fearing that Garland's popularity in the gay community does her memory a "great disservice." And the "bad fans?"

"Oh! The tension this creates," said Boyt.

Oh! Where do I begin?

Aside from the gigantic "So What?" factor that runs rampant in this book, reading My Judy Garland Life made me feel a little creepy. Author Susie Boyt muses about doing Judy Garland's ironing and she admits that she would have "loved to watch Judy sleep…" She gives meaning to many moues and motions from movie and TV, and she claims to think about Garland in so many everyday situations that the word "obsession" strongly came to my mind.

Mixed in with the author's Judy Garland worship are lots of stories that I thought were mostly rather unexciting. I believe the best thing I can say about this book is that there are plenty of pictures in it, but not enough to warrant its purchase.

If you're looking for a book about Judy Garland, there are other, better ones out there. Find one of them instead and heave My Judy Garland Life somewhere over the rainbow.


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