Indeed, there was a stretch in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s when CBS programmed him as a late-night alternative to Johnny Carson. Not surprisingly, he didn’t provide much real competition for The King Of Late Night. During his CBS run, however, Griffin did play a major role in a notorious on-air incident that involved a “wardrobe malfunction” quite unlike the one that, decades later, exposed Janet Jackson. I actually remember watching Griffith’s show on the night when… well, let me let Paul Krassner do the honors:
“What is perceived as desecration of a flag depends on the subjectivity of the beholder. In 1970, Abbie Hoffman -- co-founder of the Yippies (Youth International Party) with Jerry Rubin and myself -- wore a red-white-and-blue shirt resembling the American flag (made in France) when he was a guest on The Merv Griffin Show. At the taping, Griffin had asked him, ‘How can you claim that there’s so much repression in America if you’re allowed on my show?’
“But CBS censors blacked out Hoffman’s image prior to broadcasting the program, which began with an apology: ‘It seemed one of the guests had seen fit to come on the show wearing a shirt made from an American flag. Therefore, to avoid possible litigation, the network executives have decided to mask out all visible portions of the offending shirt by electronic means. We hope our viewers will understand.’ Hoffman’s disembodied voice could be heard clearly, however. On that same show, there was a fast-food commercial in which Roy Rogers wore a similar shirt.”
If you weren’t around at the time, you may find it difficult to fathom that, as absurd as this incident may sound now, it was reflective of a dead-serious political divide that polarized the U.S. population. It was a time when, yes, even wearing the “wrong” kind of shirt on a talk show might be enough to upset those timid TV censors who want to keep programs as scrupulously inoffensive and politically neutered as possible. Have things really changed that much? Well, you tell me.
BTW: Merv Griffin enjoyed a fleeting career as an actor, but I must admit I don't remember anything about his contributions to Roy Del Ruth's Phantom of the Rue Morgue or Michael Curtiz's The Boy from Oklahoma. On the other hand: just think of how many "six degrees of separation" scenarios you can spin with Merv Griffin and Michael Curtiz so neatly linked.