|A goldmine of archived interviews with some of the most entertaining and influential people in 20th-century America, The Merv Griffin Show: 40 of the Most Interesting People of Our Time is both a pleasure and an educational resource. Using material gathered from a quarter-century of The Merv Griffin Show (1962 to 1986), this three-disc boxed set captures a number of newsworthy figures in very relaxed circumstances, open and funny, speaking freely about their careers or views on world affairs. Griffin, often kidded by Johnny Carson (whose brother, Dick Carson, directed Griffin's program) for producing what The Tonight Show host often called "Merv's fabulous theme shows," actually looks, in retrospect, like a very capable interviewer who can challenge his guests without the sting of confrontation. Thus, when Griffin asks Richard Nixon in 1967 if running for the presidency a second time won't be difficult because of Nixon's reputation as a "loser," the question doesn't seem provocative so much as probing--yet the effect is the same, i.e., getting Nixon to answer a tough query.
Each interview excerpt feels substantial; there are no quick sound bites here. Among the great moments is frequent guest Orson Welles's last appearance on the show in 1985, taped mere hours before his death. Welles, at 70, speaks of old age and the burden of regret and a stricken conscience. He also reflects on great pain from his career and personal life, without getting specific or maudlin. And, uncharacteristically, he speaks frankly and lovingly about women from his past, including Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich. There's also footage from Griffin's visit with Ingrid Bergman in Cannes, 1973, during the actress' brief reign as president of that year's film festival jury. Absolutely lovely and luminous, Bergman discusses contemporary movies, the end of the star system, and returning to the stage. From 1981 is a pleasant chat with David Niven, virtually co-interviewed by Griffin and chatty, previous guest Robert Blake. Roger Vadim and then-wife Jane Fonda drop by in 1967 on their way to begin production of Barbarella; Grace Kelly, in 1976, destroys the myth of royal idleness while discussing her schedule in Monaco; and Lord Laurence Olivier speaks warmly about his children and playing girls in his early, pantomime roles.
Jack Benny and John Wayne are each honored with lengthy, rich segments, the Duke with a montage of clips from numerous appearances (the best from a black-tie show in New York, where Hollywood's most iconic movie cowboy never seemed more cosmopolitan), and Benny spending an hour telling delightful stories from his movie career. (He adored Ernst Lubitsch, who directed him in To Be or Not to Be.) The world of politics and journalism is represented by Martin Luther King Jr., whose 1967 interview explains principles of nonviolence; Robert F. Kennedy, also from 1967, who articulates the frustration of young people and details America's quagmire in Vietnam; Walter Cronkite, championing real television journalism in the days before cable news; and Gerald R. Ford, who tells an astonishing story about meeting his father--very briefly, only once--during his teens. --Tom Keogh