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The Chat Room

MERV GRIFFIN on stars, supper clubs and why coconuts have been good to him

January 18, 1998|Mary Melton

From his 1951 hit, "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," to his syndicated TV talk show that ran from 1972 to 1986, to creating "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune," MERV GRIFFIN has proven remarkably adept at predicting popular tastes in matters, well, broadly popular. We spoke to the man who discovered Vanna White in his office at the Beverly Hills Hilton, which he owns, and where his new supper club, the Coconut Club, opened last night. The always affable Griffin politely asked permission to light a cigarette. "We are the lepers of the '90s," he noted.

Q: What was the first reaction to the club?

A: I had to explain it to all the young people who work here. [Sighs.] Children. [Sighs again.]

Q: Why did you name it Coconut Club?

A: One of my first jobs was at the Coconut Ballroom at Santa Cruz. I recorded "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" as a joke and it went right to No. 1 for four months.

Q: You also played the Cocoanut Grove . . .

A: At the Ambassador Hotel. The most famous nightclub the world ever knew--I was the boy singer for Freddie Martin's band. That was probably the most stunning part of my whole life. On the Latin numbers I would shake the maracas. Every movie star would dance in front of me.

Q: And the non-stars?

A: There were sections called Siberia where all the kids from Pasadena would have their one rum and Coca-Cola that would last all night. The trick was to dance and bump into a star. Stars went home black and blue. [An elaborate flower arrangement is delivered.] My, my, my. Am I dying?

Q: The Cocoanut Grove had tropical decor?

A: It was tropical, yeah, all fake green coconut trees. Ours, of course, are metallic silver and gold palm trees, with monkeys in them.

Q: Monkeys?

A: Oh, yes. Not live ones.

Q: Any plans for swizzle sticks?

A: I'll have swizzle sticks, sure.

Q: Why did you think a supper club will work now?

A: People are dressing again, getting out of the house. People have sat on their rear ends long enough. Now they're back to romantic clutching and--groping!--or whatever they're doing out there.

Q: So can we expect "supper clubs" as an upcoming "Jeopardy" category?

A: No. They've done big bands.

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