1982. I was riding high on my streak of wins at county fair talent shows; the Dramalogue Critic's Award for my performance of the title character in Michael Ricciardi's epic musical adventure, Skylark, was resting safely in a burglar-proof display at the Smithsonian; my weekends were spent with the freakishly talented Too-Short-For-Prime-Time-Players on stage at the Roxy Theater on the Sunset Strip; and if my head weren't already swollen enough, Merv Griffin's talent coordinator had hand-picked me and a few other kids from the show to be featured on the popular talk show. Only one thing stood between me and becoming the world's most insufferable teenager: The Artful God-Damned Dodger. I was committed to the 8th grade choir's stage adaptation of Oliver! and, understudy notwithstanding, the choir director threatened to fail me if I even thought of doing The Merv Griffin Show on opening night. So that was that. While my friends were on stage at the Ivar Theater performing for Miss Miller, I was in the school auditorium sulking with a cockney accent.
While I wished I could have joined them, I was nonetheless excited for my friends when the show aired. They all killed. So well, in fact, that Merv wanted to feature more of the cast on a future episode. I was invited again, and this time I was free. School was out.
Rehearsal was very chill. Merv hung out with the rest of us – me, Martika, Jerry Sharell, Darren Frank and our parents – almost casually leading the rehearsal from the center of the auditorium. He couldn't have been more nice. And more relaxed. I've never seen anyone so relaxed, and it was contagious. Somewhere there are black and white photos my dad took of us hanging with Merv during a break in rehearsal. All of us very... relaxed...
Watching the show from my dressing room, I should have been more nervous as I anticipated my turn to perform solo on national television for the first time. But I think that, scientifically-speaking, it's impossible to be nervous when you're surrounded by so much brown. Even the green room was brown. So was my suit. In fact, the only thing that kept me from completely blending into the set was the fact that my suit wasn't covered in light bulbs.
To this day, my friend Frank Lee Reed calls me "Gregor." You'll get it when you watch the video. I mention it because until the show aired, I had no idea why he'd started calling me that. All I remember is hearing Merv say my name, hitting my mark and hoping my horrible memory didn't rob me of the lyrics to the song while tape was rolling. Everything was fine. I even remembered to raise my arm while holding the last note. Holding a note for a really long time was kinda the thing back then. And if you could raise your arm while doing it, well…
After signing off, Merv can be seen leaning over and saying something to me as the band played us out. It even looks like I'm listening to him. Apparently, I wasn't. Unless he whispered them to someone on his deathbed, his words to me will forever remain a mystery.
Backstage. Having changed out of my brown suit and into my (almost certainly) fashionably unfortunate 1980s street clothes, none other than Ben Vereen, my fellow guest, appeared before me and my parents in the hallway outside the dressing room door. A spotlight popped on and trained itself on Mr. Vereen. Or so it seemed. He raised his right arm, his fingers pointing Gregward, and slowly approached me. His fingertips landed on my throat and he fixed me with a direct and sober stare. "God blessed you. Right. Here." He tapped my throat and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Or so it seemed. The next morning, my voice started to change.
I got exactly one piece of fan mail from a viewer of that episode, which the production company was kind enough to forward to me from their office. A very nice girl from somewhere in the midwest asked if I might be able to tell her the name of the song I sang, so she could buy the sheet music. Allow me to save you a stamp:
Oh, if you pause the video during the last shot, you'll be able to spot my grandmother, my great-grandmother and my aunt Shirley. I'll leave it to you to figure out which ones they are. GO!