Murray Schwartz, exceptional rise to become President and CEO of Merv Griffin Enterprises began with a humble yet priceless start!
Murray’s Dad managed the Red Mill burlesque nightclub, in the Bronx, New York. When helping his Dad after school, he became enamored with excitement and glamour of entertainment. He got to know, Moe Gold, the quintessential talent agent; cigar, pin stripped suits, expensive ties, always flashing a wad of cash. Moe told him to try for a job at the William Morris Agency; at the time it was the Rolls Royce talent agency in the entertainment industry-known only as the Morris Office.
So, at age 17, Murray took Moe’s advice and applied for a job in the legendary mailroom, where other young men began their careers. David Geffen, Ron Meyer, Irwin Winkler, Bernie Brillstein, Jerry Weintraub, to name just a few. Books would be written about “The boys in the mailroom”. Abe Lastfogel the brains with street smarts, even started in the mailroom on the lower east side of New York, back in the days when William Morris Sr. was the boss.
Murray was eager to move on from delivering the mail. Through a combination of luck, pluck, and timing, he was asked by the legendary George Wood to be his assistant. Wood was agent to Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. Tallulah Bankhead, among others. It was George Wood who led Murray on his path in the world of show business. George Wood had close ties to the famous, the infamous, the great and not so great. Working for George, Murray learned about deal making, loyalty, honesty and the importance of relationships. Much more than was taught in the Harvard School of Business.
George Wood promoted Murray to an agent in the Television Department. Murray brought Bill Cosby, Barbra Streisand, Gloria Loring, David Soul, Mario Puzo, as clients to the Morris Office. All while they were still honing their art.
Murray first met Merv Griffin when he was booking guest hosts for the Tonight Show, awaiting Johnny Carson to fulfill a previous commitment. With Murray’s help, Merv was a great success on the Tonight Show that resulted in getting his first daytime talk show. Schwartz brought him to the Morris Office as a client. Merv’s career began to soar with Murray as his agent. Merv moved his show from New York to California to give it a fresh look like no other talk shows emanating from Hollywood.
One eventful day, Merv asked Murray if he'd consider moving to California to create a new Company. Murray accepted the towering challenge that began, in a cramped walk up office on Beverly Boulevard. It became an extraordinarily successful Corporation: Merv Griffin Enterprises. They produced Jeopardy, The Wheel of Fortune, Dance Fever, Headline Chasers and others. They owned the Celebrity Theater and Trans America Video, a post production company that was housed on the entire block of Sunset and Vine, which they also owned, and a fleet of mobile television trucks housed in Las Vegas. He pioneered location programming by bringing The Merv Griffin Show to Caesar’s Palace for the next fifteen years, ten weeks every year. Their Celebrity Theater became the production home of other top shows, like Entertainment Tonight when they were out of town. There were five radio stations and a racetrack television company. Schwartz innovated television Syndication selling their shows market-by-market in prime time, while they were also televised on the network during the day. Murray arranged for the Merv Griffin show to travel around the world, like Venice, Rome, Monaco, Paris, Mexico. It was costly to finance these trips. Again, he innovated with additional sponsorship for product placement, using language familiar to audiences today; “Production assistance was paid for and provided by the following….”
Most notably, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune remains top rated shows after almost a half century. A direct result of Murray’s pioneering inventiveness. Merv and Murray hired Susan Stafford and Chuck Woolery as the first hosts of Wheel of Fortune in 1975. When they resigned, Vanna White and Pat Sajak took the reins in 1982 – 39 years ago. Murray hired Alex Trebek to host the return of Jeopardy in 1984 until his sad passing in 2020.
Following a week of the Merv Griffin Show televising Princess Grace’s Tennis Tournament in Monte Carlo, he took a trip to Greece. On his way back to Paris, to catch up with Merv and his staff, he boarded Flight 139. It was hijacked to Entebbe, Africa by the PLO. Schwartz and the other hostages were held prisoner by the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin until the daring rescue by Israeli commandos. That event is recognized as an historic military feat, documented in books and the film “The Raid on Entebbe.” It was also a life-changing experience for Schwartz. As a tribute he brought the Merv Griffin Show to Israel, with the collaboration of Yitzhak Rabin the Prime Minister. That week of programming was a historic event for Murray and Merv as a crowning moment of twenty-five of the Merv Griffin Show.
Eventually, the company that Murray boldly imagined, Merv Griffin Enterprises, was sold to Coca Cola (finalized by Murray at an intense negotiation in the private dining room at the famous 21 Club in New York City).
Murray cites his wide scope of experience for his ability to stay in touch with the pulse of the public. He had successful forays in Theater. He co-produced Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, at the Lincoln Center in New York. He co produced the return of Cabaret to Studio 54, starring Alan Cummings. He co-produced the big cast musical, Me and Mrs. Jones, using the lyrics and other songs to form the story. It starred Lou Rawls his co-producer. The show broke all house records at the famous Prince Theater in Philadelphia.
Tap link to see the trailer of Operation Entebbe : >
Murray Schwartz had quite a run from the kid at the Red Mill, to his adventures with George Wood, Sammy Davis, Jr., Merv Griffin, the famous, and not so famous, and fascinating characters along the way. But, all was not Wine and Roses. Murray’s marriage failed early on. He became bachelor father dedicated to his two daughters, Jennifer and Susan, throughout his action packed career.
He’s currently working on a second book, and a television series based on his memoir Red Mill.
Murray released his highly praised memoir, Red Mill: It’s Not How You Start, It's How You Finish, through Redwood Publishing. It is available for sale nationwide.