16) Merv Griffin (up arrow)
Source of Wealth: Television, hotels, real estate
Net Worth: $1.1 billion
Last Year's Rank: 19
Background: Started out in the '40s as a radio crooner whom station executives told to keep out of sight because of his weight. First hit was "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." Flirted briefly with movie career before launching talk show that made him a household name. Also created and produced "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune." Started investing in real estate in the '70s; assembled international hotel and casino empire. Starts his day doing the crossword puzzles in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. Often seen with his Sharpei dog, Charlie Chan.
Money Track: The $250 million purchase of "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy" by Columbia Pictures launched his career as a businessman. Used proceeds to buy Beverly Hilton and establish hotel empire, which includes the Wickenberg Inn and Scottsdale Hilton in Arizona, Blue Moon in Miami's South Beach and the St. Clerans Hotel in Ireland. Sold Resorts International in '96 to Sun International (getting a major position in Sun). Boosted stake in Atlantic City-based Players International Inc., which owns a small chain of riverboat casinos.
Buzz: Made splash with the opening of 1940s-retro Coconut Club at flagship Beverly Hilton; the club has cashed in on the swing craze. Has recorded an album of old standards to be released this summer. Set up an entertainment division last year that has partnered with studios in over a dozen projects, including one with DreamWorks SKG to produce "The Eddie Klein Story."
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