Merv Griffin throws open the doors of his Moroccan-style desert hideaway and waits on the porch to welcome guests. No sooner are they inside his vast living room, with its potted palm trees and neon-bright sofas, than he is pushing a button to open the ceiling. “At night, you see stars in the sky and stars in this room,” he jokes.
Minutes later, he’s off in a luxury golf cart, sailing along the serpentine paths that border the 240-acre property’s pristine corrals, to watch a prized stallion gallop around his 5/8-mile racetrack.
In this peaceful desert community 30 miles east of Palm Springs, his days are filled with leisurely breakfasts in bed, sessions at his Bergendorfer piano and a little business conducted on a swivel chair next to the lake. “For me, the good life is that time when, after you’ve accomplished everything you want to in life, you decide its possible to build the house of your dreams,” he says.
He got the idea for his La Quinta retreat when he took a trip to Morocco in the mid-'80s with his close friend, the late Eva Gabor. “We went to Marrakech, saw an estate belonging to Yves Saint Laurent and conned the gardener into letting us in,” he says. “I came away saying” -- this in a clobbered French accent -- “ ‘Sorry, Mr. Laurent, but I am going home and copying your palace.’ ”
In 1988, two weeks before he was to move in, a contractor fired up the electricity in the main house -- “all at once,” Griffin notes with disdain -- and it burned to the ground. “I was in New Jersey at the time and saw it on TV. CNN got there before the fire department did.” It took a year to rebuild.
With all of its amenities, the true luxury of his desert compound “is the land,” Griffin says. “When I moved out here, there was nothing. Now I’m totally surrounded. Right across the street, there are three golf courses going in.” (He doesn’t play.)
These days, Griffin is thinking up a new concept for the area around his desert oasis: “I want to build three commercial villages, which will surround me. There will be one with a Tuscany theme -- I love Umbria, in Italy. Another, the kind of village you see in the Greek islands. And another like Port Grimaud on the French Riviera, where people can ride boats on a waterway.
“We’ll have outdoor cafes, a town mall, maybe even a bandstand, all open to the public. Won’t that be great?”