Ann Miller (April 12, 1923, USA – January 22, 2004, USA)
Ann Miller, Johnnie Lucille Collier, known professionally as Ann Miller, was an American dancer, singer and actress. She is remembered for her work in Hollywood musical films of the 1940s and ’50s.
Ann Miller (April 12, 1923 – January 22, 2004) was born in Chireno, Texas to Clara Emma (née Birdwell) and John Alfred Collier, a criminal lawyer who represented the Barrow Gang, Machine Gun Kelly, and Baby Face Nelson, among others. Miller’s maternal grandmother was Cherokee. Miller’s father insisted on the name Johnnie because he had wanted a boy, but she was often called Annie. She took up dancing to exercise her legs to help her rickets. She was considered a child dance prodigy. In an interview featured in a “behind the scenes” documentary on the making of the compilation film That’s Entertainment III, she said that Eleanor Powell was an early inspiration.
At the age of 13 Miller had been hired as a dancer in the “Black Cat Club” in San Francisco (she reportedly told them she was 18). It was there she was discovered by Lucille Ball and talent scout/comic Benny Rubin. This led Miller to be given a contract with RKO in 1936 at the age of 13 (she had also told them she was 18) and she remained there until 1940. The following year, Miller signed with Columbia Pictures, where, starting with “Time Out for Rhythm,” she starred in 11 B movie musicals from 1941 to 1945, ending her contract in 1946 with one “A,” “The Thrill of Brazil.” The ad in Life Magazine featured Miller’s leg in a large, red, bow-tied stocking as the “T” in “Thrill.”
She finally hit her mark in MGM musicals such as Easter Parade (1948), On the Town (1949) and Kiss Me Kate (1953).
Ann Miller popularized pantyhose in the 1940s—she had been wearing them since 1938—as a solution to the continual problem of tearing stockings during the filming of dance production numbers. The common practice had been to sew hosiery to briefs. If torn, the entire garment had to be removed and resewn with a new pair. At Miller’s request, hosiery was manufactured for her as a single pantyhose.
Miller was famed for her speed in tap dancing. Studio publicists concocted press releases claiming she could tap 500 times per minute, but in truth, the sound of ultra-fast “500” taps was looped in later. Because the stage floors were slick and slippery, she actually danced in shoes with rubber soles. Later she would loop the sound of the taps while watching the film and actually dancing on a “tap board” to match her steps in the film.
Miller appeared as a mystery guest on What’s My Line.
In 1970, satirist Stan Freberg, father of the funny commercial, used Miller and her tap-dancing skills in a television commercial for “Great American Soups.” Miller initially plays a housewife asked by her “husband” (Dave Willock) what she has prepared for dinner. She throws off her house frock to reveal a sequined dance outfit, and the kitchen set splits open to reveal a huge Hollywood stage, showcasing a giant can of soup, atop which Miller sings and dances, accompanied by a double chorus line. At the end of the commercial, she returns to the kitchen set, where the husband character exclaims, “Why do you have to make such a big ‘production’ out of everything?” According to Freberg, the commercial cost so much to produce that little money was left in the advertising budget to purchase airtime for it. The commercial can be seen on the video accompanying Freberg’s boxed set release, The Tip of the Freberg.
She was known, especially later in her career, for her distinctive appearance, which reflected a studio-era ideal of glamor: massive black bouffant hair, heavy makeup with a slash of crimson lipstick, and fashions that emphasized her lithe figure and long dancer’s legs. Her film career effectively ended in 1956 as the studio system lost steam to television, but she remained active in the theatre and on television. She starred on Broadway in the musical Mame in 1969, in which she wowed the audience in a tap number created just for her. In 1979 she astounded audiences in the Broadway show Sugar Babies with fellow MGM veteran Mickey Rooney, which toured the United States extensively after its Broadway run. In 1983, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre.
She appeared in a special 1982 episode of The Love Boat, joined by fellow showbiz legends Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Della Reese, Van Johnson, and Cab Calloway in a storyline that cast them as older relatives of the show’s regular characters. In 2001 she took her last role, playing Coco in auteur director David Lynch’s critically acclaimed Mulholland Drive. Her last stage performance was a 1998 production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, in which she played the hardboiled survivor Carlotta Campion and received rave reviews for her rendition of the song “I’m Still Here”.
Ann Miller died, aged 80, from lung cancer, and was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
According to her New York Times obituary, Miller married three times, to Reese Llewellyn Milner in 1946, to William Moss in 1958 and to Arthur Cameron in 1961, and in between marriages dated such well-known men as Howard Hughes, Conrad Hilton and Louis B. Mayer.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Miller has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6914 Hollywood Blvd. In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to her.