Ann Miller


Actor, Dancer
Ann Miller

About

Also Known As
Lucille Ann Collier
Birth Place
Chireno, Texas, USA
Born
April 12, 1923
Died
January 22, 2004
Cause of Death
Lung Cancer

Biography

A lovely and talented star of movie musicals for over two decades who then enjoyed an equally long run on the stage, Ann Miller was one of the prime practitioners of "machine gun tap dancing" and was capable of several hundred taps per minute. Starting in small productions from studios like RKO and Columbia, the long-legged brunette gradually worked her way up to the big-budget musical e...

Photos & Videos

Two Tickets to Broadway - Lobby Cards
Room Service - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
4th of July MGM Pin-Up Publicity Stills

Family & Companions

Reese Milner
Husband
Divorced.
William Moss
Husband
Second husband; divorced.
Arthur Cameron
Husband
Third husband; divorced.

Bibliography

"Tapping Into the Force"
Ann Miller and Dr Maxine Asher (1990)
"Ann Miller, Tops in Taps: An Authorized Pictorial History"
Jim Connor (1981)
"Miller's High Life"
Ann Miller (1972)

Notes

"Honey, I have my MGM training. I wouldn't go out the door without my eyelashes and my hair perfectly in shape and my makeup on ... You go out looking nice because there are fans in the grocery store as well as the movie theater." --Ann Miller to USA Today, August 20, 1997.

Biography

A lovely and talented star of movie musicals for over two decades who then enjoyed an equally long run on the stage, Ann Miller was one of the prime practitioners of "machine gun tap dancing" and was capable of several hundred taps per minute. Starting in small productions from studios like RKO and Columbia, the long-legged brunette gradually worked her way up to the big-budget musical extravaganzas produced by MGM, where she received guidance from top flight choreographers like Busby Berkeley, Hermes Pan and Nick Castle, and was dubbed Ann "Legs" Miller by influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Though her 5 foot-7-inch frame reportedly intimidated screen partners Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Miller's beauty and irrefutable dancing and singing abilities won her a following, thanks to hits like "Easter Parade" (1948), "On the Town" (1949), "Two Tickets to Broadway" (1951), "Small Town Girl" (1952) and "Kiss Me Kate" (1953). When her MGM contract ended in the mid-1950s, Miller took her talents to the stage and went on to star in various productions, including a hugely successful nine-year run in the musical comedy smash "Sugar Babies" alongside Mickey Rooney. Cast mostly as the second lead in her movies, she did not attain the heights of popularity enjoyed by Ginger Rogers or Eleanor Powell, but Miller was a dazzler in her own right and one of the premiere tap dancers and all-around performers in the Golden Age of movie musicals.

Ann Miller was born Johnnie Lucille Collier in Chireno, TX on April 12, 1923, with the name Johnnie being suggested by her father, a famous criminal defense attorney, who had wanted a boy. Miller learned how to tap dance when she was six years old as a way of strengthening her legs, which had been weakened by a case of rickets. The Colliers separated, prompting Miller and her mother - who preferred the girl to be a ballerina but was supportive of her dream to excel at tap - to move to California, where Miller continued to study her craft. Upon dropping out of school in Grade 11, she lied about her age in order to get performing jobs at supper clubs. While exhibiting her rapid-fire tapping at one such place, she was noticed by Lucille Ball and a Hollywood talent scout, who recommended her for a screen test at RKO. The result was a seven-year contract with the studio and her new marquee-friendly moniker. Luckily, Miller's exaggeration of her age and fake birth certificate were never discovered by RKO executives, who quickly put her into "New Faces of 1937" (1937). Miller soon scored her first speaking role in the Katherine Hepburn/Ginger Rogers vehicle "Stage Door" (1937) and RKO loaned her out to Columbia so she could appear in Frank Capra's romantic comedy "You Can't Take it with You" (1938), which won the Best Picture Oscar.

In the wake of that film's success and her work in the Marx Brothers romp "Room Service" (1938), Miller became unhappy with her $150-a-week salary and secured an early release from RKO. She then travelled to New York City to join the Broadway musical comedy revue "George White's Scandals" (1939), in which she performed two numbers. The production was a major success and Miller was able to negotiate a new contract with the studio at the much higher rate of $3,000 a week, though her time with RKO proved to be short. After equally brief stints with Republic and Paramount, Miller appeared in the Columbia musical "Reveille with Beverly" (1943), which was a significant hit for the studio, prompting them to engage Miller's services for six years, leading to vehicles like "Hey, Rookie" (1944), "Carolina Blues" (1944), and "Eve Knew Her Apples" (1945), a remake of Columbia's 1934 Oscar-winning "It Happened One Night." Oddly, during a portion of her tenure with Columbia, Miller was dating L.B. Mayer, the head of MGM. Mayer developed such a crush on the actress, his attempted suicide via sleeping pills was allegedly due to Miller rejecting his proposal of marriage.

Miller instead wed Consolidated Steel heir Reese Milner, despite warnings that he was an alcoholic who had previously abused women. Miller suffered the same treatment from him and when she was nine months pregnant, Milner allegedly threw her down a flight of stairs, breaking Miller's back. Miller eventually recovered, but the baby did not survive the trauma and the marriage was dissolved not long afterward (Miller would marry twice more in her lifetime and these would also be short and unhappy unions). Hoping to restart her movie career, Miller auditioned for MGM and won a role in the Judy Garland/Fred Astaire vehicle "Easter Parade" (1948) and impressed audiences who did not know that she performed her number "Shakin' the Blues Away" while wearing a steel brace. They also did not know that, at Astaire's request, Miller performed with him while wearing ballet slippers, so that she would not appear to be taller. The film was a big success and the actress would cite it in later years as her favorite role. Now convinced that Miller could still shake a leg, MGM put her under contract and "The Kissing Bandit" (1948), "On the Town" (1949), "Watch the Birdie" (1950), and "Texas Carnival" (1951) followed in quick succession. She was also inadvertently instrumental in the creation of pantyhose after asking a costume designer to come up with a durable set of one piece stockings similar to the tights worn by ballerinas.

As the new decade dawned, Miller continued to amaze in pictures like "Two Tickets to Broadway" (1951), "Lovely to Look At" (1952), "Small Town Girl" (1952), and the 3-D extravaganza "Kiss Me Kate" (1953), which included newcomer Bob Fosse in the cast after Miller recommended him to director George Sidney. "Hit the Deck" (1955) also offered a first for the famous tapper when she was asked to dance barefoot for the number "The Lady from the Bayou." During this time, Miller was also one of the first Hollywood stars to tour Australia and she became MGM's unofficial ambassador, travelling to a number of foreign countries. This led to unusual incidents in Israel, where she was temporarily kidnapped by a group of Arabs, who were convinced she was a spy, and Argentina, where Miller had to fend off the advances of leader Juan PerĂ³n, who tried to keep her in the country by withholding her passport.

By the mid-1950s, MGM's splashy musical spectaculars were losing favour with audiences and the studio began to move toward grittier, more realistic features. As a result, the final two films Miller did for the company, "The Opposite Sex" (1956) and "The Great American Pastime" (1956), featured her in non-dancing roles. Her contract now over, Miller entered a new phase of her career with forays onto live television variety show appearances on programs like "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS, 1948-1971). Another change came via her role in a Houston stock company version of "Can-Can," which led to Miller being one of several actresses who played the title role of "Mame" (1966-69) on Broadway. Once her one-year run in the part ended, Miller toured with the production across the country for an additional 24 months and was cast in productions of "Cactus Flower" and "Anything Goes." She also co-starred with Ann-Margaret in "Dames at Sea" (NBC, 1971), a TV movie version of the off-Broadway musical hit. Miller earned more pop culture fame when she strutted her stuff in a 1970 commercial for Great American Soup, which featured an elaborate, Busby Berkeley-style choreographed dance number where the 47-year-old dancer still moved with all the grace and agility of her youth. Almost twenty years after receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a major third act triumph came for Miller toward the end of the 1970s when she co-starred with fellow MGM alumni Mickey Rooney in "Sugar Babies."

A tribute to the age of burlesque and a throwback to the more old-fashioned musical productions of the past, "Sugar Babies" debuted in California and went on to become a huge, unexpected success on Broadway, running from 1979 through 1982 with more than 1,200 performances. Rooney and Miller then toured with the award-winning revue across America six more years for a total run of almost a decade, and Miller would later make occasional returns to the stage for productions like "Follies" (1998). Her movie career ended in the 1950s, but she made two more appearances later in life that were spaced well apart and could not have been any more different. Miller was one of many Golden Age celebrities recruited to appear in the lame show business nostalgia comedy "Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood" (1976) and had a small, but amusingly eccentric role as a tough old landlady in David Lynch's bizarre mystery "Mulholland Dr." (2001). Although years of dancing took a toll on her body, Miller ultimately died on Jan. 24, 2004 of cancer. Her tap shoes, dubbed "Moe" and "Joe" were thereafter exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution.

By John Charles

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Coco [Lanois]
Musicals Great Musicals (1996)
A Century Of Cinema (1994)
That's Entertainment! III (1994)
Head (1968)
The Opposite Sex (1956)
Gloria [Dahl]
The Great American Pastime (1956)
Mrs. Doris Patterson
Hit the Deck (1955)
Ginger
Deep in My Heart (1954)
[performer in] "Artists and Models"
Small Town Girl (1953)
Lisa Bellmount
Kiss Me Kate (1953)
Lois Lane "Bianca"
Lovely To Look At (1952)
Bubbles Cassidy
Watch the Birdie (1951)
Miss Lucky Vista
Two Tickets to Broadway (1951)
Joyce Campbell
Texas Carnival (1951)
Sunshine Jackson
The Kissing Bandit (1949)
Fiesta specialty dance
On the Town (1949)
Claire Huddesen
Easter Parade (1948)
Nadine Gale
The Thrill of Brazil (1946)
Linda Lorens
Eve Knew Her Apples (1945)
Eve Porter
Eadie Was a Lady (1945)
Eadie Allen
Hey, Rookie (1944)
Winnie Clark
Carolina Blues (1944)
Julie Carver
Jam Session (1944)
Terry Baxter
Reveille with Beverly (1943)
Beverly Ross
What's Buzzin' Cousin? (1943)
Ann Crawford
Priorities on Parade (1942)
Donna D'Arcy
True to the Army (1942)
Vicki Marlow
Time Out for Rhythm (1941)
Kitty Brown
Go West, Young Lady (1941)
Lola
Hit Parade of 1941 (1940)
Annabelle Potter
Too Many Girls (1940)
Pepe
Melody Ranch (1940)
Julie Shelton
You Can't Take It with You (1938)
Essie Carmichael
Room Service (1938)
Hilda [Manny]
Tarnished Angel (1938)
Violet McMaster
Radio City Revels (1938)
Billie [Shaw]
The Life of the Party (1937)
Betty
Stage Door (1937)
Annie
New Faces of 1937 (1937)
Herself

Cast (Special)

The Last Days of Judy Garland: The E! True Hollywood Story (2001)
Interviewee
Behind the Scenes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (2000)
Radio City Music Hall's Grand Re-Opening Gala (1999)
Private Screenings: Ann Miller (1997)
Sonja Henie: Fire on Ice (1997)
Interviewee
Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit at MGM (1996)
Inside The Dream Factory (1995)
Lucy & Desi: TV's First Couple (1994)
Jimmy Stewart: Hometown Hero (1993)
Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie (1993)
The Thalians (1991)
America's Dance Honors (1990)
Performer
America's All-Star Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor (1989)
Performer
Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park Grand Opening (1989)
Happy Birthday, Hollywood! (1987)
Hollywood: The Dream Factory (1972)

Music (Special)

Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park Grand Opening (1989)
Song Performer

Cast (Short)

Mighty Manhattan, New York's Wonder City (1949)
Herself

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

The Desilu Story: The Rags to Riches Success of the Desilu Empire (2003)

Life Events

1937

Lied about her age (by adding four years) and landed a seven-year contract with RKO; gained attention with a supporting role in "Stage Door"

1938

Appeared with the Marx Brothers in "Room Service"

1938

Loaned to Columbia for "You Can't Take It With You"

1939

Broadway debut in George White's "Scandals of 1939"

1940

On loan to Republic, co-starred in "Melody Ranch" and "Hit Parade of 1941"

1948

Signed with MGM; first film there, "Easter Parade"

1949

Co-starred in "On the Town"

1953

Played Lois Lane/Bianca in the film version of "Kiss Me Kate"

1956

Last films, "The Opposite Sex" and "The Great American Pastime"

1970

Made classic Heinz "Great American Soup" commercial written by Stan Freberg

1974

Played Reno Sweeney in a tour of "Anything Goes"

1976

Again toured in "Anything Goes"

1989

Took "Sugar Babies" to London

1994

Was one of the hosts of the compilation documentary looking back at the MGM movie musical, "That's Entertainment! III"

1998

Played Carlotta Campion in a revival of the Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical "Follies" at the Paper Mill Playhouse

1999

Had featured role in the David Lynch-directed pilot "Mulholland Drive"; when ABC passed on series, Lynch shot additional footage and turned project into feature film; screened at Cannes in 2001; released theatrically in USA in 2001

Photo Collections

Two Tickets to Broadway - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from RKO's Two Tickets to Broadway (1951). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Room Service - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Room Service (1938), featuring Groucho Marx and Ann Miller.
4th of July MGM Pin-Up Publicity Stills
Here are a few patriotic-themed 4th of July Pin-Up Stills taken in the late 1940s to promote MGM starlets Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse, Elizabeth Taylor, and Vera-Ellen.
Easter Parade - Irving Berlin Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Easter Parade (1948), featuring songwriter Irving Berlin and the film's cast and crew.
Easter Parade - Ann Miller Scene Stills
Here is a series of scene stills from MGM's Easter Parade (1948), featuring Ann Miller performing the number "Shakin' the Blues Away."
On the Town - Group Publicity Stills
Here is a series of stills taken to publicize MGM's On the Town (1949) featuring the cast around a park bench. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
You Can't Take It with You - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Frank Capra's You Can't Take It with You (1938). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Kiss Me Kate - Publicity Stills for 3-D showings
Here are some Publicity Stills for 3-D showings of Kiss Me Kate (1953). The studio art department configured these stills to emphasize the depth in 3-D showings of the film.
Kiss Me Kate - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Kiss Me Kate (1953). Look for composer Cole Porter, director George Sidney, and stars Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, and others.
The Opposite Sex - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for MGM's The Opposite Sex (1956). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Too Many Girls - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from Too Many Girls (1940), starring Lucille Ball and Richard Carlson (and Desi Arnaz in a supporting role). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Lovely to Look At - Scene Stills
Here are some scene stills from MGM's Lovely to Look At (1952), starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, and Red Skelton.
Too Many Girls - Pressbook
Here is the campaign book (pressbook) for Too Many Girls (1940). Pressbooks were sent to exhibitors and theater owners to aid them in publicizing the film's run in their theater. This pressbook was prepared for the 1957 reissue.
Ann Miller - MGM Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills of Ann Miller, taken while under contract to MGM.
Small Town Girl - Ann Miller Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a photo of Ann Miller taken behind-the-scenes during production of Small Town Girl (1953).
Watch the Birdie - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills from Watch the Birdie (1950), starring Red Skelton. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Time Out For Rhythm (1941) - A-Twiddlin' My Thumbs Ann Miller, first-billed among many in a Columbia variety feature, crushes a Sammy Cahn-Saul Chaplin tune, dance by LeRoy Prinz, as the maid for a singer that agents Rudy Vallee and Allen Jenkins hope to lure back, in B>Time Out For Rhythm, 1941.
Room Service (1938) - Not Dead, Just Dying! Now looking to avoid arrest and having the play shut down in mid-performance, producer Miller (Groucho Marx), pal Binelli (Chico), and the playwright (Frank Albertson), joined by Faker (Harpo), hatch another scheme to thwart furious financier Wagner (Donald MacBride), with support from Ann Miller, in the only Marx Brothers RKO feature, Room Service, 1938.
Stage Door (1937) - Getting Over The DT's Jean (Ginger Rogers) and Annie (Ann Miller) at dance class, meet the producer Tony Powell (Adolphe Menjou), who has a reputation, early in Gregory LaCava's Stage Door, 1937.
You Can't Take It With You (1938) - Home Sweet Home This ensemble scene featuring Donald Meek, Lionel Barrymore, Ann Miller, Dub Taylor, Spring Byington and others illuminates the Sycamore household in Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You, 1938.
You Can't Take It With You (1938) - My Father Makes Fireworks Taxman Henderson (Charles Lane) and Grandpa Sycamore (Lionel Barrymore) lead off this mayhem as Tony (James Stewart) collects Alice (Jean Arthur) for a date. with Ann Miller, Spring Byington, Dub Taylor, and Mischa Auer, in Frank Capra's You Can't Take It with You, 1938.
Two Tickets To Broadway (1951) - There's No Tomorrow We meet Eddie Bracken as failed theatrical agent Lew Conway, already defamed in earlier scenes, then his top client, Tony Martin as singer Dan Carter, with a song by Al Hoffman, Leo Corday and Leon Carr, early in RKO’s Two Tickets To Broadway, 1951, also starring Janet Leigh and Gloria DeHaven.
Two Tickets To Broadway (1951) - Manhattan (Rodgers & Hart) Singer Dan (Tony Martin) and aspiring Broadway star Nancy after an elaborate meet-cute, in the theatrical boarding house meet the company, for an extended rendering of the 1925 Rodgers & Hart standard, choreography by the later-career Busby Berkeley, in Two Tickets To Broadway, 1951.
Two Tickets To Broadway (1951) - Baby You'll Never Be Sorry On a Manhattan rooftop, Hannah (Gloria DeHaven) is still sweet on her bumbling agent-boyfriend Lew (Eddie Bracken), occasioning this original by Leo Robin and Jule Styne, in the RKO musical Two Tickets To Broadway, 1951.
Hit The Deck (1955) - Keepin' Myself For You Having secured shore leave in San Francisco, sailor Tony Martin drops in backstage and joins his longtime (irritated) gal Ginger (Ann Miller) for a tune by Vincent Youmans and Sidney Clare, a song actually not from the Broadway musical, in MGM producer Joe Pasternak’s Hit The Deck, 1955.
New Faces Of 1937 - Our New Dancing Discovery, Ann Miller! Introduced by then-radio star Milton Berle, and getting the best notices by far in this failed inaugural RKO new-talent launch vehicle, Ann Miller, age 14, in her first film under studio contract, in New Faces Of 1937, 1937.
Watch The Birdie (1951) - Miss Lucky Vista Red Skelton as rookie newsreel cameraman Rusty is shooting the ground-breaking for the Lucky Vista housing project, also playing his own Grand-Dad, where Ann Miller is the pageant winner, Pam Britton a dignitary, Arlene Dahl a financier and romantic prospect, in Watch The Birdie, 1951.
Great American Pastime, The (1957) - Better Next Time Following a loss, to the team on which his son Dennis (Rudy Lee) plays, coach Bruce (Tom Ewell) consoles his players, then gets some support from sexy single mom Mrs. Patterson (Ann Miller) and his somewhat irked wife (Anne Francis), in The Great American Pastime, 1957.

Trailer

Easter Parade (1948) -- (Re-issue Trailer) When his partner leaves him, a vaudeville star trains an untried performer to take her place in Easter Parade (1948) starring Judy Garland & Fred Astaire.
Room Service - (Original Trailer) The Marx Brothers are three zany producers trying to extend their hotel credit until they can get a play mounted in Room Service (1938).
Deep in My Heart -- (Original Trailer) Jose Ferrer stars in Deep in My Heart (1954), MGM's all-star biography of Broadway songsmith Sigmund Romberg.
On the Town - (Original Trailer) Three sailors wreck havoc during a whirlwind 24-hour shore leave in New York City in On the Town (1949) starring Gene Kelly & Frank Sinatra.
Reveille With Beverly - (Television Trailer) Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and Count Basie are among the delights in the wartime musical Reveille With Beverly (1943).
Life of the Party, The -- (Original Trailer) A millionaire's heir and a countess' daughter take a roundabout way to get both love and money in The Life of the Party (1937).
Small Town Girl (1953) - (Original Trailer) Performances by Ann Miller and Nat 'King' Cole and Busby Berkeley's choreography highlight Small Town Girl (1953).
Tarnished Angel - (Original Trailer) A phony evangelist (Sally Eilers) finds religion herself when her powers actually heal someone in Tarnished Angel (1938).
Texas Carnival - (Original Trailer) Esther Williams is far from the water at the Texas Carnival (1951) in this MGM Technicolor musical co-starring Red Skelton.
Lovely to Look At - (Original Trailer) Original trailer for MGM's All-star musical comedy, Lovely To Look At, 1952, with Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton and Ann Miller, a remake of the 1936 hit Roberta.
Too Many Girls -- (Re-issue Trailer) The re-issue trailer for Too Many Girls, 1940, the Rodgers & Hart musical adapted from Broadway on which Lucille Ball met Desi Arnaz.
Kissing Bandit, The - (Original Trailer) A timid young man (Frank Sinatra) is forced to follow in his father's footsteps as a notorious outlaw - The Kissing Bandit (1948).

Family

John Collier
Father
Separated from Miller's mother while Miller was a child.
Clara Emma Collier
Mother

Companions

Reese Milner
Husband
Divorced.
William Moss
Husband
Second husband; divorced.
Arthur Cameron
Husband
Third husband; divorced.

Bibliography

"Tapping Into the Force"
Ann Miller and Dr Maxine Asher (1990)
"Ann Miller, Tops in Taps: An Authorized Pictorial History"
Jim Connor (1981)
"Miller's High Life"
Ann Miller (1972)

Notes

"Honey, I have my MGM training. I wouldn't go out the door without my eyelashes and my hair perfectly in shape and my makeup on ... You go out looking nice because there are fans in the grocery store as well as the movie theater." --Ann Miller to USA Today, August 20, 1997.