Ann Miller

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For other people of the same name, see Anne Miller.
Ann Miller
Anne Miller 1948.jpg
in Easter Parade (1948)
Born Johnnie Lucille Collier
(1923-04-12)April 12, 1923
Chireno, Texas, U.S.
Died January 22, 2004(2004-01-22) (aged 80)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Lung cancer
Resting place
Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City
Years active 1934–2001
Spouse(s) Reese Milner (1946–1947)
Bill Moss (1958–1961)
Arthur Cameron (1961–1962)

Johnnie Lucille Collier (April 12, 1923[1] – January 22, 2004), known professionally as Ann Miller, was an American dancer, singer and actress. She is best remembered for her work in the Hollywood musical films of the 1940s and 1950s.

Early life[edit]

Johnnie Lucille Collier 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.[2][3]

Her maternal grandmother was Cherokee.[2] Miller's father insisted on the name Johnnie because he had wanted a boy, but she was often called Annie. She began to take dance classes at the age of 5, after suffering from a case of rickets. Her mother believed that these classes would help strengthen her young daughter's legs.[4]

She lived in Texas until she was 9, when her mother decided to leave her unfaithful husband and move to Los Angeles. Because Birdwell was deaf, it was hard for her to find work; however, because Miller looked much older than she was, she began to work as a dancer in nightclubs so that she could support the both of them. About this time she adopted the stage name Ann Miller, which she kept throughout her entire career.[4]

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.[5]

Career[edit]

The handprints of Ann Miller in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park

At age 13 in 1936, Miller became a showgirl at the Bal Tabarin. She was 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.[6] In 1941, she 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” film, 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 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals such as Easter Parade (1948), On the Town (1949) and Kiss Me Kate (1953).[citation needed]

Miller helped popularize pantyhose in the 1940s 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.[7]

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.[7]

She was known, especially later in her career, for her distinctive appearance, which reflected a studio-era ideal of glamour: massive black bouffant hair, heavy makeup with a slash of crimson lipstick, and fashions that emphasized her lithe figure and long dancer's legs. [8]

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.[citation needed]

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 hardboiled Carlotta Campion and received rave reviews for her rendition of the song "I'm Still Here".[9]

Miller with Betty Garrett (left) and Vera-Ellen (right) in On the Town (1949)

Miller appeared as a dance instructor in Home Improvement episode "Dances with Tools" (1993).[10] Between 1995 and 2001, Molly Shannon parodied Miller several times on Saturday Night Live in a recurring sketch entitled "Leg-Up!"[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

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.[2] During her marriage to Reese Llewellyn Milner, while pregnant with daughter Mary in her last trimester, Miller fell and went into early labor. Baby Mary lived only three hours on November 12, 1946.[11][12]

Death[edit]

Miller died, aged 80, from lung cancer,[2] and was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California, beside her infant daughter Mary.[13]

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.[14] To honor Miller's contribution to dance, the Smithsonian Institution displays her favorite pair of tap shoes, which she playfully nicknamed "Moe and Joe".[15]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1934 Anne of Green Gables Child Extra Uncredited
1935 The Good Fairy Schoolgirl in Orphanage Uncredited
1936 The Devil on Horseback Dancer Uncredited
1937 New Faces of 1937 Herself Dance Specialty
1937 The Life of the Party Betty
1937 Stage Door Annie
1938 Radio City Revels Billie Shaw
1938 Having Wonderful Time Camp Guest Uncredited
1938 You Can't Take It with You Essie Carmichael
1938 Room Service Hilda
1938 Tarnished Angel Violet 'Vi' McMaster
1940 Too Many Girls Pepe
1940 Hit Parade of 1941 Anabelle Potter
1940 Melody Ranch Julie Shelton
1941 Time Out for Rhythm Kitty Brown
1941 Go West, Young Lady Lola
1942 True to the Army Vicki Marlow
1942 Priorities on Parade Donna D'Arcy
1943 Reveille with Beverly Beverly Ross
1943 What's Buzzin', Cousin? Ann Crawford
1944 Hey, Rookie Winnie Clark
1944 Jam Session Terry Baxter
1944 Carolina Blues Julie Carver
1945 Eadie Was a Lady Eadie Allen and Edithea Alden
1945 Eve Knew Her Apples Eve Porter
1946 The Thrill of Brazil Linda Lorens
1948 Easter Parade Nadine Hale
1948 The Kissing Bandit Fiesta Specialty Dancer
1949 On the Town Claire Huddesen
1950 Watch the Birdie Miss Lucky Vista
1951 Texas Carnival Sunshine Jackson
1951 Two Tickets to Broadway Joyce Campbell
1952 Lovely to Look At Bubbles Cassidy
1953 Small Town Girl Lisa Bellmount
1953 Kiss Me Kate Lois Lane 'Bianca'
1954 Deep in My Heart Dance specialty in 'Artists and Models'
1955 Hit the Deck Ginger
1956 The Opposite Sex Gloria
1956 The Great American Pastime Mrs. Doris Patterson
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood President's Girl 2
2001 Mulholland Drive Catherine 'Coco' Lenoix

Stage work[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ U.S. Census, April 1, 1930. State of Texas, County of Harris, enumeration district 71, page 2A, family 86.
  2. ^ a b c d Severo, Richard (January 23, 2004). "Ann Miller, Tap-Dancer Starring in Musicals, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  3. ^ "Ann Miller profile at". Film Reference. Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  4. ^ a b "Ann Miller profile". Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Obituaries – Ann Miller – Dancing Star and 'Queen of the Bs'". The Independent. January 24, 2004. Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  6. ^ "Ann Miller profile". Reel Classics. March 10, 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  7. ^ a b "Private Screenings: Ann Miller". tcm.com. 1997. Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  8. ^ Profile, newsvote.bbc.co.uk; accessed October 31, 2014.
  9. ^ Brantley, Ben (May 8, 1998). "Beguiled by the Past". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  10. ^ "Home Improvement-Dances with Tools". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2011-04-22. 
  11. ^ BBC obituary, bbc.co.uk; accessed October 31, 2014.
  12. ^ Photographs and literature, virtual-history.com; accessed October 31, 2014.
  13. ^ Ann Miller at Find a Grave
  14. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated, palmspringswalkofstars.com; accessed October 31, 2014.
  15. ^ "Ann Miller profile". notablebiographies.com. Retrieved May 22, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Miller, Ann, Miller's High Life. Doubleday, 1972. ISBN #0-385-03440-7.
  • Oderman, Stuart, Talking to the Piano Player 2. BearManor Media, 2009. ISBN 1-59393-320-7.

External links[edit]