Apr 13, 2008

Happy belated birthday, Ann Miller


The dancing sensation, who died in 2004, was born April 12, 1923. She started working as a dancer at age 14 after her mother moved her to LA to escape a bad marriage. Like other actresses of her time--Ginger Rogers and Bette Davis come to mind--Ann supported her mother whose hearing impairment made it impossible for her to work.

TCM aired a 1997 interview yesterday that Miller did Robert Osborne in which she discussed her long career. Among the highlights: She invented pantyhose. Miller complained to a hosiery maker that she had to have her silk stockings sewn to her dress and undergarments for every costume change. If she got a run in her stockings, they'd have to rip everything apart and sew on a new one. "Why can't we have what ballet dancers have but with silk stockings?"

She married three times, unsuccessfully. Her first marriage at 18 was particularly awful. Miller reneged on her contract with Columbia "to become a housewife" to millionaire Reese Milner. He beat her many times, the last time when she was almost nine months pregnant.

Columbia wouldn't take her back so she auditioned for the part of Fred Astaire's former dancing partner for the movie Easter Parade. On the movie she choreographed and performed "Shaking the Blues Away," a showstopper that set the tone for most of her solos. And she did it wearing a metal brace on her back, a vestige of the beating that ended her marriage and caused the death of her only child.

Miller never became a leading lady; she was always the second lead. But she did get to do some incredible numbers to show case those incredible legs.

After the big musical went the way of the big studio, Miller appeared in numerous TV shows and had a nightclub act. And she kept dancing. Here's a commercial she did for Campbell's soup in 1970.

Fabulous, is it not?

At the age of 56, Miller teamed with Mickey Rooney for the show Sugarbabies, a smash hit on Broadway that saw her dancing again.
"At MGM, I always played the second feminine lead; I was never the star in films," Miller once said.

"I was the brassy, good-hearted showgirl. I never really had my big moment on the screen.

"Sugar Babies gave me the stardom that my soul kind of yearned for."

Miller stayed with the show for nine years.


Ann Miller returned to movies in the 2001 David Lynch flim, Mulholland Dr still wearing her trademark raven hair and red lipstick.
After years of refusing film offers because she hated the nudity and violence that had become almost a cliché in contemporary pictures, she went to work with one of the screen's most controversial directors, David Lynch, with a double role in Mulholland Dr. (2001), a film featuring both nudity and graphic violence. Of course, that wasn't what she had signed on for originally. The project was planned as a TV series for ABC, with Miller playing the eccentric landlady at a Hollywood apartment complex. When the network passed on the pilot, Lynch found funding for additional scenes and turned it into a feature. Miller's part became a double role. Her surprise appearance as a Hollywood hostess at the end gave fans a last look at their favorite and an inkling of what she could have done had she had time for more non-musical roles.

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