Turner Classic Movies
Miller, Ann
Written by Diana Saenger   


Date of Birth:   April 12, 1923

Place of Birth: Houston, Texas

Date of Death: January 22, 2004

Cause of Death:  Lung cancer

Born Jonnie Lucille Coiller, Miller was a Texas gal in 1923, or so some biography's state. She claimed she had to add years to her age to get jobs when she was a teenager. Some say she was born in 1919; others insist it was 1925. Just like an actress!

On The Town © MGM


She began dancing school at the age of three to correct a bad case of rickets. As a teen she danced at local Rotary Club functions and at the Houston Orpheum Theater.


"I never played politics, I was never a party girl, and I never slept with any of the producers." It's amazing she had any career at all in Hollywood.


In the late 1930s Miller got a booking at the Club Bal Tabarin in San Francisco. A very young Lucille Ball was in the audience. She persuaded her agent to give Miller a screen test at RKO Studios were Ball was also under contract. In later years, Ball ended up owning the RKO Studios when she made I Love Lucy.

Miller stayed on at RKO to make New Faces of 1937, Stage Door with Ginger Rogers, Radio City Revels (1938) with Milton Berle, and Room Service with Lucy and the zany Marx Brothers.

She was loaned to director Frank Capra (It Happened One Night) at Columbia Studios for You Can't Take It With You (1938), which put her on the film map. After two more films at RKO her contract was up and she left the studio for Broadway.

Producer George White signed Miller for Scandals of 1939. She knocked everybody out with a dazzling musical number called MexiCongo. Broadway critics raved and writer Burns Mantle wrote, "She is a shapely tap dancer with a talent that is exceptional and a pictorial appeal beyond that of many of her tapping sisters."

The show brought her to the attention of legendary Broadway producer George Abbott. He took Miller back to Hollywood with him when he went out West to film, Too Many Girls with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1940.

After Too Many Girls wrapped and made a star of Desi Arnaz, Miller made a few quickies at Republic Studios with cowboy Gene Autry. Columbia Pictures signed her to a seven-year contract. She cranked out some wartime musicals such as Time Out for Rhythm, (1940), Reveille with Beverly, (1943), What's Buzzin' Cousin?, (1943), and Eadie Was A Lady (1945). The ten films she made at Columbia made lots of money and became popular with World War II GIs.

At this time Columbia mogul Harry Cohn had some big plans for Miller to act as a threat to his bad-girl star Rita Hayworth. He planned to put Miller into a lavish Technicolor musical to scare the redheaded Hayworth into behaving. Miller defied Cohn and married iron works heir Reese Llewellen Milner and quit pictures. Cohn was furious and banned her forever from the lot. After she lost a baby daughter at birth she divorced Milner. Cohn was adamant and would not take her back into the studio.

Over at MGM they needed a dancer for The Kissing Bandit to fill the shoes of Eleanor Powell, who had married actor Glenn Ford and gotten pregnant with son Peter Ford. Miller stepped right in and knocked the brass at MGM into a tizzy. Although the film starred Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson, it was a stinker. Miller was the best thing in it. Even she thought it was the worst film of the 20th century. It didn't matter because MGM signed her to a seven-year contract anyway.

MGM was known as the Tiffany of studios. They boasted they had "more stars than there are in the Heavens," and rightly so. Ann Miller joined the ranks of musical stars Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Cyd Charisse, Gloria DeHaven, and Judy Garland. Charisse was Miller's only dancing threat and was known for having long legs that went from her collarbone to the floor. Miller wasn't worried; she     had equally gorgeous gams and could out-tap the ballet trained Charisse. When Charisse broke her leg, Miller replaced her as Astaire's dancing partner in Easter Parade (1948) and her career was launched at MGM. She followed that with more pictures including On The Town (1949).


On The Town © MGM

Miller caught the eye of MGM boss Louis B. Mayer. Separated from his ill wife, Mayer asked permission of Miller's mother to take Ann out to nightclubs. Mom agreed if she could go along, too. Miller wrote in her autobiography Miller's High Life that everything was on the up and up and she never had to give in to Mayer's romantic inclinations. He was crazy about her and wanted to marry her, but Miller avoided the question. They remained on good terms, and she made a great many musicals for Mayer.


Ann Miller was greatly loved by many people in Hollywood. Pal Mickey Rooney and fellow MGM star said in The Hollywood Reporter upon her passing, "She was a great talent. She is a great talent. I'll never think of her as being gone. We kept in touch with her. She told me the last time I spoke to her she wasn't feeling too well, and I said, €˜Keep your head up, kid.' "

Long-time friend and Hollywood Reporter columnist Robert Osborne said of his beloved Annie, "Her pals knew who she was, most importantly, as consistently kind-hearted and loyal a person as you'd ever find, that proverbial €˜good egg' who was as lively and positive as she was unpredictable. In spite of a long and increasingly debilitating illness, she always had cheery words for everyone she met and always made sure she looked like a million dollars."

Ann Miller was a true, glamorous star from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The classic film actress and dancer was once known as the fastest tap dancer in films.




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