b. Johnnie Lucille Ann Collier, 12 April 1923, Chireno, Texas, USA, d. 22 January 2004, Los Angeles, California, USA. A vivacious, long-legged tap dancer (500 taps per minute) who achieved stardom rather late in her career via several classic film musicals of the late 40s and early 50s. After her parents were divorced when she was about nine years old, Miller, of Irish, French and Cherokee descent, moved with her mother to California and supplemented the family’s finances by dancing in clubs. An RKO talent scout spotted her there, and in the late 30s she made a few films for the studio, including New Faces Of 1937, The Life Of The Party, Stage Door, Radio City Revels, Having Wonderful Time, Room Service, and Tarnished Angel. In 1938 she was loaned out to Columbia for the Frank Capra comedy You Can’t Take It With You which won the Oscar for Best Picture. A year later she thrilled Broadway audiences by dancing ‘The Mexiconga’, accompanied by the Loo Sisters and Ella Logan in George White’s Scandals. During the early 40s Miller was often one of the few artists worth watching in a series of mostly low-budget features which included Melody Ranch, Time Out For Rhythm, Go West, Young Lady, Reveille With Beverly, What’s Buzzin’, Cousin?, Jam Session, Carolina Blues, and Eadie Was A Lady. In 1948, she had good role in Easter Parade with Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Peter Lawford, and provided one of the film’s highlights with her scintillating solo dance number ‘Shakin’ The Blues Away’. Her performance in that film merited a seven year MGM contract, and after performing a frenetic ‘Dance Of Fury’ with Ricardo Montalbán and Cyd Charisse in The Kissing Bandit, joined Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Jules Munshin in one of the all-time great movie musicals, On The Town (1949). She led them all a fine dance around the anthropology museum with the clever and amusing ‘Prehistoric Man’. Although she was by now around 30 years of age, Miller continued to shine during the early 50s in movies such as Texas Carnival, Two Tickets To Broadway, Lovely To Look At (which included her highly individual interpretation of ‘I’ll Be Hard To Handle’), and Small Town Girl in which she excelled again, this time with ‘I Gotta Hear That Beat’. In Kiss Me Kate (1953) she played what was said to be her favourite role of Bianca, and this film was arguably the highlight of her whole career. Her memorable performances of Cole Porter’s marvellous ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘From This Moment On’, ‘Tom, Dick And Harry’, ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’, ‘Always True To You Darling In My Fashion’, and ‘We Open In Venice’ were a joy to behold. By now, the golden era of MGM musicals was almost over, and after guesting in the Sigmund Romberg biopic Deep In My Heart, and emphasising just how good she still was with a top-class routine to ‘The Lady From The Bayou’ in Hit The Deck, Miller signed off in 1956 with the ordinary The Opposite Sex and the non-musical The Great American Pastime (about baseball, of course). Like so many others, in the 60s she turned to television and nightclubs and toured in stage revivals of shows such as Hello, Dolly!, Panama Hattie, and Can-Can. She also made a television commercial for soup in which she danced on the top of an enormous can, surrounded by water fountains, a large orchestra, and a bevy of chorus girls. In 1969, Miller returned to Broadway after an absence of 30 years and took over the leading role in the hit musical Mame to wide critical acclaim. In the early 70s her extensive tours in Anything Goes were interrupted for more than a year while Miller recovered from an accident in which she was struck by a sliding steel curtain. In 1979 she joined Mickey Rooney in Sugar Babies, a celebration of the golden era of American vaudeville which ran on Broadway for 1, 208 performances before touring the US for several years, and spending a brief time in London’s West End in 1988. During her long career, Miller was awarded honours including the George M. Cohan Award for Best Female Entertainer, the Sarah Siddons Award for Best Actress, and an award for Best Dance Number given to her by the Dance Awards of America. The University of California presented her with its Lifetime Award and endowed a yearly drama award and scholarship in her honour. Miller’s colourful private life, which involved admirers such as Conrad Hilton and Louis B. Mayer, and failed marriages to three American oil millionaires, was documented in her 1972 autobiography, Miller’s High Life. She was also interested in the paranormal and is said to have believed implicitly that she was a reincarnation of the first female Pharaoh of Egypt. However, for a limited season in 1998, Miller exchanged the mysteries of the Middle East for the more mundane Paper Mill Playhouse, New Jersey, where she played Carlotta (‘I’m Still Here’) in a decent revival of Follies. In 2001, she made one of her final performances in David Lynch’s cult movie Mulholland Dr.Portions of Content Provided by Rovi Corporation.
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