Johnnie Lucille Collier, better known as Ann Miller (April 12, 1923 — January 22, 2004) was an American singer, dancer and actress.
Early life of Ann Miller
Ann Miller was born in Houston, Texas to Clara Emma (nee Birdwell) and John Alfred Collier. He was a criminal lawyer who represented the Barrow Gang, Machine Gun Kelly, and Baby Face Nelson, among others. Ann’s maternal grandmother was Cherokee. Ann Miller’s father insisted on the name Johnnie because he had wanted a boy, but she was often called Annie. She took up dancing to exercise her legs to help her rickets. She was considered a child dance prodigy. In an interview featured in a ‘behind the scenes’ documentary on the making of the compilation That’s Entertainment III, she said that Eleanor Powell was an early inspiration.
Career of Ann Miller
At the age of 13 Miller had been 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 Ann Miller to be given a contract with RKO in 1936 at the age of 13 (she had also told them she was 18). She remained there until 1940. The following year, Ann Miller was offered a contract at Columbia Pictures. She finally hit her mark (starting in the late 1940s and early 1950s ) in her roles in MGM musicals such as Kiss Me Kate, Easter Parade, and On the Town.
Ann Miller popularized pantyhose in the 1940s as a solution to the problem of continual torn stockings during the filming of dance production numbers. The common practice had been to sew hosiery to briefs worn by Miller. 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.
Ann Miller was famous 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.
In 1970, satirist Stan Freberg, father of the funny commercial, used Miller and her tap-dancing skills in a television commercial for Great American Soups. Miller initially plays a housewife asked by her ‘husband ‘ (Dave Willock) what she’s prepared for dinner. She throws off her house frock to reveal a sequined dance outfit … The kitchen set splits open to reveal a huge Hollywood stage. Showcasing a giant can of soup, atop which Miller sings and dances, accompanied by a double chorus line. At the end of the commercial, she returns to the kitchen set. There the husband character exclaims, “Why do you have to make such a big ‘production’ out of everything?”
According to Freberg, the commercial cost so much to produce that little money was left in the advertising budget to purchase airtime for it. The commercial can be seen on the video accompanying Freberg’s boxed set release, Tip Of The Freberg.
She was known, especially later in her career, for her distinctive appearance. It 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. Her film career effectively ended in 1956 as the studio system lost steam to television. But she remained active in the theater 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 theater.
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. She played the hard-boiled survivor Carlotta Campion and received rave reviews for her rendition of the song, I’m Still Here.
Ann Miller also performed a guest appearance on Home Improvement as a dance instructor to Tim and Jill. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Ann Miller has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6914 Hollywood Blvd. Ann Miller was parodied on Saturday Night Live by Molly Shannon.
Death of Ann Miller
Ann Miller died at the age of 80, from cancer, which had metastasized to her lungs. She was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia )