(April 25, 1934 – September 9, 2014)
FOR DENNY by Martin Smiddy
Where to begin to write such a thing as my memories of Denny, that would
go anywhere near to giving the full picture. For those of you who met him
at so many conventions he attended you will have kept thinking you had
made a friend, not just met your hero, because that's the sort of man he
I had my first of many handwritten letters from Denny in the summer
of 1977. I had asked him, in the hope that he would receive the letter
I sent him, if he was in touch with any other Tarzan actors as I had seen
him in photos of a couple of reunions. He said that he was not.....but
you know what he did? He broke off writing and phoned Dan Burroughs. He
arranged for me to send any letters I wanted to send to other actors to
Dan! I couldn't believe it, and thus began an exchange of letters that
developed to typing and onto e-mails. The turn-round time for our communication
was reduced from two weeks to a couple of hours!
I cannot tell you how many 8 x 10s I sent to him for autographing over
the years, but if I sent three stills then six would come back from the
latest shows he had done, along with some crazy anecdotal story of something
that had happened that had made him laugh, a skill he had of passing laughter
onto others. You will all have experienced that!
In 1980 I made my first visit to California to meet Denny. I was so
excited I remember that feeling to this day with a smile on my face, then
there he was looking over a gate I could not see over, asking if it was
me, really me visiting him? He was a welcoming and gracious host, showing
me round his home, his garden, the town he lived in (Ojai at that time)
then the area surrounding the town he lived in featuring the remarkable
Matilija Hot Springs! It seemed to be just hours with hind-sight and it
was all-to-soon time to go after a remarkable couple of days!
I have been lucky enough to have repeated the trip several times, to
Ojai then Mountain Centre (above Palm Springs) and most recently Las Vegas,
last October. I would have to write a book to tell you of the things we
did and the laughs we had over breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Then after
filming a coffee commercial in France he decided to come and stay with
us for a weekend.....it turned into a week and I did my best to take him
everywhere including the castles of North Wales only an hour from our home.
The difference is, of course, that our wonderful country is freezing compared
to California! He spoke of that trip often, always with the "haw haw haw"
that we came to associate with him. Life was for living and laughing and
Denny made people feel alive and happy.
So almost forty years have passed, we had grown old together but we
still talked of training and teaching and the love we shared for both.
Denny wrote whimsical, funny and thought provoking books about exercise
and life-style. One was semi autobiographical and he was kind enough to
put a full page photo of me in dressed as Tarzan. That is the sense of
humour the man had, I am so proud of that inclusion. We shared the "use
it or lose it" attitude to training, and even though separated by an ocean
and a land mass, Denny's influence always kept me going.....but tonight
in the gym I felt very lonely: I would have no one to report to, or lament
the effect of advancing years on our ageing body with! I have a feeling
now that whenever I am in the gym he will be with me, supporting my efforts
and laughing at my failings, but I'll keep going. That's what Denny taught
and he always "walked his talk", how can I ever do less?
I am so happy that I made the trip to Las Vegas in October, Denny knew
I held him in high regard and I am happy about that. I have no regrets,
no "I wish I'd said this" or "told him that" because I did, and he knew.
Our parting in October was difficult, dear Nancy spotted that, a hand-shake
was no longer enough and we hugged, I couldn't speak and his eyes were
shining with unshed tears. Nancy was driving me to the airport and Denny
was stood at the front of the house. He lightened the moment by, not giving
a Tarzan yell, but by breaking a little tunelessly into "I'll be calling
you-oo-oo". I left with a smile on my face and laughter in my heart not
knowing, but somehow suspecting, that I would never see my pal again. It
is difficult to think that. He gave us all so much: never the celebrity,
always approachable, always friendly and easy to love.
Thank you Denny Miller, you have made me and countless others feel special;
I feel privileged above all others but I guess he made each of us feel
that way, because that was the kind of man he was, a Man For All Reasons.
Rest knowing you will be missed by many.
~ Martin Smiddy
DENNY REMEMBERED by John
There are a few people in this world who are so familiar to the
general public that one name is sufficient to identify them: Elvis, Cher,
Liberace... Among ERB fans, there are also those where one
name is sufficient to let others know who you are talking about: George,
Vern, Caz...and Denny. You didn't need to say "Denny Miller."
You could just say "Denny" and everyone would know who you were
talking about. He was labeled by many as "Tarzan the Best," not because
he starred in the best Tarzan movie that was ever made. He himself gently
ribbed the 1959 "Tarzan the Ape-Man." But he was "Tarzan the
Best" because he was probably the most fan-friendly man who ever donned
the loin cloth (which, by the way, he retained after the filming of his
movie and stayed in such good physical condition that he could still fit
into it in his final years).
Not only did Denny, accompanied by his biggest fan, wife Nancy,
show up at many fan gatherings, but he made long-standing friendships among
fans; gave out his private contact information; freely signed autographs,
and happily made himself available to the media for interviews; And
finally, he quietly, yet effectively, provided the spark that resulted
in the fulfillment of the dream of many a fan: He was the reason that,
in August of 2012, a U.S. postage stamp was issued to honor Edgar Rice
Burroughs on the 100th anniversary of the author's first published story.
The story has been told in The Burroughs Bulletin No. 87, but
to recap briefly: Denny, because of his role in some cowboy films, was
among several other western stars invited to the grand opening of the Clinton
Library in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2006. While in that town, he and others
were invited to the home of Ron Robinson who, at that time, was chairman
of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee. Denny seized the opportunity
to put a bug directly in Robinson's ear about the suitability of Burroughs
as a stamp subject, and Robinson immediately liked the idea. Several months
later, he wrote to Denny to tell him that the committee had voted unanimously
to put Burroughs on a stamp. "The hardest part was keeping
quiet about it," Denny said in a 2012 interview. The Postal Service liked
to keep its stamp subjects secret until it was ready to announce them itself.
And so Denny didn't talk about it, or his role in it.
In fact, he was so low-profile about it that even his presence
was almost overlooked at the ERB stamp dedication ceremony in Tarzana,
Calif., on Aug. 17, 2012. During the ceremony, someone on the stage noted
that two Tarzans were present that day -- Ron Ely and Casper Van Dien.
Fortunately, someone in the audience stood up and said that there was a
third Tarzan there, Denny Miller.
Even so, probably no one at that ceremony actually knew of Denny's
role in the selection of that stamp subject in the first place. The full
story was scheduled to be told in print in The Burroughs Bulletin which
was to have come out that winter, but due to delays in the BB schedule,
that issue was not actually published until July of 2013. But
the story is out now. And it is a lasting legacy, not only for fans of
Edgar Rice Burroughs, but for Denny himself.
And Denny credited Burroughs for him even having a movie and
television career at all. Because Denny, a former basketball player for
UCLA, kept himself in such good physical condition, he was "discovered"
in Hollywood fashion by an agent who saw him moving furniture. Denny took
a screen test and was shortly thereafter cast as Tarzan and went on to
do countless other roles, including, at one time, his own television series,
"Mona McCluskey," starring opposite Juliet Prowse. And, of course, he was
Duke Shannon on "Wagon Train" for three seasons.
There is so much to be said about Denny that it can't all be said in
one little tribute like this but there will be many others with great Denny
stories to tell.
Deepest condolences to Nancy and Denny's wonderful family.
~ John "Bridge" Martin
DENNY MILLER REMEMBERED
by Ron Ely
I have thought a lot about Denny Miller since I heard the news of his passing.
We worked together twice that I can remember: once on a pilot for a series
called, “The Seal,” and once on the series, “Sea Hunt.” On each, Denny
played the heavy or bad guy while I was the protagonist. It could easily
have been reversed without altering the chemistry of the play.
Oddly, I do not remember ever discussing the character of Tarzan with
Denny, which is the most common bond we shared. It was not until years
later that there was a nodding acceptance to the fact that we had both
portrayed that iconic fictional hero. Denny’s career was long and ran the
gamut from modern day sit-com or drama to classic western (Wagon Train),
but Denny seemed very connected to Tarzan, and I believe that he was proud
to have that on his resume.
I know that many fans of Tarzan loved Denny, and I also know that when
they met him they were not disappointed in the man. He was what he appeared
to be: strong, affable, and very genuine. I miss knowing that he will not
be part of any future Tarzan event that the dwindling number of ex-Tarzan
portrayers might attend.
The last time I saw Denny was at just such an evening celebrating Edgar
Rice Burroughs’ works. He still looked like he could step right into the
costume and pick up where he left off. We talked a little about the times
we had worked together, and we talked a little about our families, and
we talked a little about the changes in the business, but we still did
not talk about our tenures as Tarzan. I cannot help but wonder how that
conversation might have gone.
Rest in Peace, Denny. You’ll be missed.
~ Ron Ely