More Tributes from Denny's Friends and Colleagues

(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 was.

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 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

  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

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
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Denny shares anecdotes from his long career

Read George McWhorter's 
Denny Miller Remembered

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