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Volume 4554

DENNY MILLER FLASHBACKS
Denny shares anecdotes from his long career in show business
PAGE IV
Contents
1. We Still Call Him Coach
2. Tussle in the Tree House & River Chatter with Joanna Barnes
3. Name Game


Denny and Nancy

"Denny Miller Flashbacks" is an ongoing feature in ERBzine
in which Denny will share a different anecdote each week.
Readers are reminded to join us each Friday for a new Miller flashback.
MAIN CONTENTS PAGE: ERBzine 4550
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We Still Call Him Coach
Coach John Wooden is the college basketball coach with the most National Championships to his credit - TEN!  He is also one of two men who are in the Coaching Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame, as a player, along with Lenny Wilkens. My brother Kent and I had the privilege of being coached by him. 

"Coach" was an amazing man!  He was a father figure and a leader. He was first a teacher.  His most important lesson was that you are a winner if you do your best ... a lesson he hoped would stick with you throughout your life.  Winning had nothing to do with the game score.  It was all about how well you played and about the great feeling you got when you knew you had done your very best.  That's what Coach called success!

Coach Wooden led by example ... being mentally and physically fit.  He was a flash back to the Golden Age of Greece.  He wasn't macho in a macho world.  No four letter words!  If you heard him say,"Goodness gracious, sakes alive!" You knew he angry. 

When I am asked about Coach, I always say, "He was a poet in the locker room."  He was a soft spoken man and was always positive, even in negative situations.  He was a prince in the gym.  The rules of the game were just that, rules -- not to be broken or bent.  That did not mean he didn't want you to play hard.  If you dove on the hardwood floor for the ball and came up with bloody knees, he'd be there to pat you on the back.  If you punched someone in the nose, you would be sitting next to him on the bench.  Coach always kept the ship afloat with sportsmanship.

My brother, Kent, was a 6'7" man who moved like a cat, with the grace and economy of motion of a professional dancer.  And he could soar! At 6'4" tall, I explained to Coach that the only reason I did not dunk was because I was afraid of heights.

When Coach was alive, we had coach and player reunions every other year. At the last one there over one hundred and fifty  former UCLA players and six coaches.  What a great feeling to be among my teammates ... lots of laughter, a few joyful tears and bunches of hugs.

I proudly belonged to four groups of men. The biggest group is those men that have been honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.  Belonging to that group has taught me to hate war.

I belong to the P.T.A. - the "Past Tarzan's Association."  It is a very small group of 23 men who have played the role of Tarzan on film.  That experience taught me that life happens when you are on the way to someplace else.   That certainly was a life-changing experience!  Being selected to be a cartoon gives me an excuse to never group up!

At UCLA I joined a fraternity. More than fifty-five years later I still have my best friend, Don.  Thank you Figis.

The group of men I am proudest to be a member of is that bunch of athletes who had the privilege of being coached by John Wooden.   I love you, Coach!


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Tussle In The Tree House
Dad was a Phi Beta Kappa. So was Joanna Barnes. No wonder the role of Tarzan's Jane wasn't much of a challenge for her. She would arrive at the MGM set carrying a thick stack of reading material. 

I was voted "Class Clown" at University High School, in Los Angeles.  I did not bring any reading material to the set. 

We had a fight scene in the tree house.  It really was more of a tussle than a fight.  TARZAN had carried Jane to the tree house while she was knocked out cold.  When she wakes up she finds herself in a strange place with a strange creature leaning over her and she flips out.  TARZAN tries to calm her fears and gives her a papaya as a peace offering. 

In rehearsal Joanna slaps me in the face. She wasn't really mad at me. She was just following the script.  The next rehearsal I was ready for the slap. I caught her wrist just before she landed the slap.  The director liked what he saw and said, "Let's shoot it."  He called "Action." 

Here comes the slap and I caught her right wrist. I was feeling fairly smug, when out of the corner  of my eye, I saw the left hand coming.  Out of fear of pain and with some good luck, I was able to catch her left wrist also.  I was down on one knee, holding her two wrists. 

Suddenly, without warning, she bit my knee!  That hurt!  Now I was perturbed/mad.  I kinda threw her across the baboo room.  Let me correct myself, I didn't kinda throw her - I threw her! 

"Cut" yelled the director. "Print it."  We got the scene in one take. 
 

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River Chatter

On the back lot at MGM there was a cement river basin built years ago to shoot Johnny Weissmuller, as Tarzan. He starred in twelve of the Tarzan movies; far more than anyone else.  Johnny was my film hero.  He was also an Olympic hero. 

Joanna and I were to float gently down this waterway, among the beautiful lily pads, while she did her monologue.  She was talking to herself more than to Tarzan... wondering out loud what he was all about. She wonders aloud how this strange man came to be here and what does he think of her.  It was supposed to be a quiet, romantic scene but there was a problem. 

They forgot to heat the water so Joanna's teeth were chattering so loud you could not hear her lines. I didn't have any lines so I was just gritting my teeth.  Poor Joanna. She sounded like a typewriter. 

After several unsuccessful takes, someone suggested that a little brandy might warm her up.  The brandy worked. Now there was a different problem. Joanna was giddy, or maybe tipsy would be a better description.  She was intoxicated! 

She was having so much fun that I was tempted to take a swig.  After a few cups of coffee, she performed wonderfully.  It took an hour wrapped in five wool blankets to warm me up!


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THE NAME GAME 

For years, I used to collect odd names. I would save them in a file folder. But in the past decade or so, it would have taken an entire file cabinet!  Celebrities have become "famous" for giving their off-springs rare and unusual names.  My wife is a substitute teacher and often comes home with unique names of her students.  It makes me wonder why or how they even came up with these monikers. Today she brought home several "winners."  How about En-a. It is pronounced Endasha!  Another was Name - that took a lot of imagination! 

Well, when I signed to play Duke Shannon, on Wagon Train, the producers wanted me to change my name to Duke Shannon.  They said that Denny didn't sound manly enough. Their reasoning was that men's names ending in "y" weren't macho for leading men.  Hello! What about Jimmy Stewart, Tony Curtis, Harry Belafonte, Cary Grant and Sidney Poitier? 

I had been Denny Miller for twenty-four years and was comfortable with it.  But the producer were adamant about it. So, we came up with a compromise. I asked my parents to give me a list of ten names and the producers could choose one from the list. After all, my parents were the ones that named the first time. 

The producers selected Scott from the list.  My billing on Wagon Train started out as Denny Miller, changed to Denny Scott Miller and then, Scott Miller. When I left the show almost four years later, I went back to Denny Miller and have stuck with it for fifty plus years.
 



WAGON TRAIN: The Duke Shannon Story (50m video)
Wagon Train Interview (29 minutes on YouTube)
with DENNY "Scott" MILLER (Duke Shannon)
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Denny Miller Filmography in IMDB
Denny "Scott" Miller Bio in Wikipedia


DENNY MILLER FLASHBACK CONTENTS PAGE
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