Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 4553

Denny shares anecdotes from his long career in show business
Shared with ERBzine by Denny and Nancy Miller ~ Illustrated by Bill Hillman
Fire and Ice
Good Luck
Friends and Letters

Denny and Nancy

"Denny Miller Flashbacks" was an ongoing feature in ERBzine
in which Denny shared a different anecdote each week.
Readers joined us each Friday for a new Miller flashback.
Winter and summer... Michael Green was "winter" and I was "summer".  Mike was 6'7" tall and I was 6'4". The tiny model town in front of us was on a low table about three inches tall.  The telephone poles were three inches high; the houses were about two inches and the streets had one-half inch high cars traveling on them. 

Mike had snow falling in front of him and I had a huge fire roaring in front of me.  We were giant trouble for cars!  Mike froze engines and I boiled them over.  Prestone was the product saving the motorists' day.  The TV announcer said, "Don't worry, Prestone will protect you from these two monsters. 

Mikey's hair looked like a bird's nest made out of shiny blue ice -- a big Jack Frost with four-inch-long icy fingernails!  I wore a gold helmet with painted gold pikes over a foot long, sticking out in all directions. If the sun had a face on it, I was the sun! 

It took over two hours in the makeup chair to get ready.  I was painted gold all over. They even painted my teeth and gums gold.  My costume was that of a Roman Centurion complete with short skirt and chest plate.  Everything I touched turned to gold. Eating a sandwich was a real challenge! 

One of the makeup men had traveled all over the world with Bob Hope.  What an incredible GOOD WILL PACKAGE Mr. Hope's life was!  I believe laughter is great medicine and no one was better at administering laughter. 

About thirty years ago, I was fortunate to be cast as the Texaco Man in one of many commercials Bob Hope did for Texaco.  He used a huge cue card, held by the Assistant Director, behind the camera. It took skill to read off cue cards and not have it be obvious to your audience. The best I have ever seen were Raymond Burr and Bob Hope. 

When the set was ready, lighting, sound and cameras -- they called him from his dressing room.  He read over his lines three times and the director said, "Give us a few minutes."  Mr. Hope retreated to his dressing room.  We shot the commercial in one take... no "do overs" for Bob Hope. 

The film editor would make sure the commercial ran precisely the correct amount of seconds.

The second year Mike and I shot the commercial we were even more frightening. 

by Stephen B WhatleySame little town, same big monsters; but this time they turned up the heat.  Mike became a blizzard instead of a snow storm. And this time I wore an asbestos glove on my right hand so I could so I could throw a fire bolt at the cars. They handed me a nurf ball soaked in lighter fluid. 

I was to throw the the fiery ball directly at the camera.  The prop department had set up a sheet of glass between me and the camera, to protect the the camera and its operator.  What really held my attention was the the bucket of ice water next to my right foot.  The stunt coordinator explained that I had no more than a few seconds between the time the fire ball left my hand and when I would start to feel the heat.  Why? 

Because the glove would still be on fire!  I figured, once I got all the instructions, I would have no problem launching the fire ball at the camera and then immediately dropping my fiery, gloved hand in the bucket of ice water.  Well, the plan looked good on paper. 

I did not factor in how mesmerized I would become when they lit the nurf ball, and throwing it at the camera.   There was a flaring line of fire ten feet long, from my finger tips to the glass. It looked as if I could shoot flames out of my fingers, like Spider-Man did with webbing.  I could not stop watching it. 

Then, fortunately, I felt a slap on my right leg and someone whispering a reminder to put my hand and flaming glove in the bucket. Thank you to the off-camera prop man for the reminder! 

There are lots of talented people in Hollywood -- in front of the camera and behind it. There are a few with little or no talent too.  That's true in any business. George Carlin said, "You don't have to know what you are doing to do what you are doing today!" He had a way with words!

I think luck has played a part in my fifty-plus year career.  Here are some examples...

I auditioned for a Pratt and Whitney/United Air Lines commercial.  I got the job because I could carry an actress on my left shoulder and an actor on my right shoulder, while walking up the steps to a 747.  Talk about talent!  Glad I kept in shape -- my strength got me the job!

I did a L'OR Coffee commercial in Paris and London.  I got the job because I looked like the founder of the company.  He had been dead for two hundred years!  The beard was working for me!

When I auditioned for a Fruit of the Loom commercial, they asked me to stretch my arms out to the side.  They measured my wing span from fingertip to fingertip.  They had made a chest of drawers and wanted an actor that could reach both ends of it, pick it up and move it while looking for his shorts. I got the job.  My talent that day... a thirty-eight inch shirt sleeve!

Fifty-four years ago, I was moving furniture on Sunset Boulevard. The UCLA Athletic Department got their scholarship athletes these types of jobs to keep them in shape.  While moving a desk chair, a talent agent gave me his card and said "Call me."  What a stroke of talent that was!

MGM wanted me to do a screen test before signing me to a contract.  My many years of dedication to basketball had not prepared me for a screen test.  Lucky for me, they assigned renowned, Academy Award winning director George Cukor, to direct the test.  How could I miss?

I was a Contract Player at Universal Studios when "Wagon Train" was in its glory.  I got a small part to do in one episode. I got to meet Ward Bond and we spent a long time talking sports -- basketball in particular.   I was so bad in the part, Universal was going to let me go. Ward Bond said, "Give the kid another chance."  One hundred and ten episodes later, I had worked with most of the biggest stars in Hollywood!  Lucky me!

About nineteen years ago, my Agent sent me on an audition for the role of The Gorton's Fisherman.  He told me to shave my beard for the audition -- their packaging had a clean-shaven fisherman.  I did not shave. I was the only bearded actor auditioning for the part. They must have tested hundreds of actors; all clean-shaven.  I got the job!  The beard worked for me again; for fourteen years!

I was not lucky enough to have a relative in the business to open some doors for me.  Nepotism never played a role in my career,  I was not in the Hollywood Social Scene and stayed away from the "casting couch."  Sadly, I was not a member of the John Wayne Players, or Clint Eastwood films.  Although, I would have loved it. But I did manage to have a long career in  show business.  Luck certainly did play a part.

To quote my favorite actress, Katharine Hepburn, "No one does it alone. Your success belongs to the people who are holding you  up.  I can only say that I am the product of adorable people.  I've been so lucky, just lucky."  Me too!

Hepburn and Cukor

Friends and Letters
Before email, Facebook and Twitter, we had paper friends.  Friends that wrote letters.  One day a letter arrived from a perfect stranger and years later, I had a perfect friend.  Winifred Franks wrote my mother (Mom took care of my fan mail at the time).  She wrote that she enjoyed watching "WAGON TRAIN", in her flat in London.  She wrote again and again, always on sky blue paper.  Her Cockney way of saying things reminded me of Eliza Doolittle, in "MY FAIR LADY."

Winnie's letters were friendly and feisty.  You could tell she wanted to be a friend, not a bother. She came on the wings of laughter and never, never landed on the septic tank of life. She was a genuine, jolly person and we corresponded for many years. Over the years, she knitted me sixteen sweaters, sent my mother an antique glove ring, and other lovely gifts.  When her "Budgie" died I sent her money to buy a new one.  I phoned her on several holidays and she sounded like she wrote, like Eliza.

My parents arranged to meet her when they were on an overseas trip.  She did not show up and soon after that, her letters stopped.

Several years later, she started writing again.  She had been caring for an aunt that was ill and needed help.  Winnie cared for her until she passed away. Her letters were written by "three people." The first part was always Winnie and she would sign them "Best regards, Winnie."  At the bottom of the letter, the other two "people" - a boy and a girl, would add their thoughts.  They were drawn in stick figures under her name.  Winnie could talk through her "second self" more comfortably and less formally.  I've never had letters like these.  I still have them.

Martin Smiddy started as a paper friend. We have been writing for more than twenty years. He is a physical educator and a fitness devotee. I've visited him and his family in Wales, and he was at my Ojai home twice.  He is planning to visit us in Las Vegas, in October.  His son Rich and his lovely bride visited us recently, while they  honeymooned in Las Vegas. 

Martin is a Tarzan fan.  He has a large collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs memorabilia that grew with each of his pay checks.  We are looking forward to his visit.

Winnie and Smiddy are my long-time, distant friends.  Now, with the advent of Facebook, I marvel at the world-wide "friends" I have now!

I have always been proud of being chosen to star in TARZAN THE APE MAN.  It opened many doors for me and brought me into contact with many amazing people.  One such person is George McWhorter, Curator of Rare Books at the University of Louisville.  He cares for the world's largest collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs' memorabilia.  Our friendship spans many years and continues to grow everyday. He is family!

Tarzan fans gather each year to buy and sell books, lobby posters, photos, toys, buttons, buckles, etc.  I have attended many of these Dum-Dums and made so many good friends over the years!  I am very fortunate.

George, a former opera singer, opens these gatherings with his Tarzan yell.  No one sleeps when he yells.  He can break glass.

His letters and our phone conversations are full of humor and knowledge.  He is a national treasure! Thank you, George, for all do. 

Martin Smiddy

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