Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 4555

Denny shares anecdotes from his long career in show business
1. Staying Alive
2. Thank You, Edgar Rice Burroughs
3. Love What You Do

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.
There was a time when some actors looked down on television and film.  The live stage was IT!  The only worthwhile acting  jobs were on the Broadway stage.  There are fine actors who are able to do it all.  Hugh Jackman and Morgan Freeman are prime examples!  Tom Hanks, Claire Danes, Daniel Craig,  Denzel Washington, and countless other film stars that have also had successful runs on Broadway.

Back in the sixties it was unthinkable to do a television commercial.  Actors wouldn’t consider using their talent to sell a product. Then Joseph Cotten did a spot for Bayer Aspirin.  Actors found they could make good money doing commercials and followed suit.  Today, award-winning actors do commercials, voice overs, animated movies... you name it. 

Entertainment evolves. Studies show that the public can only accept a certain amount of bad news then they turn to entertainment for distraction.  They tend to live vicariosly through others to escape the stress.  Thus, Reality Shows and the Paparazzi were born.  Nancy and I do not watch these reality shows at home.  But my hat is off to Lee and Morty Kauffman, selling Swiffer products. They are non-actors and both are in their nineties.  They  are naturals. Nancy and I love their spots! They are also excellent examples of “You are never to old to start a new page in your life!”

Much of my 50-plus year career was doing episodic shows and television commercials.  I could never imagine performing on stage, with a live audience.  I was much more comfortable in front of a camera; that worked for me.  Remember, I was a misplaced basketball player that was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.  Who would of thought that moving furniture, on Sunset Boulevard, one afternoon would change my life’s journey? I believe life happens when you are on your way to do something else.

In the sixties, the television series WAGON TRAIN did more to break down the caste system than any other show.   A juicy part was offered to a star each week.  The episode was named after the character they played and they were paid handsomely.  This concept worked and Wagon Train was the #1 show running.  It became my classroom for acting.  I had the opportunity to work with most of the biggest names in Hollywood! 

I was elated when I was hired to play Duke Shannon, Assistant Scout, on WAGON TRAIN.  It was the #1 television show, and I was working with Robert Horton and Ward Bond – two great actors!  I never imagined it would be my job for more than three years; one hundred and seven episodes.  During my first year on the show, my part was so small that when a cow-poke rode up and asked “Which way did they go?” I’d just shrug.  As time went on, I would point and say, “That-a-way.” when asked that question.  But I was learning my craft.  I got to work with the best!  John McIntyre came on the show to replace Ward Bond and he became a father figure to me. Terry Wilson and Frank McGrath were regulars and showed great patience with me and friendship I still cherish. 

When I was cast on other shows, I had a routine.  The minute I got the script, I would leaf through it and find the first line my character would say.  I would tab that page and continue to search for every additional line and appearance of my character.  I was looking to see if the character died or got sent to jail, or just disappeared.  I wanted to know if this could be a recurring role.  If my character spoke first and then again on page three, that was a good sign.  But if I got shot on page twenty and fell into a lake, that was not good.  Hopefully one of his buddies would pull him out  and he would live to work another day. 

When I was cast as Mike McKClusky opposite Juliet Prowse, on the MONA McCLUSKY Show, I was thrilled, for many reasons.  I got to work with a beautiful and talented actress, a wonderful supporting cast and it was a twenty-six week run.  I like working and the  security of a long-run job is very reassuring.  My “longest run” was as the GORTON’S FISHERMAN.  I was their on-camera spokesman for fourteen years and I ate and sold a lot of fish sticks!
Around the world there were four fictional characters known to almost everyone -- Superman, Batman, Tarzan and Micky Mouse.  Now the list is growing with the advent of the many Super Hero movies. 

Tarzan came from the amazing imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  He started writing when he was 35 and wrote 78 non-series stories, including 26 Tarzan books, 11 Mars books, five Venus books, seven Earth's Core books, four Western books, 26 non-series books -- plus two other non-fiction booklets.  Not a bad track record for a failed pencil sharpener salesman.

George McWhorter ~ Tarzan Doll ~ Danton Burroughs

The success of his books and movies from the books made ERB enough gold to purchase a 450-acre ranch in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Hollywood, now known as Tarzana.

I had a bunch of heroes while I was growing up.  Come to think of it, at seventy-nine, I am still growing up and I still have many of the same heroes.  Tarzan is still right up there along with some athletes... Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Senator Bill Bradley and Goose Tatum, if the Harlem globetrotters. Coach John Wooden, my dad and my grandfather were my biggest heroes.

During my youth, Johnny Weissmuller was starring as Tarzan. He was one of many athletes to play Tarzan. Johnny had four Olympic Gold Medals for swimming, to his credit. 

If you are planning to play Tarzan, here are a few helpful  hints.  First of all, you need to be  physically fit -- no couch potatoes need apply!  Living and surviving in the jungle is physically demanding.  One insider's tip, if you plan to ride an elephant, your loin cloth is not enough to protect you from it's spiked, Brillo-like hairs.  I used a small, gray rug to sit on. 

I never mastered the Tarzan yell.  I always sounded like a wounded Yak!  Being able to yodel would have helped.  To this day, I am asked to do the infamous yell. I admit that I can not oblige. A couple of people who's renditions are admirable are ERB's grandson, Danton, and Carol Burnett. 

Our answering machine, at home, opens with a Tarzan yell done by a prototype Tarzan doll.  Nancy and I recently saw Ms. Burnett, in a very entertaining one-woman show. I have sent her one of the dolls along with a big thank you for all the fun she has brought to us.

I also thank Edgar Rice Burroughs for giving me a lifetime of adventures and pure delight! 

Burroughs Pencil Sharpener
Burroughs Tarzana Ranch
Burroughs Office and Library

Studs Terkel wrote a book called "WORKING."  It is the most depressing book I've ever read. Studs went out on the city streets and country roads of the United States and randomly interviewed people,  he asked each of them two questions: "What do you do for a living?" And "How do you feel about the work you do."

He asked a cross section of our popularity: all races, religion, men and women, tall, fat, skinny, short, young and old, rich or poor, friendly and unfriendly. He then put about one hundred and fifty responses into book form.

The surprising responses were that most people work at jobs they do not like!  Many hate their jobs!  There were a few folks that did have jobs that they enjoyed.  I can only recall three out of the one hundred and fifty he published. 

One was a Fireman who explained that he had saved a three-year old boy from a burning building.  That made him feel good!  The second was a Hooker.  When asked why she did it, she replied, "Just lucky I guess."  The third was Actor, Rip Torn (and Yes, that is his real name).  He had a long and wonderful career. He not only liked being an actor, he loved it!  He said he was the saddest when he wasn't working.

I feel the same way about my career as an actor.  Someone once said, "To live a happy life, the secret is to blur the lines between work and play."  An actor's work I called a "play."  That's a good start in the blurring process.

In more than a half century, I have had the privilege of working with many different people in show business.  Almost all of them not only wanted to be at work, they enjoyed the work.  Being around contented workers is contagious.

If you like variety in your life, you might enjoy being an actor.  After all, we do acting in our daily lives.  We just may not think of it as acting.  

Throughout the years, I have said, "Honey, I am off to work."  It could mean I was off to Palm Springs, Paris, London, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Mexico, New York City, Alaska, Canada, a concrete jungle at a movie studio in Los Angeles, hanging out of a helicopter, being washed ashore on a far away island, being shot on the Queen Mary, riding horses and elephants, off the coast of many ports fishing, and much, much more.  

There were many more "days at the office", but you can imagine the view from my desk.

If Studs Terkel had interviewed me, I would have been one of the people who loved his work!

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