Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 4556

Denny shares anecdotes from his long career in show business
1. Springtime in Wild Alaska
2. What To Wear?
3. Tarzan Screen Test

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 is a TV series titled "WILD ALASKA."  I agree with this title.  It is a huge area, untamed and unpredictable!  I went there to film a commercial for Miller's Beer.

The airplane that flew me from Anchorage inland to a mud landing strip was held together with fourteen coats of paint, trying to hide the rust.  It was a two motor prop with windows too dirty to see out, but cracked enough to let gas fumes in.  I was with three other actors and ten guys with the production crew.  Before we ever reached the mud field, we all vowed we would never fly in this plane again.  We didn't!

The first three days and nights the camera, lights and sound equipment never got out of their carrying cases. Why? A blizzard hit us!  After all it was April and we were in the southern part of Alaska, near Valdez.

The aluminum, pill-shaped trailers we slept in had been made into two postage stamp sized rooms with a bathroom.  Small? When you put your suitcase on the floor between the bed and the wall, you couldn't open it.  You had to put the suitcase on the bed to open it.  Small?  You had to go outside to change your mind!

The blizzard changed our trailer into our own amusement ride.  A gust of wind would lift one side of the trailer up a few inches off its wheels.  Then the wind would subside and we would bounce down until the next gust of wind.

Saturday night the storm had passed and the local "Pipeliners" (the pipeline had not been completed yet) gathered in the Big Quansit Tavern for the entertainment for the night -- to get smashed.  They had poured a new cement dance floor and we all watched the cement dry... very slowly!

The next morning was too overcast for the helicopter to fly for aerial shots.  A 3/4 ton truck drove to Valdez for wood to build a track for the camera dolly shots. The actors and the carpenter were going in the truck and the Assistant Director was to drive it.

One minor problem -- the A.D. was drunk!  So, I became the designated driver.  The forty mile drive was smooth compared to the blizzard-bouncing trailer we had endured.

After purchasing the supplies and lunch, we headed back along the winding road.  The sign ahead read "Slow, Icy Road in Tunnel."   About half way through the tunnel, the truck started to slide into the on-coming car lane and I could see their headlights.  The next ninety seconds I was very busy.  I turned the steering wheel left, then right, then left again.  I could not remember which way the driver's manual said.

When we stopped moving, the truck was up against the tunnel wall.  One small problem, we were facing the wrong way!  I did not mention to my passengers, that I had my eyes closed a lot of the time.

Once I finally backed the truck, very slowly, out of the tunnel and got going in the right direction, we hit a white out.  The white out lasted for a very long five minutes.  The rest of the trip was uneventful.

Ah yes, Wild Alaska, in the Springtime!

While I was being tested for the role as Tarzan, they were also testing new and different loincloths.  They had ones made out of  spotted leopard (imitation), lion fur (imitation), and the tried and true chamois skin model (not imitation), that had been around before Johnny Weissmuller.

My favorite was  made of colorful beads sewn on leather.  It was really different and really uncomfortable.  When you sat on a log, you had to be careful not to roll off.  And when you walked, you sounded like Humphrey Bogart, going from room-to-room through those bead curtains, in the Maltese Falcon. Not good for sneaking around the jungle.

They chose  the old fashioned chamois loin cloth and ME to wear it.

Filming the movie was great fun.

The movie was not great.  Gabe Esso, in his book, TARZAN OF THE MOVIES, reviewed the film in a chapter called "Tarzan the  Worst!"

This  film held the title of "The Worst" until Bo Derek starred in another remake and co-produced it with husband, John Derek.  Their rendition of Tarzan the Ape Man then assumed the title "Tarzan the Worst!"

NOTE: Many fans have a different opinion of Denny's Tarzan the Ape Man film. 
See ERBzine 4499
See ERBzine Silver Screen for the Tarzan the Ape Man entry
Denny as Wyoming Bill in "The Party" with Peter Sellers
The first Hollywood screen test I took, back in the day, was what they call a "Personality Test."  You stood or sat in front of the camera and followed the director's commands. This type of test showed how a person photographed, how his or her voice recorded and how relaxed you were in front of the camera.

The director asked to see my right profile, I turned and then he said "Your other right profile."  He then asked me to tell a little something about myself.

 I explained on camera that I was twenty-four, a student/athlete at UCLA; on a Basketball scholarship.

The director asked if I had every thought of becoming an actor.  My reply was "No."

Tough test!  For remembering my name, I got a seven-year contract with Review Studios (later known as Universal Studios).

There is another type of test.  This one you actually do something; a scene for a specific role in a movies or the job as a spokesman for a particular product.  It's an audition on film.

I have done both types of tests.  I passed some and flunked several.

This screen test was for the role of Tarzan at MGM Studios.  Since I was a contract player, I got a set weekly salary and they could loan me out to other studios at the same weekly rate.  I was being paid $180 a week which meant if I got the Tarzan role I would be cheaper than the chimp and much cheaper than the elephant!

The test went like this: the set was a beautiful clearing, in a beautiful jungle, with the even more beautiful Joanna Barnes sitting on a log.  Along comes Tarzan, dripping wet, and he recites the Twenty-third Psalm.

The Producer told me that this Tarzan was going to be more intelligent than previous "jungle fellas."  Right! The Twenty-third Psalm had twenty more times more words than I eventually said in the whole film.  So much for smarts.


Click for full-size promo splash bar

Read all the previous career anecdotes

Visit our thousands of other sites at:
All ERB Images© and Tarzan® are Copyright ERB, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work © 1996-2013/2020 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.