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Volume 4559

Denny shares anecdotes from his long career in show business

1. Impractical Joker
2. A Tribute to "George Not Of The Jungle"
3. Tarzan x Six

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.

My father was a teacher/gypsy.  He was born in Indiana, as was my mother.  They both graduated from the University of Indiana and Dad taught there after graduation.  I was born in Bloomington – a "True Hoosier."  Then Dad got a job in Washington DC, with the National Education Association; and we lived in Maryland. 

Then, we moved again, this time to New York where Dad went to work for John D. Rockefeller.  He was the Chairman of the American Youth Hostels.  Youth hostels are big in Europe, but never really caught on in the U.S.  My senior year in high school we moved from Long Island to sunny California, where Dad was made Chairman of the Kinesiology Department, a UCLA.  He held that position until he retired twenty-five years later.

Four times before I was seventeen, the first day of school was traumatic.  New school, new surroundings, new everything!  First stop was to Maryland and my Denny Miller introduction brought giggles from my new classmates... I talked different – no southern accent.  Next move to Brooklyn and more laughter... this time they thought I had a southern accent.  Then we moved again.  This time to Westwood, California where I became the "Class Clown." 

My brother confessed years later that he was always embarrassed being introduced because he was so tall.  Fortunately for both of us, we had some athletic abilities which helped us fit in.  Being athletic, got us on the teams and helped with our education.  Later, being the clown and not growing up helped me in my acting career. I wish I could have played in more comedies.  THE PARTY was a fabulous experience!

Being showered with laughter, as a clown, felt good.  But there are times when it is best to take off the big, red nose and funny, yellow shoes.   Sometimes you have to play it straight and not hide behind the laughter.

One of those times happened while I was on WAGON TRAIN.  The episode called for a kissing scene with the beautiful Dana Winter.  I was intimidated and embarrassed.  In the scene we are talking to each other and ended up embracing and kissing.  Imagine getting paid to kiss a beautiful woman!  What could go wrong?  Let me tell you what went wrong...  Several years prior, I had asked my grandfather, a dentist, to make me the ugliest false teeth that would fit over my real teeth.  He out did himself.  He melted some gold and put it in the spaces between the snaggled teeth and discolored them.  Not a pretty smile!

Dana is standing with her back to me when the director called for "action."  She turns expecting a kiss.  When she saw me with those horrible teeth, leaning down to kiss her, she screamed!  No one thought it was funny.  I spent the next half hour apologizing to her, the director, and the crew.  Years later, I was still apologizing.

Many years passed and I auditioned for a grungy mountain man on GUNSMOKE.  It was a really good part and I finally had an opportunity to wear the teeth at an appropriate time. I wore the teeth and I got the part – the teeth got me the part!  I wore them one other time, when I was a bad guy, in BUCK AND THE PREACHER.  These two roles were serious and not for a clowns.  There really is a time and a place!


A Tribute to "George Not Of The Jungle"

click for full-screen collage
  • Who holds the record for the longest performing soloist at one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Louisville?
  • Who had been the Editor and Publisher of one of the best Fanzines – The Burroughs Bulletin -  ever?
  • Who is the #1 authority on everything Edgar Rice Burroughs?
  • Who studied in Paris and the United States to become an opera singer?
  • Who entertained on cruise ships and Radio City Music Hall?
  • Who had the opportunity to fulfill his two life time passions – singing and librarian?
  • Who served as Curator of the largest Edgar Rice Burroughs’ collection for almost a half century?
George McWhorter is that person! George learned to read and love books, as a very small boy.  Like Jane Goodall, they both were introduced to books through Tarzan stories read to them by their mothers.  How lucky the world is that their mothers chose Edgar Rice Burroughs works.

George's immense intellect, imagination and heart have endeared himself to so many.  His passion for books has given us the opportunity to share in this world of words. In honor of his mother, he has endowed the Edgar Rice Burroughs' Memorial Library, at the University of Louisville.  Again, this unselfish,  generous man has shared his passion with countless others.  His legacy will live on.

On a very personal note, George is our friend and mentor.  Nancy and I are so honored to have this dear man in our lives and in our hearts!  Thank you, George, for the few things mentioned above and for the countless unmentioned things that we have shared.  We love you!

More on George McWhorter at our ERBzine Tribute:

Mike Douglas gave a circus one day to his live audience and television viewers.  It was held at the Wild Animal Park, just North of San Diego, CA.  No tent was necessary; the weather was beautiful.  On stage there were eight Directors Chairs and two above-ground pools with four feet of water.  The audience sat in the stands facing the chairs.  A saw-dust ring, just like a real circus, was between the stands and the chairs.

When the “performers” were introduced by Mike Douglas, he cupped his hands to  his mouth and fill the air with the recognizable Tarzan Yell. Five of the yells were perfect, as if right off the sound track.  The sixth yell was strong and unique and was done by Johnny Weissmuller.  Each of guest Tarzans came through a curtain, at stage left, and went to one of the Director's Chairs.  They were James Pierce, Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, Gordon Scott, Jocko Mahoney, Denny Miller and the "Jane for the Day" Comedian Totie Fields.

The first five yells were done backstage by Danton Burroughs.  And then Johnny did his.  Johnny loved doing the yell!  He was known to do it at any time, anywhere, whenever the “spirit” moved him.  That “spirit” happened a lot.

Ms. Fields had been asked to make her entrance riding on a elephant. She strongly refused and said she would come in holding the tail of a baby elephant.  It got a huge laugh!  She had terrific comedic timing and knew how to make people laugh. Mike Douglas was a very relaxed, joyful host. All this went into creating a memorable show.

We were all in Tarzan attire and to my knowledge, this was the only time that six Tarzans appeared together, on screen.  At one part of the show, the crew released some water from the two pools and audience participants were selected to swing on vines from one side of the stage to the other.  We "Old Swingers" were the judges. None of the contestants made it to the other side and all got wet trying.  But everyone had a great time and laughter filled the air.  Trying to be Tarzan for just a few seconds turned out to be the best circus of all.  Having been a Tarzan for more than fifty years has been a joy and an honor!

We need this kind of joy, laughter and fun memories in our lives.  It helps keep us humans off the endangered species list!

Danton Burroughs did the Tarzan yell in this series

Editor's Supplement
Season 14 Episode 57: November 18, 1975
In 1975, Denny Miller appeared on The Mike Douglas Show with other previous Tarzan actors James Pierce, Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller, Gordon Scott and Jock Mahoney; so what was it like having so many Tarzans together in one place, and did they all have great stories to tell? In Denny Miller's words:

It was special for me because I'd grown up with Johnny Weissmuller as my hero. Buster Crabbe was, too. Johnny was a jolly fellow. Always joking and doing the Tarzan yell, anywhere... on the golf course, in the hotel lobby, out the 17th floor window of the hotel... ANYWHERE!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Buster was just the opposite. He was a quiet man. We wrote each other about the best way to teach fitness. Buster taught people with Arthritis how to excercise in the pool. He was years ahead of the medical profession about getting people with Arthritis to move around and increase their range of motion. Many years later I taught arthritics stretching at the Eisenhower Hospital in Rancho Mirage, CA.

Jocko was a jokester, a big overgrown kid. He was always clowning around. James Pierce was very stately. Great posture. He was a kind, thoughtful man. I didn't get to know Gordon Scott. He made some of the best Tarzan films ever made. He rode a rhino in one. That takes a lot more nerve, than I've ever had.

Read Denny's long illustrated interview at the site:

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Read all the previous career anecdotes

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