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Volume 4585

Denny shares anecdotes from his long career in show business
1. Two Kings and a Queen
2. Surf's Down
3. Bette-Not-So-Nice

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.

 We thought it might be fun for our readers 
to write anecdotes about the first time they met Denny 
- either via the screen or in  person.
We'd love hear your stories.
Send them to our ERBzine e-mail account:
Fan Anecdotes


One of the most ignored signs in Hollywood was and still is:
No Visitors
It's usually placed on the door of the sound stage the production company is filming on. It's always in bold red print on a white background. it's placed at about average eye-level, so it's really hard to miss.

Sometimes the director request it. Sometimes a star actor wants it. Peter Sellers, when he was filming "The Party" had the sign put up. He also requested that no one on the set wear purple. No one knew why but did as requested. After all, he as a comic genius. He didn't complain when Andy Williams came to visit Claudine Longet.

When a nude scene is scheduled, the sign is mot often ignored. Now I'm talking about the small entrance . . . the one that all sound stages have where it's a squeeze for two people to use at the same time

There is another stage door. This one is a double door. It's thirty to forty feet wide and forty feet high, at least. It is used to move potted trees and backdrops and cars and trucks and skip loaders that haul the other stuff. You can drive a tank or an eighteen-wheeler through these doors with room to spare. These doors are kept closed most of the time during the day. The set crews use them at night to remove the set that was filmed that day and bring in walls and plants and furniture and lights to build the set for the next day's shooting.

In 1959, we were filming a scene on the jungle set when these doors opened and in drove at least twenty Los Angeles police on motorcycles. They were grouped around a shiny black stretch limo with little flags on the front fenders. The police parked their cycles and dismounted. They were the biggest cops, the tallest I'd ever seen. I was barefooted, but I'm six-foot four-inches tall, and they all towered over me.

One of them opened the back door to the limo and out stepped a nice looking man in a suit that must have cost more than I made for the whole film. The man was King Hussein, of Jordan.

The cast was introduced, the director and a few others. Joanna and I got to shake his hand and I got his autograph. He, I was just "King for a Day" -- king of a plastic jungle. He was king of a whole country for the rest of his life.

We exchanged a few pleasantries. Like, "This is my bamboo house and that's my chimp, well, not really mine." When it comes to making small talk with kings, I got very small. He explained he was on a tight schedule, popped back in his limo an d he and the giant cops were off. The visit took maybe ten minutes. Time flies when you're goofing off with a king.

Nobody told him it was a CLOSED SET.


Dr. Onel T. Llinn, my granddad, visited us another day. I spent so many summers with him and my grandmother that, as a kid, I called them Momma Ruth and Daddy Doc. 

Doc was getting up there in age. So he came in his wheelchair. When he saw me in my outfit in our little chunk of jungle -- well the look in his eyes made me feel like a real king. I'll remember his hug and that look all my life. It makes me warm right now.



Face it. Some people like one side of their face better than the other. Tina Louise, who played Ginger on "Gilligan's Island," is one of those people. She had it in her contract that she could only be photographed from one side. Don't know which side. They both looked good to me.

When I was a young sprout I was a photographer. I had a company called, "GOTCHA." I even had a camera. My film subjects were actors and actresses that needed 8x10s for their interviews. Many of them had a favourite side to be photographed from.

I had always thought that my face was symmetrical. Except for a mole on my right cheek. I thought both sides of my face were the same. I would have bet on it. 

A lab technician, at the photo lab I took my exposed film to, disagreed. Sw we set up an experiment. I had recently had most of my hair cut off for the role of a gladiator. It was less than an inch long and combed forward so it looked the same on both sides. I got a photographer friend to photograph my face straight on. The lighting was the same on both sides. I had a black turtleneck sweater on with a black background so that the photo would only show my face. 

The film lab man made two 8x10 negatives of the face shot and printed one photocopy. Then he cut the two negatives in half, top to bottom. He took two half negatives of the left side of my face and flipped one over and put the two left sides together. He did the same with the right side and printed a copy of each. It's easy to do, just takes a little time.

The three prints side by side showed three different people -- very different people. My face made from two right sides looked like a tough no-nonsense cop. The middle me, the mirror image  was my old self. But the face made from two left sides was scary. The face looking back at me was evil. A face only a mummy could love. I wouldn't follow that face down a dark alley. I couldn't introduce that face to a friend and expect him to keep the friend. So much for being symmetrical. Tina knew what she was doing.

Gilligan's Island wasn't an island. Well, the plot was shot in Hawaii but all the other episodes were shot on a sound stage at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, in the San Fernando Valley. The lagoon was a cement puddle between the sound stage and the parking lot. Sometimes it's what you don't see that creates the magic of film. 

The cast, the writers and the producer provided the other magic in Gilligan's Island. The actors were having a ball. Wouldn't you? Jim Backus called on Mr. Magoo to keep folks smiling. Dawn and Tina were easy on the eye and Bob was Gilligan. Allan Hale, Jr. was really Santa Claus.

Tina and I rehearsed some of our scenes in her dressing room. The room was elegantly decorated with flocked wallpaper and beautiful rugs and antique furniture. I sat down on a one hundred year-old carved chair and broke the back off. Not a good start to the rehearsal.

In the scene it called for Ginger to slap me on the shoulder. The part of Tongo, a poor man's Tarzan, fit the title of the episode. "Our Vines Have Tender Apes." Tongo fainted when he saw animals. I almost fainted the first time Tina slapped me. She really liked that antique chair.

Gilligan's Island has never been off the air. They've been rerunning the show forever. Of the requests I got for photos or autographs, G.I. fans outnumber all the rest. 

The part of Duke Williams, a surfer, is a puzzle to most real surfers. They want to know how anyone can surf without a wave. I'm not a surfer and told the producer, up front. He said not to worry. "We have stock footage of a surfer that looks like you surfing a thirty food wave off Hawaii." "Then we'll cut to you coming across the lagoon on your surfboard. Just hold on to the board and try to stay on your hands and knees." "OK, I can do that."

They drilled a hole in the nose of the surfboard and put a steel bolt through the hole. They they hooked a cable on the bolt under the board out of sight. The cable went clear across the lagoon, under water, and was attached to a motorized winch on the back of a truck.

I got on the board on the far side of the lagoon. They rolled film. . . "Action!"

The board got going so fast I thought he, I bet I could stand up. I did. The board hit the beach so fast I turned a somersault, stood up, and heard, "Print."

And that's how you surf without a wave. Sometimes it's what you don't see that creates the image. 




Waiting to do a scene for a TV show or a movie has always been hard for me. Even though I've prepared, learned my lines, had the make-up put on and am in the thought out costume, the little demons start gnawing on my mind. 

Is it, "John or Jack that's coming to stab or shoot you?" Can I get on the horse before the darn critter takes off down the road? Gotta get it right the first take or he'll spook and I'll never get in the saddle.

Does the make-up hide my cold sore? Are the blanks in my six shooter full load or just a quarter?

Doubt piles on doubt until I'm looking for the EXIT sign. After forty-five years, two  hundred thirty-six TV episodes, nineteen feature films and over two hundred TV commercials, I still get a case of the nerves before every shot. Maybe that's okay.

Bette Davis, when asked if she still got nervous before she was called for her close up answered. "If you don't get nervous, get out of the business!"

Actors are like athletes. They get up for the game. Like the book title goes, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway." Be gutsy; use the fear. Steven Spielberg says, "Acting is all about courage, the courage to make mistakes, to look foolish, and never give up. Keep on trying."

The wait I have in mind was to do a scene on "Wagon Train" with Ms. Bette Davis. She was playing the part of a frisky woman who owned a bevy of dance hall gals on their way to San Francisco. Just before we were to start our scene. Ms. Davis came out of her dressing room, walked to the phony campfire and sat down on a log.

She pulled up her frilly dress, way up, and straightened her silk stockings. I had seen most of her movies and couldn't remember seeing her legs. I would have remembered. They were dancers' legs; long, lithe, lovely. She had the attention of everyone on the set. And my demons were jumping up and down -- "How can you remember your lines now?" they screamed. 

Virgil Vogel, the director, called for a rehearsal. So, Ms. Davis and I took our places facing each other, next to a Conestoga wagon. "Action!" shouted Vogel. I don't remember what my line was. I do remember what she did after I said it. She stared at me with those Bette Davis eyes. It felt like the longest moment of my life. But it wasn't. The next moment was. She turned without saying her line, walked to the director, and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "Is he going to say it THAT way?"

Virgil, almost as stunned as I was, said meekly, "Well, yes; that's his character in the show." I played a shy cowboy who was more comfortable talking to his horse than to a woman.

She whirled around, strode back to her mark and barked, "Give it to me again!" By now I was a six-foot four-inch puddle of sweat, but I managed to get my line out. I don't remember anything about how the rest of the scene went. I was mad and just plain numb. When it was over, I was as relieved as I am when leaving the dentist chair after a root canal. 

The next day I saw something I had never seen before. In all the years I had known John McIntyre, I had never seen him mad. He was the kindest, most easy-going man I ever knew. Not that day. Pacing back and forth, fists clenched, breathing hard, really mad. Nobody went near him because no one had ever seen him like that. We didn't know what had made him so irate but we knew who had . . . it was the "Witch From Hell, Queen Bette". She had struck again!

Bette Davis' Three Appearances in Wagon Train
The Ella Lindstrom Story (4 Feb. 1959) Season 2, Episode 18
The Elizabeth McQueeny Story (28 Oct. 1959) Season 3, Episode 5
The Bettina May Story (20 Dec. 1961)  Season 5, Episode 12
A Blogger's Review of Bette's appearance in the
"Elizabeth McQueeny Story" episode of Wagon Train.

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