Over the years, words that sprang from the mouth of Ann Miller have become legendary. It’s been suggested that a book of “the wit and wisdom” of Ann, who died last week, couldn’t fail to be a best seller.
For instance: When she was doing “Sugar Babies” on Broadway, Ann was asked if she’d be working on Passover. Her reply: “Oh, honey, I never do game shows.” Then there was the time she filled out a W4 form and, in the blank after “occupation,” she wrote “Star lady.” In trying to give comfort to a friend who’d just had a miscarriage, she said, “Well, just remember, we all have to go sometime.”
Further: a close chum remembers Ann once asking her to look up Arlene Dahl’s phone number in Ann’s own phone book. When the friend could find no listing under “D” or even “A,” Ann took the book and immediately turned to the proper page: “G” for “girlfriend.”
Those Miller-isms never stopped, and they tickled everybody; she herself never quite understood what was so funny. To some they made her seem like a raven-haired Lorelei Lee, but her friends knew better: It was just Ann being Ann, which also meant no malice was ever attached. Her pals also knew she was, most importantly, as consistently kind-hearted and loyal a person as you’d ever find, that proverbial “good egg” who was as lively and positive as she was unpredictable and, until lately, unsinkable. In spite of a long and increasingly debilitating illness, she always had cheery words for everyone she met and always made sure she looked like a million dollars. Trained while under contract to RKO, Columbia and, especially, MGM that “a star lady should look like a star,” she learned a lesson she never forgot.
She also felt that as a representative of Hollywood and an industry she loved, she owed the public a good show and a glamorous appearance. No shaggy hair for her. No ripped jeans or spitting on the paparazzi, either. (Today’s behavior by celebs both baffled and depressed her.) She was a consummate pro, grateful to be working whenever she was allowed to do so, and, indeed, she forged one of the longer movieland careers.
She began as a movie extra at age 12, she had a juicy role at 16 in an Academy Award-winning picture (Capra’s 1938 “You Can’t Take It With You”), and at age 79 she was still before the cameras, in David Lynch’s 2001 film “Mulholland Drive” (“I don’t understand one damn thing about that crazy movie,” she told me, “but isn’t it a hoot that I’m in it!”). Two of her proudest accomplishments: dancing on film with Fred Astaire (1948’s “Easter Parade”) and Gene Kelly (1949’s “On the Town”) and her roaring Broadway success with Mickey Rooney in 1979-80 in “Sugar Babies.”
She was a champion to the end, and her death Thursday at age 81 leaves an enormous void in the lives of everyone who had the good fortune to know her. From here on, it’s going to be a drearier, less Technicolored, less entertaining world without Ann Miller in it.
There will be a funeral service for Ann at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Mel’s Catholic Church, 20870 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.