Ann Miller - 1923-2004
The musical star with great legs
Her father wanted a boy, so when she was born in Chireno, Texas just before Christmas of 1923, she was named Johnnie - Johnnie Lucille Collier. Her parents divorced when she was very young; she was called Annie after that for reasons she never knew.
Growing up in Houston during the Great Depression, she developed rickets. Dancing lessons helped to straighten her legs. Her mother, almost totally deaf, could not find work and by the age of 12 Annie was dancing to support her mother and herself. She was already 5'5" tall, almost fully grown, and appeared much older than she was. At the age of thirteen (she claimed to be eighteen) she won a 7-year contract with RKO Pictures in Hollywood.
Blessed with a vibrant personality and great legs, she tap danced her way to stardom in the great era of Hollywood musicals. At the age of fourteen she played Ginger Rogers' dancing partner in "Stage Door", starting a movie career of more than 40 films that spanned two decades. Her film career peaked in the late 1940's and early 1950's with such MGM greats as "On the Town", "Easter Parade" and "Kiss Me Kate".
"At MGM, I always played the second feminine lead," she once said. "I was never the star in films. I was the brassy, good-hearted showgirl. I never really had my big moment on the screen."
She had an incredible theatre success in New York City, taking over the role of "Mamell" on Broadway from 1969 to 1970 and then going on to star with Mickey Rooney in "Sugar Babies". The show played Broadway for three years (1979-1982) and then toured the United States for over four years. Ann and Mickey appeared on the London stage for six months in 1989.
"'Sugar Babies' gave me the stardom that my soul kind of yearned for", she recalled.
The show brought her three prestigious recognitions : the Sarah Siddons award for the best performer of the year in 1984, a Tony award nomination, and a nomination for the Laurence Olivier award in London in 1989.
Throughout her long career (she continued to dance into her 60's), she received many other awards and honors such as the Best Legs Award in the Hall of Fame, a "This is Your Life" television show appearance in England, and a 1993 Gypsy Award from the Dance Society of America when most of Hollywood came to honor her.
Her personal life mirrored that of many celebrities of the golden age of Hollywood during and just after World War II. Appearing as a regular figure in Hollywood's night life in the early 1940's, she caught the eye of Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM Studios. But she accepted the offer of marriage from steel heir Reese Milner. They had a daughter who died at birth and were divorced shortly thereafter. Subsequent marriages to oilmen William Moss and Arthur Cameron also ended in divorce.
In her latter years Ann Miller divided her time between a Beverly Hills home shared with her secretary, Debbie, and a vacation home in Arizona where she found peace and tranquillity in the mountains. She died of lung cancer on January 22, 2004 at the age of 81.