Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Marvin Miller’s Millions

The idea that “radio people can’t act on camera” is ludicrous, considering how many radio people made the jump (not that they had much choice) to television. But that was in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Before then, there was a bias about rolling film on a radio actor/actress, as studios feared they weren’t adept unless a script was in their hands.

So was the situation with Marvin Miller, a wonderful voice man who was featured on cartoons for John Sutherland and UPA, children’s records (“Fox in Socks” is a personal favourite) and countless radio roles. Despite Louella Parsons whining at him by name at the start of her broadcasts for at least a season, television brought him the fame radio never quite did, thanks to ‘The Millionaire,’ but at least one columnist wrote about him in the pre-television era.

Here’s a United Press column from 1945 that gives you an idea how insanely busy Miller was. As if he needed the work in films.

Radio Actor and Announcer Making Good in Movie-town
Hollywood, Oct. 23. (BUP)—Let’s consider the case of Marvin Miller, a roly-poly young actor who got to the top in radio because he could do so many different things with his voice.
Now he’s branched out into the movies where he has to use his face. He’s doing all right there, too.
You probably haven’t heard much about Mr. Miller yet, but you will, because right at the moment he’s one of the hottest new character actors in town.
A dozen producers have parts they want him for. A dozen more are looking for pictures they can use him in. All of which leaves him gleefully chortling at those know-it-alls who once turned him down for the screen just because he was a radio man.
“They said a radio performer could never change his spots and become a successful movie actor,” he grinned.
Miller is a native of St. Louis, Mo., where he started out in radio 15 years ago. He’s 32 now, but as far as the air waves are concerned he’s an old veteran.
If you’re a radio fan you know him as the Coronet Story Teller; the announcer of Frank Sinatra’s show, and the Whistler.
He’s still doing those shows, too, along with roles in Blood on the Sun, A Night in Paradise, Johnny Angel, and Deadline at Dawn. A busy schedule for some guys, but not for Miller.
45 Different Shows a Week
“When I was on the air in Chicago,” he explained, “I was either announcing or acting on 45 different shows a week. I’d work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, except Sunday. On that day I got off at 6 p.m.”
A movie agent heard his dialect stuff and asked him if he’d be interested in making movies. Miller said sure. Then came the problem of getting the studios interested
“We couldn’t,” Miller grinned. “They said they thought I was terrific on the air. But they were not taking any chances on signing me up for the movies. Said once a radio actor never a screen actor. How if I’d get a little experience on Broadway, they said, they might change their minds.”
But Miller wasn’t any more interested in Broadway than Hollywood was in Miller. So he kept up his Chicago pace for a few more years and then brought three of his shows to Hollywood with him—for a rest.
And first thing he knew there were the studios knocking on his door with contracts and fountain pens. Miller still hasn’t any idea what made them change their minds.

Miller was profiled in one of those TV magazine supplements you (used to?) get with newspapers. This is from August 9, 1959 and featured a drawing of him on the front page.

Marvin Miller: Aide to A Whimsical Midas
“Some people,” says Marvin Miller, “are jacks of all trades. In what is a very pleasant switch, you might say my job is to supply jack to all trades.”
As Michael Anthony, executive secretary to John Beresford Tipton, eccentric tycoon of CBS-TV’s “The Millionaire” series, it has been Miller’s job for almost four years to bestow sudden wealth upon unsuspecting beneficiaries. And this for an actor who began his career with a job that paid five dollars a week.
If his television capers are unusual, they are in keeping with a history of extraordinary events which rank Miller as one of video’s most versatile personalities.
Noted as an announcer, newscaster, linguist and dialectician, Miller is also a vocalist, recording artist, playwright, poet, painter, photographer and gourmet of repute, who has written for national magazines on the subject of fine liqueurs and foods.
Many Hobbies
And the above docs not even include the dozen or more hobbies which occupy his spare time. His name is listed in the pages of “Who’s Who” and the “Biographical Dictionary of Poets.”
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Miller attended Washington University there, paying his way through the school by working on a local radio station. His first job consisted of writing a dramatic show and playing all the roles called for in the script.
In a typical program he appeared as two Englishmen, two Negroes, an Italian, Frenchman, American gangster and straight man. For this effort as a one-man repertory company, for playing eight different parts, he received a weekly stipend which amounted to 63 cents a role.
By the time Miller obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from the university, he had scaled the radio heights of the Mound City. He had a reputation as St. Louis’ leading announcer and newscaster, and was recognized as the foremost music commentator on local airwaves, a talent that was to stand him in good stead in later years.
Success Repeated
Moving to Chicago, Miller repeated his successes and was soon starring in dozens of network shows. By 1944 he was appearing on a minimum of 45 broadcasts a week and the show business bible, “Variety,” clubbed him “Chicago’s one-man radio industry.”
Then Hollywood beckoned and the film capital became the scene of new Miller triumphs. In fact, the first week in town saw him handling announcing chores on Frank Sinatra’s show. Motion picture roles followed and his histrionic abilities received recognition when he was cast in roles opposite top name stars.
His distinctive voice also has been employed in recordings of great works of literature. Among them is “The Talking Bible,” which contains more than a million words and requires more than a week to play in its entirety. It was a year arid a half in the making and pioneers the field of 16 2-3" records.
Impressive in appearance, Miller stands five-feet, ten inches and weighs 195. He has dark brown hair and brown eyes.
He is married to the former Elizabeth Dawson, an artist and writer. They have two children, Tony, 19, and Mellissa, 7.
Actor, announcer, writer, a man of many facets, Miller says his current assignment as aide to a whimsical Midas is his most interesting role.

There were game shows in the 1950s (since The Scandal, no one calls them “quiz shows” any more) that gave away nice chunks of money but nothing close to a million dollars until Regis Philbin showed up a few decades later. So fans of big, big money had to content themselves with Marvin Miller’s unreality show, showing the same curiosity as fans of today’s reality shows about just what happens to someone put in an unpredictable situation.

There was a string of stories about Miller and ‘The Millionaire’ a few couple of years after the show became a hit. This is from The Blytheville Courier, March 22, 1957.

Secret Life of Michael Anthony
Gives Away $1 Million Per Week
HOLLYWOOD — (Special)— Michael Anthony, private secretary to multi-billionaire John Beresford Tipton, is something of an enigma to his fans. It seems that although they watch him at his extraordinary chores over the CBS-TV Network every Wednesday night at 8 'o’clock CST, they haven’t been able to find out enough about his “private life.”
Is Michael Anthony married they ask? If he is, how does his wife feel when he calls to say, “I won’t be home for dinner, dear, I have to deliver a million-dollar check to a chap in Hawaii”?
If her reaction to this is slightly negative, what happens when she asks, “Who gets the check this week?” and is told, “It’s a secret, you know that . . . ” A great many viewers are concerned about the family complications created by a job like Michael Anthony’s.
What does he do on his “day off”? Do the Anthony’s have any children? Do they all plan to be millionaires when they grow up? Do they live on the fabulous, 60-acre estate called “Silverstone!” And if they do — have they ever seen the eccentric philanthropist?
Several people have even asked how Anthony got into this line of business anyway — what qualifications must you have to get a position as a million-dollar messenger (It seems a lot of people have them, no matter what they are)?
* * *
THESE ARE JUST a few of the questions that have been hurled at MARVIN MILLER the real-life Michael Anthony. Marvin is at a loss to describe the Anthony domestic scene. He says the best he can offer his television fans are some the facts about the Miller menage.
He is married to Elizabeth Dawson, an artist and writer and they have two children, a son Tony who is 16 and Melinda, who is five.
“Silverstone” may be in the neighborhood, but they live in their own home in West Los Angeles, California. The children have suggested a number of possible careers for themselves, but have not as yet, aspired to be millionaires.
* * *
HOW MARVIN MILLER got into this business of playing Michael Anthony is a story that began while he was an undergraduate at Washington University in his native St. Louis. He worked his way through college by writing and acting in radio dramas. He was neither thinking of, nor dealing with, “millions” in those days.
As a matter of fact, he did the script and as many as eight different characters for about five dollars a week. By the time he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University he was known as one of St. Louis’ leading announcers and newscasters.
Miller repeated this success in Chicago where he starred in dozens of network shows. By 1945 he was appearing on as many as 45 broadcasts a week. No wonder “Variety” dubbed him “Chicago’s one-man radio industry.”
When Hollywood beckoned, he wasn’t in town a week when he was the announcer on the Frank Sinatra Show. Since he has been living on the West Coast he has done radio, television and motion picture work.
* * *
RECENTLY, he entered the recording world and completed “The Talking Bible,” which was more than a year and a half in the making. It contains more than a million words and requires more than a week to play.
Miller has no idea what Michael Anthony does on his “day off” (Marvin suggests, “He probably browses in the local banks — talking ‘shop’ with the tellers.”) but his own leisure-time is seldom wasted. A man with more than 12 hobbies doesn’t have time to waste.
He collects antique Chinese furniture, records and menus; he is a photographer, gourmet, poet, book binder and woodworker. He may give away millions at work, but after hours he is strictly do-it-yourself.
Now playing his third season as Michael Anthony, Marvin has been stopped all over the world with the question, “Have you got my million-dollar check with you, Mr Anthony?”
* * *
THE FINAL WORD of advice to those applying for his job — You need perserverance and a sense of humor. Marvin says it takes a lot of persistance to locate the about-to-be-millionaires and more of the same to get them to accept the check.
Strange as it may seem, people are very wary of special secretaries who walk about handing out million-dollar checks. His sense of humor carries him through when he is told the lady of the house doesn't want “any.”
He has come to believe it may be easier (and safer) to make money than to give it away.

You’ve no doubt heard stories of the frightening number of people who watch TV soap operas and think they’re real, as if they’re watching some kind of live documentary. Marvin Miller dealt with the same kind of thing from viewers of his show. This column in the Oakland Tribune of April 25, 1958 makes light of the blurring of reality but it’s sad to know there were desperate or deranged, or perhaps downright greedy, people who couldn’t comprehend they were watching a drama.

The Best Things In Life Are Free
You’d think that Marvin Miller would be a reasonable man.
After all, as Michael Anthony on television’s “The Millionaire,” he spends all his time finding people to give $1,000,000 to, and tax free.
But no. Apparently he has a heart of stone. We met in San Francisco last night.
“Marvin,” I said, to him in my most confidential tone, “I know the source of your money is virtually unlimited, and actually I don’t need a whole million. If you could just let me have, say, $100,000...”
He laughed, in a coarse sort of way that reminded you of all those old movies in which he always played the villain. “Our TV program,” he said, “is supposed to show that money won’t cure all ills. The money is a symbol of security. It solves the biggest problem—meals and rent—but it doesn’t bring happiness.”
“It’d help, Marvin. Now as I say, all I need is a paltry $50,000 . . .”
“Our show’s now in its fourth year and people seem to like it,” Miller said. “You know, everyone always says what they’d do if they had a million. Well, of course nowadays a million won’t go very far, but even so, people like to daydream.”
“A check for $25,000, Marvin, would do an awful lot...”
“Daydreaming is a fine thing,” Miller said, as if he hadn’t heard me. “There’s nothing harmful in that. But the terrible thing is when people BELIEVE the show, and when they write and ask for money. They’ve divorced themselves from the harmless daydream and from reality.”
“But, Marvin, 1 always thought...”
“About one viewer in 50, as near as we can figure, believes there's actually a John Beresford Tipton, a billionaire who gives away money. The letters these people write are pathetic and heart-rending. When the letters are addressed to me at the studio, I answer them all personally. I try to break it to them gently that our show is fiction. I tell them the worthwhile things are those they must work hard for. They seem to accept that.”
“Actually, Marvin, even $10,000 would be nice. If you’d just explain to Mr. Tipton ...”
“I remember,” said Miller, “a letter from a boy in Toronto, written in French. He explained his parents both had to work to keep him in school. He said he didn’t want an outright gift. He wanted just a loan of $1,000. He said I should send it to his mother, without saying he’d asked for it, and that he’d repay me when he grew up. Then on his letter he put a postscript, saying, “If you can't afford $1,000, $500 would help.”
“Well, Marvin,” I said, “if you think my asking $10,000 is too much, I’d be happy to take less. I’d ...”
“The letter from that young boy touched me deeply,” Miller went on. “I wrote him a nice reply and sent him one of my special checks, and I guess that made him happy.”
“Your SPECIAL CHECKS, Marvin? Then you do give checks to people outside your TV show?”
“Eh? Why certainly,” said Miller. “I’ve given away over 5,000 checks to people I’ve met personally since the show started. That’s aside from all the checks I’ve given away for Mr. Tipton on the show. The checks seem to make people happy.”
I rubbed my hands together. “Certainly they would. Could you . . . uh ... have you a check book with you, Marvin?”
He looked at me and smiled. In his eyes was a glimmer of the old Marvin Miller. (In one old movie he played Ghengis Khan and murdered countless thousands. In another he was a villainous sea captain who sank his own ship to kill his crew. He’s worked over actors such as Humphrey Bogart and George Raft with a blackjack, but he insists this isn’t the real Marvin Miller. In real life he’s a happily married man who’s never so much as been in a fist fight. Not even with his wife.)
He was still smiling as he said, “Of course I have my check book with me, my boy.” He whipped it out and wrote out a check. He ripped the check from the book and handed it to me. I felt like all those recipients on “The Millionaire.”
“Thank you, thank you,” I babbled. Imagine! I was rich. Luxury. I could take a trip around the world. Also, I could tell my editors where to go, too.
But then I looked at the check. It was for a million, all right. “One million dollars worth of good luck,” and drawn on the “International Bank of Goodwill.”
Marvin Miller is an unreasonable man, indeed.

Miller passed away February 8, 1985 at age 71. Whether after all that work, he socked away a few million dollars of his own, I can’t say. But he sure had a million-dollar voice.

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