Monday, July 18, 2016


Ann Miller was one of the most celebrated dancers in the history of the American Musical. By the late 1950s though, as the era of Hollywood musicals waned, Miller's career in films declined. Following her appearance in Hit the Deck (1955), Miller left the movies behind to become a nightclub performer. Over the following decades she also made frequent appearances on television variety programs, including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace, wearing bouffant brunette wigs and heavy eye makeup. This so-called Nefertiti look became Miller's trademark on- and offstage for many years and coincided with her growing interest in spirituality and reincarnation; she later expressed the belief that she had once been the ancient Egyptian queen Hatshepsut.

In 1969 Miller returned to the Broadway stage in the title role of Mame, a musical based on the film version of Patrick Dennis's semiautobiographical novel Auntie Mame. The role had been originated by Angela Lansbury to great acclaim, but Miller's performance, which featured singing as well as dancing, earned even more lavish praise from critics. Moreover it was credited with helping to spark a tap-dancing revival.

After Mame ended, Miller resumed her work in nightclubs and on television, interspersed with appearances in touring companies of Can-Can, Panama Hattie, and Hello, Dolly!, and a musical version of the Noël Coward play Blithe Spirit. She also appeared in a memorable television commercial in 1972, dancing on top of a giant Heinz soup can. Four years later she was discovered by a new generation of moviegoers when MGM released That's Entertainment, Part II, featuring clips of Miller and other dancers and singers in studio musicals of the past.

In 1979 Miller made a triumphant return to Broadway in the musical revue Sugar Babies, in which she costarred with Mickey Rooney. The show was an enormous hit with both audiences and critics; it played in New York for nearly three years and then toured the country. At age fifty-six Miller was delighted to find herself a glamorous Broadway showgirl both on- and offstage, experiencing at last a sustained stardom that had eluded her in Hollywood. Both Miller and Rooney earned Tony Award nominations in 1980 for their performances in Sugar Babies.

Miller returned briefly to the stage in 1998, when she performed in a revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. She made her last screen appearance in 2001, playing a dramatic role as the manager of an apartment complex in Mulholland Drive. Miller spent the final decades of her life at homes in Beverly Hills, California, and Sedona, Arizona. She died in Los Angeles after being hospitalized following a fall at her home in Beverly Hills. Shortly before her death she reportedly converted to Roman Catholicism.

Miller was married--briefly, in each case--three times: to Reese Milner (1946-1947), William Moss (1958-1961), and Arthur Cameron (1961-1962). Her first two marriages ended in divorce; the third was annulled. She and Milner had a daughter who was born prematurely and died shortly after birth; Miller later claimed that Milner had beaten her during her pregnancy, at one point pushing her down a flight of stairs and breaking her back. All three of Miller's husbands demanded that she give up her career as a condition of marriage, which may have accounted in part for the brevity of the unions. She was also romantically involved with the movie producer Louis B. Mayer and the hotel tycoon Conrad Hilton...

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