Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

email signup Blog Video Facebook Twitter Instagram
Summer 2006 Newsletter

Et ceterata: Ann Miller


This dress, worn by Ann Miller
in Easter Parade, is part of the
Ransom Center's film collection.

Ann Miller, born Johnnie Lucille Collier on April 12, 1923 in Houston, Texas, began dancing lessons when she was five as part of her therapy from an attack of rickets. Her parents divorced when she was 10, and Ann and her mother moved to Hollywood, where Ann got jobs dancing in various clubs and playing bit parts in movies while being home schooled.

In the late 1930s, Miller was booked at the Club Bal Tabarin in San Francisco. Lucille Ball was in the audience one night and saw Ann dance. She persuaded her agent to give Miller a screen test at RKO Studios where Ball was also under contract. Ann was signed to a seven-year contract (she was only 13 but lied and said she was 18). She debuted as a featured dancer in New Faces of 1937 (1937). Her next film, and first acting role, was Stage Door (1937), in which she was cast alongside Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. She continued to act and dance in several low-budget features before being loaned out to Columbia Pictures in 1938 for the role of the eccentric Sycamore family's fudge-making, ballet-dancing daughter in You Can't Take It With You, which won the Academy Award for best picture of 1938. Miller asked to be let out of her contract with RKO and soon headed to New York to appear in George White's Scandals on Broadway in 1939. Returning to Hollywood in 1940, she appeared in a couple of films for Republic Pictures before signing with Columbia Pictures in 1941, where she would star in a series of wartime musicals and comedies.

When Cyd Charisse broke her leg, Ann auditioned for and won the role of second female lead in MGM's musical Easter Parade (1948), which also starred Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Peter Lawford. Her success in this film won Ann an MGM contract, and she quickly became a member of Arthur Freed's musical unit at MGM, which included Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland, Vera-Ellen, Jane Powell, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin. At MGM, she would make her best-remembered films, including On the Town (1949) and Kiss Me Kate (1953). Her final film for MGM was The Great American Pastime (1956) after which she retired from film making.

Never out of the spotlight for long, Miller turned her attention to television, nightclubs, and the stage. She was the last actress to headline the Broadway production of Mame in 1969 and 1970. In 1979, she and Mickey Rooney starred in the smash hit Sugar Babies, in which she performed for nine years on Broadway and on tour. Her last stage performance was in 1998 in Stephen Sondheim's Follies, in which she played the hardboiled survivor Carlotta Campion, who sings the anthemic "I'm Still Here." In 2001, she took her last film role, playing Coco in director David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001). Ann Miller died January 22, 2004, in Los Angeles.  

—Darnelle Vanghel

Table of Contents