What defines the 1950s. Songs like A Summer Place. Movies like From Here to Eternity or To Kill a Mockingbird. The beginning of the Cold War and the race for space. Yet as dramatic and popular as these things may have been, there were many changes beginning to shape postwar America and the West that would change the basis of society forever. The world of the 20th Century had always been controlled by those in power. Men with older and seemingly wiser heads. The struggle seemed to be between the West and the East.
The newest front would be between the establishment and youth. What was once the dynamic of "we know what is good for you" became "chill grandad!!!" This did not happen overnight and the death of the cocksure James Dean and the birth of rock'n'roll gave this new dynamic, "this youth rebellion" the impetus to become one of the greatest and least noticed cultural revolutions of all time. This was the start of youth power because it was also the birth of youth consumerism. When the might corporations began to understand that in the future it would be the young who controlled society's spending habits. Forty years later we have the 9-14 year old demographic having more consumer power than any other age group.
And you might wonder what this has to do with actor/singers like Kenny Miller. And I would tell you that the movies which have defined Kenny's movie career are, although minor, a vital cog in the changes that came to America during the 50s and gave rise to the "flower power" and anti-war revolution of the 60s. The film studios had quickly followed the lead of the music companies in realising that there was a whole new market for films. Films like I was a Teenage Werewolf and Attack of the Puppet People were the beginning of a whole new generation of film making which gave rise to film makers like Roger Corman and to the great B genres of horror films to the films made entirely for the youth audience that reached its height with the Beach Bingo movies of the early 60s.
While Kenny made numerous films during the 50s-60s you will discover when you explore his official website or read his autobiography just how indelible these two movies have been in his career and that the young of today as well as Kenny's contemporaries and all ages in between keenly collect scene shots from these great films. Again the advent of video, cable and DVD has made yesteryear as close as the internet has made our neighbours 10,000 miles across the planet. Where 50s sci fi and horror seemed hokey and innocent, the modern world spies not only its potential but its darker side. Perhaps that is another of the joys of escaping to the 50s. Where the 50s was the birth of youth consumerism, it is also the place where we left our innocence. Ask anyone who watches Happy Days and thinks fondly of submarine races, lover's leap and Rock Around the Clock. The cost of a worldly youth is the loss of youth. And let's be glad that we have actors like Kenny to keep our innocence alive.
I caught up with Kenny recently and was pleased to hear that not only was he still attending numerous movie memorabilia and autograph conventions like Chiller and Monster Bash but was also appearing in his second film in two years, more than fifty years after his film debut in Fearless Fagan. The newest role is in the J Brian King thriller Blue, which is a far and brutal cry from those early films. Hopefully we will see more of Kenny on our screens in the coming years.
Yet, Kenny was no stranger to trouble himself. The son of a preacher man, Kenny hit the road on Route 66 to follow his Hollywood dream. Quitting home after his parents talked him into graduating, he thumbed rides, travelling in cars and trucks and finished the trip riding up front in a hearse. However, this was the easy part. Hollywood grifters soon parted Kenny from his savings. The dream they had promised him was put on hold while he battled through a rough patch. Kenny was still only twenty-years-old and living a long way from home. You can read first hand accounts of life for Kenny and what Hollywood was like in the 50s by checking out his autobiography entitled Kenny Miller: Surviving Teenage Werewolves, Puppet People and Hollywood, which came out in 1999 and was later retitled and re-released as Hollywood Inside & Out: The Kenny Miller Story. Here you will read lots of interesting anecdotes like Kenny dancing the twist with Jackie Kennedy, or about his prolific stage and nightclub career which spanned America and Europe. Details can be found on his official website http://celebrities-home.com/kennymiller.htm where you can also find lots of great autographed photos from these great films, his upcoming shows or write to him about his great career.
David: Do you recall when you signed your first autograph?
Kenny: I sure do. It was in my hometown of Springfield, Ohio. A young gal came up to me and asked me to sign her paper. She was shaking so badly, but finally told me that her name was Judy Crabtree and that she was a big fan of my local radio show and me. That moment was the beginning of a life long friendship. Judy became the first president of my fan club after I started making films and handled the task for years until the job became too big for her--at one time I had something like 52 chapters all over the USA and Canada, which had to be handled by a professional fan club organization. I'm still in touch with Judy and her family. She now lives in Hamilton, Montana with her husband, Bernard Beals.
David Can you tell us a little about what you did in Germany with Uncle Sam?
Kenny: I was assigned to the 6th Infantry Division in Berlin, & became the Entertainment NCO for the 6th Infantry. Tala Birell, a former film actress, was in charge of all entertainment for the Berlin Command. She knew Wallace Worseley, Jr. who was preparing to start filming a remake of the Flash Gordon series starring Steve Holland there in Berlin--she told Wally about me, and so I went to see him and was cast as Tough Luck Hogan for some of the series. I also produced, directed and starred in a musical revue, Berlin Ballyhoo, that toured over most of the Army bases in southern Germany
David: Which role do you consider to be your best work and which role is your favourite?
Kenny: That's a hard one--I loved working in Cecil B. DeMille's last big film, The Buccaneer mainly cuz it was directed by Anthony Quinn and had so many wonderful super stars like Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Charles Boyer, Claire Bloom, Inger Stevens & on & on. Most all of my scenes were with Chuck Heston as Andrew Jackson. They kept adding scenes for me & I worked through the entire film. My other favorite is Touch Of Evil and having the pleasure of working with and becoming friends with Orson Welles. He was unbelievable and like Tony, the true professional. Plus he had a great cast including Chuck Heston, my darling Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Akim Tamiroff as well as many cohorts of Orson's from Mercury Theatre like Mercedes McCambridge, Joseph Cotton and E. G. Marshall. There are other favourites--but these 2 come to mind first. My best work was in The Buccaneer I think (?)
David: You have just made your first film in many years, It came from Trafalgar and I wondered how the role came about and what it was like working with such an unusual cast list?
Kenny: Blue is my latest film--which had to temporarily put on hold due to Hurricane Wilma destroying the entire location set in the Florida Everglades-- is scheduled to resume shooting in late March. I have the leading role of Johnny Lee Walker--it's a fantastic script by J. Brian King ! (Go to my website & click up the poster on the first page * it will Link you to all the info re: Blue) I met Soloman Mortamur, the writer & Director of It Came From Trafalgar at an autograph con in Ft. Lauderdale. It's his first film and I am always interested in helping new talent in the film business. Anyhow, he asked if I'd do a "Cameo" in the film--I agreed as long as he could clear it with my union--SAG. He did--so I went to Indiana and filmed my '"cameo scene" with a darling little actress named Brooke Gross (Her debut film role) in one day. I did not get the opportunity to work with any of the other cast members unfortunately--although I have met some of them at various conventions. I have no idea about the actual story or script--as all I saw was my scene, which, I believe, opens the film (?)
David: Can you tell us which autograph shows you have attended and which are your favourites?
Kenny: Chiller Theatre; Memorabilia (England); Ray Courts Show, Monster Bash, FX Show; MegaCon; Cinema Wasteland; Mid Ohio Con; Pittsburgh ComiCon;Heroes Convention; Wonderfest; Starfest;. I don't have one favorite con--I really enjoy appearing at them all!!!
David: Have you ever seen forged examples of your signature being sold on sites like eBay and if so what did you do about it?
Kenny: Yes, mostly on eBay, but just let it go. I did have another incident on eBay that really got to me---several years ago I gave my signed working script of Touch Of Evil to a fan who asked me for something to auction off for a children's charity. Last December I received some frantic calls and emails informing me that my signed script from Touch Of Evil was on a 24 hour "live auction" from Beverly Hills by a dealer--Profiles in History-- and was sold so rapidly on eBay to someone on the floor for $1400.00 that we couldn't stop it. I contacted the dealers to see where they got the script from, but they wouldn't give me any information. (Now that really pissed me off!!)
David: If any person in history could sign there photo for you, who would you ask and what would you have them say in their dedication?
Kenny: Probably Danny Kaye--I adored him and his great talent. One of my greatest disappointments when I was first starting in show biz was to win a nation-wide search in Springfield, Ohio to play Danny Kaye as a juvenile in The Harry Lauder Story, which was to go to Hollywood. Unfortunately, Harry Lauder's family got into all kind of problems with Samuel Goldwyn, so the movie was never made. If he ever signed a photo for me--I'd wish he had wrote how wonderful it was working with me and how he believed in my future as a star! (dream on, Miller!)
David: Do you have a humorous or unusual story from working on a film set?
Kenny: In "Teenage Werewolf"--Michael Landon had huge ears, & the make up man used some kind of glue to stick them closer to his head--during the scene where I slip up behind him & blow a horn in his ear--some of the glue from his ear came loose as I was going to blow in his ear, & I broke up--completely laughed out loud and ruined the scene. (he later had plastic surgery on his ears.) Then in Puppet People-my pants are so tight and when I was climbing up to look out of the key hole--my pants started to rip--since we weren't using sound--I kept yelling to the director, Bert Gordon. that my pants were ripping--he kept yelling --"keep going--do you have on under shorts and I yelled 'yes"-- and "barely" made it to top of the 30 foot door! In DeMille's The Buccaneer the great movie composer, Elmer Bernstien, wrote a theme for me that I was to whistle in the opening scene before Charlton Heston arrives as Andrew Jackson (we share dialogue together) After two days I still couldn't whistle the theme well enough--so the director, Anthony Quinn, dubbed it in "off camera!!!"
David: Did you ever turn down a movie/TV role that you wished you had done? Or for that matter missed a particular role through circumstances beyond your control?
Kenny: My agents didn't want me to appear in I Was A Teenage Werewolf as they thought it would be a "joke" because of the title. I insisted on doing it, & thank God I did. I was also cast in King Creole thanks to Elvis as one of Vic Morrow's gang. The Buccaneer was shooting at Paramount which meant I spent some time with Elvis . Unfortunately, The Buccaneer soon was two weeks behind schedule and they had to start shooting King Creole so they had to replace me .
David: Is there a particular story or moment from your life that sums up Kenny Miller as a person?
Kenny: No, I can't really think of one particular moment or story that "sums me up." I've been so lucky to have such a wonderful, full life that it would take a book to list them all. Perhaps you can read my new book from Bear Manor Media, "Hollywood Inside And Out--The Kenny Miller Story" written with Donald Vaughan? Regarding my recordings, I have a new CD just out with songs from my films & TV shows including Eenie Meenie Miney Mo from I Was A Teenage Werewolf--Pearly Shells from Surf Party--The Title Song from Young Guns Of Texas plus10 others. I was offered It's Not Unusual when I was recording in London, but my recording manager turned it down--the rest my friend is Tom Jones' history. My favorite recording was in London also--for EMI-Stateside, Restless. However, this track was never released in US, but is fortunately it is now on my newest CD! And no, I've never been asked to record with anyone else--would love to, however, especially Connie or Jackie DeShannon.
My favorite song and my signature song in my night club act is For Once In My Life (sung as a ballad)--The first line of the song is--"For once in my life I have someone who needs me!" Perhaps this is the story of my life. You see, the first time I sang For Once In My Life was at a beautiful birthday party at a fabulous mansion in Palm Beach for a very dear friend of mine, Dame Alma Dupuy. Everyone kept saying--'Kenny you gotta sing--you gotta sing for her." So I decided I'd sing For Once in my Life-- I got the staff to turn out all the lights so the room was lit only by candlelight---I sang the song without any musical accompaniment-- and thus it became one of the most emotional and fulfilling songs that I've ever sung! At the end of the song, everyone jumped to their feet applauding me, with many having tears running down their faces--including my dear friend Dame Alma, who I had sung it to. Since then I included it as my signature song in my nightclub act & concerts wherever I perform--and always without accompaniment at the very end of my performance. The song means so much to me and I thank Stevie Wonder for writing such wonderful words that fit me so well--"For once in my life I have someone who needs me--Someone I've needed so long--For once unafraid I can go where life leads me--Somehow I'm gonna be strong"-----------. Guess that too, is how I feel about all the fans & friends who have stuck by me all these years.