Ann Miller impressed both Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers before dancing her way to fame.
The dancer and actress led a decades-long career in Hollywood before she died in 2004 at age 84. In her lifetime, Miller worked alongside both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire in a series of films and commanded the stage with 500 taps a minute. Her last credited role was eccentric manager Coco Lenoix in 2001’s “Mulholland Drive,” directed by David Lynch.
On Jan. 10, Julien’s Auctions is hosting “The Personal Property of Ann Miller,” an auction that will feature 350 lots. The rare items consist of scripts, letters from famous friends, her trademark blue eyeshadow, jewelry, vintage perfume bottles, tap shoes and numerous photos.
Dancer and actress Ann Miller died in 2004 at age 80 from cancer. (Bob Costa/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Miller’s pal, Randal Malone, spoke to Fox News about what fans can expect, how Miller was discovered, as well as what her final years were like.
Fox News: What can fans expect from Julien’s Auctions?
Randal Malone: I would say the excitement of almost having Ann Miller here again. These are all her things – things that she owned and loved. It thrills me because we’re talking about her again. And she’s one of the greatest stars of all time. And this is a rare opportunity for old Hollywood fans to own something that belonged to a legend.
Fox News: One of the many items fans will find is her signature blue eyeshadow. Where did that look come from?
Malone: Well, she had blue eyes, and she felt it enhanced them. I used to call them eggshell blue. I would tell her, “You’re gonna put on that eggshell blue?” And she would say, “You got it, baby.” She wore it for many years, long after she did all of those classic films and stage productions. It became her signature look. It was a dramatic look that was part of her presentation. She had that big black wig, the smooth pale face, red lips and the blue eyeshadow. It was dramatic. But it was all Annie Miller.
Julien’s Auctions is hosting an online-only auction dedicated to the late star, titled “The Personal Property of Ann Miller.” (George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
Fox News: How did you meet her?
Malone: I was doing a musical in Louisville, Kentucky, back in 1984. She came through because she was doing a touring show of “Sugar Babies.” I was very young at the time, but I loved her and her work. I was invited backstage to meet her, and we became friends. She even introduced me to Mickey Rooney.
We just became fast friends. And from there on, she would always invite me to her house in Los Angeles whenever she wasn’t on tour. And whenever she was doing a show in New York, I would see her. It was easy for us to become close friends. She was a Southern girl, and I was born in Kentucky. So we immediately hit it off from there. And if you were a friend of Annie’s, she would move heaven and Earth to be with you.
Fox News: It sounds like she never forgot her Texas roots even after finding fame in Hollywood.
Malone: Never. Her father had been an attorney and, simply put, he abandoned her and her mother when she was about three years old. He just met somebody else and ran off, leaving them. Her mother was deaf in her left ear, so she was rather unemployable in those days. But Annie had this amazing gift of dance. By the time she was 11 or 12, she did performances with the veteran dancers throughout the neighborhood and made money. Annie said she told her mother, “I can make a living for us mama.”
Ann Miller was a sought-after dancer in Hollywood. (Archive Photos/Getty Images)
But she never forgot Texas and how she and her mother struggled. Her father did come back in her life when she needed a favor. She had gotten a job through Lucille Ball and Benny Rubin. They saw her dancing at a club in San Francisco, and they thought she was phenomenal. They met her backstage, and it was Lucy who said, “I can’t make any promises, but I’m doing a movie called ‘Stage Door’ about the musical. I will try really hard to get you an audition.” And that’s when her father came in. He was able to get her a certificate that wasn’t real, claiming she was 18 years old, so she could be hired. And she got the job. She ended up becoming lifelong friends with Lucy and Ginger Rogers who was also in the film.
Fox News: How did she feel about her time in Hollywood?
Malone: She always felt fortunate. She used to tell me, “I wish I had been as fortunate in my love life.” She loved Hollywood. She got to dance with Fred Astaire. She did all those war musicals to boost our country’s morale. And she also got to tour and do Broadway. Everything she wanted to accomplish in her career, she did it and was celebrated for it. And there was no one like her. She developed a style called the machine gun tap, which meant she could do 500 taps a minute. I mean, she was a true star. She could sing, she could dance, she could act. And she worked very hard at all three.
“She developed a style called the machine gun tap, which meant she could do 500 taps a minute,” said Randal Malone. (Getty Images)
Fox News: In addition to Lucille Ball, Ann Miller credited Ginger Rogers for her success in Hollywood. Why?
Malone: Well, it all started with Ginger Rogers. When she went in for that audition, director Greg La Cava thought she was great but too tall to dance with Ginger Rogers. And right when that comment was made, Ginger was walking in Greg’s office. After hearing this, Ginger said, “Well, I like how she looks. Can you stand a minute, string bean?” Ann Miller stood up and said, “Ms. Rogers, if I wore flat shoes with a shorter hat and you wore heels, don’t you think it would balance out?” Ginger said, “I think you’re right! You got the job string bean.” Greg La Cava was not going to argue with Ginger Rogers. So he simply said, “There we go girls.”
Actresses from left: Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers and Lucille Ball. (John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Annie herself told me that story. She said that’s how she got the part in “Stage Door,” which set her whole career. She always said, “If it wasn’t for Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers, I wouldn’t be here.” She was eternally grateful. And in fact, those women remained good friends for the rest of their lives.
Fox News: Ann Miller had many famous co-stars. Who was her favorite and why?
Malone: She said the biggest highlight was to dance with the great Fred Astaire on “Easter Parade.” She loved him as a dancer and admired his work all her life. She had seen him when his dance partner was his sister Adele in the early years. She would always say, “I can’t believe little ol’ me from Texas gets to dance with Fred Astaire.” That stayed with her for the rest of her life.
Fox News: Which were her favorite films to make?
Malone: She loved doing all of them, but she loved doing musicals that had a red, white and blue theme. The war musicals. She had such patriotism in her heart. At that time, everyone got together and wanted to give back. So many of those musicals had strong patriotic themes.
Portrait of Ann Miller (1923 – 2004) in a black leotard, stockings and high heels as she looks back over her shoulder, circa 1950s. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
You have to remember, America was at war. The films reflected that. They were shown all over the world, but most importantly, they were shown to our soldiers. She said she loved and appreciated our troops. She wanted to do whatever it took to boost our country’s morale. And in those musicals, you saw these beautiful song-and-dance numbers. It gave the country hope.
Fox News: Do you think she had any regrets about her career?
Malone: No, I don’t think so. I think if she were alive today, she would still be trying to work. She loved keeping busy and dancing. I think that’s what kept her young … She loved to entertain. Even when she had to go on grueling tours, she always made sure the performances were fresh every night on stage. And she always did it with a smile on her face. When she later got sick, she told me, “I have no regrets, not even with my failed marriages. I did my best with all of them.” I know she always wanted children. But regrets? Annie always said herself she had none.
Fox News: Do you remember the last time you spoke to her?
Malone: I do because it didn’t feel like it was going to be the last time. With life, you just never know. She had gotten cancer, but her mindset was, “I’ve got this, and I’ve gotta get through it.” But her assistant told me it was terminal … It was bad. I was so heartbroken. I was sick with pain because this was my friend, and she was so determined to fight back. But I never wanted her to see that side of me. She showed strength, and I wanted to do the same for her, as heartsick as I was.
Ann Miller was known for her signature blue eyeshadow. The eyeshadow is being auctioned via Julien’s Auctions. (Getty Images)
She would say things like, “when I get through this” or “when this is all done.” I asked her, “Are you going to be taking treatment?” And she said, “I don’t want to lose my hair.” I told her, “Who cares if you do? It will grow back.” But she said, “If I do chemotherapy, they told me I’d lose my hair and I don’t want to do that. So I think I’ll get through it with surgery.” I told her, “Do the surgery, but also do a round of chemo, just to be sure.” [Doctors] told her they got it at the time, which made her happy. We were all so relieved.
But then it came back. And this time, it came back inoperable. I think she knew how sick she was, but she remained hopeful. She finally told me, “If I don’t overcome this, I want you to be a pallbearer at my service.” And I was. I was the head pallbearer at her funeral.
Fox News: What do you hope audiences learning about the auction will get from Ann Miller’s life and legacy?
Malone: I hope they realize these are true, real pieces of Hollywood history. There’s not much of that to go around. And they all belonged to one of the greatest legends of the screen. She was part of Hollywood’s golden era. She started in the ‘30s, worked through the ‘40s, starred on Broadway in the ‘50s and just kept going. She had admirers like Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers and even Judy Garland, a friend of hers. And if she were alive today, I am certain she would still be working. Her talent was a gift to the world. And she should never be forgotten.