Ann Miller

Ann Miller
MGM

Stars

Ann Miller
Film: South side of the 6900 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Actress | Dancer | Singer
Born Johnnie Lucille Ann Collier on April 12, 1923 in Chireno, Texas
Died Jan. 22, 2004 of lung cancer in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Calif.

Ann Miller was an enduring actress and dancer famous for her long legs and tap-dancing speed.

Although she was unable to break through to the front ranks of movie stardom, Miller danced alongside legends Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire in a series of films for MGM in the late 1940s and early '50s, including "Easter Parade," "On the Town" and "Kiss Me Kate."

Born Johnnie Lucille Ann Collier in Chireno, Texas, Miller was enrolled by her mother in a tap-dancing school at age 5 to strengthen her legs after a case of rickets.

Her parents divorced when she was 10, and she moved with her mother to California, where she helped support the two of them by dancing in nightclubs. It was during this time that she took the stage name of Ann Miller.

Lucille Ball and comedian Benny Rubin saw Miller performing in San Francisco in 1937 and urged RKO Pictures to sign her to a contract. To get the deal, the 13-year-old Miller lied about her age, saying she was 18. This began a lifelong confusion about her true age. Although some reference books gave her birth year as 1919, in later years Miller claimed that she had been born in 1923.

Her movie career at RKO began with "New Faces of 1937" and a role as Ginger Rogers' dance partner in the classic "Stage Door," which also starred Katharine Hepburn. The next year, she had a role in Frank Capra's "You Can't Take It With You," which won a best picture Oscar.

Miller, who said she had once been clocked at 500 taps per minute, had supporting roles in musicals and comedies at RKO, Columbia and Republic until she signed with MGM in 1948.

Miles Kreuger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical, said "the quintessential Ann Miller number" is "Shaking the Blues Away," in "Easter Parade," the 1948 MGM musical starring Judy Garland and Astaire.

"It's a great solo turn where she's on the stage alone and she just uses the space wonderfully," Kreuger said. "That number captures all the essence, I think, of Ann Miller — the bravura tap dancing and her enormous energy and that joyous smile that was so engaging."

Miller was a last-minute replacement in the 1948 film "Easter Parade" for Cyd Charisse, who had broken her ankle.

When film musicals' popularity declined in the 1950s, Miller went to television and then the stage. In 1969, she took over the starring role in the Broadway musical "Mame."

She gained new fame in 1972 when she danced on a giant soup can in a commercial for Great American Soup.

The stage role for which Miller was probably best known was in the vaudevillian "Sugar Babies," for which she received a 1980 Tony Award nomination. She costarred in the musical with Mickey Rooney on Broadway and on tour.

In 1998, Miller won rave reviews for her turn in Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.

Miller returned to movies in 2001 in David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive," playing Coco Lenoix, the eccentric manager of a Hollywood apartment complex.

In later years, she lived in Beverly Hills and Sedona, Ariz., and wrote two memoirs, "Miller's Highlife" in 1972 and "Tops in Taps" in 1981.

Miller's tap shoes, which she named Moe and Joe, are on display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

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