If you’re a Roger Corman fan, you know Dick Miller . If you enjoy the films of Joe Dante, you know Dick Miller. Hell, if you’ve watched movies for the past sixty years, you know Dick Miller, maybe not by name, but certainly by sight. Dick Miller, who passed away yesterday at the age of 90, was one of those character actors who elevated everything he did, even the schlockiest of schlock. He’s in some of my favorite films, never a big star but always a welcome presence, and the ultimate Familiar Face.
Miller was born in the Bronx on Christmas Day 1928 and caught the show biz bug early. By age 8 he was working as a “boy singer” in the Catskills, and as a teen he worked in various stock companies, doing everything from acting to painting scenery. After a hitch in the Navy, the young man continued to work on the stage, also going to college and (are you ready for this?) earning his PhD in psychology!
Heading out to Hollywood to write screenplays, he met an ambitious young director by the name of Roger Corman, who told Miller he was looking for actors, not writers. Miller responded, “So I’m an actor”, and Corman cast him in APACHE WOMAN, along with his friend, struggling actor Jonathan Haze. Miller was cast as an Indian, but was called back to also play a cowboy shooting at the Indians, and can be seen as both in the film! This is the movie where Miller once jested he ended up shooting himself!
Dick Miller didn’t appear in all of Roger Corman’s low-budget epics; it only seems like it! Miller appeared for Corman twenty times, and starred in 1957’s ROCK ALL NIGHT and WAR OF THE SATTELITES. But his biggest (and best) role for Rapid Roger was in 1959’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD , a hip comedy-horror about sad sack wanna-be sculptor Walter Paisley, who discovers an ingenious way to break into the art world. A BUCKET OF BLOOD is Miller’s tour de force, and Miller was so fond of the nebbish Walter he used the name in five other film and TV appearances.
Director Joe Dante was also a Dick Miller fan, and cast the actor in sixteen films, beginning with his first, the loopy satire HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD. Miller plays Candice Rialson’s agent, named… Walter Paisley! Miller’s most famous part for Dante was as Zach Galligan’s neighbor Murray Futterman in GREMLINS and GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. He also made nine movies with Jonathan Kaplan, including NIGHT CALL NURSES, THE STUDENT TEACHERS, TRUCK TURNER, HEART LIKE A WHEEL, PROJECT X, and UNLAWFUL ENTRY. A list of his total credits would take all night, so I’ll just mention a few notables: DEATH RACE 2000, ROCK’N’ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, SWING SHIFT, THE TERMINATOR, and CHOPPING MALL.
Miller was no stranger to TV either, appearing in everything from M SQUAD to THE UNTOUCHABLES, BONANZA to GUNSMOKE, DRAGNET to POLICE SQUAD!, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE to FREDDIE’S NIGHTMARES. He had a semi-regular role as bartender Lou Mackie on FAME from 1984-87. In 2014, a documentary on his life and work called (appropriately) THAT GUY DICK MILLER was released. Dick Miller was loved and respected by his peers, and even though he mainly appeared in ‘B’ movies, he always gave an ‘A’ performance, giving us our money’s worth. That’s why Corman, Dante, and so many others constantly hired Dick Miller to play in their films. He always delivered the goods, and he’ll be missed by film fans everywhere.