Easter Parade (1948) stars Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford and Ann Miller, featuring songs by Irving Berlin, including Easter Parade, Steppin’ Out with My Baby, and We’re A Couple Of Swells.
It was the most financially successful film in the careers of Garland, Astaire and Miller in her MGM debut. Miller had been under contract to RKO in the 1930s and Columbia Pictures in the early to mid-40s.
Easter Parade was the highest-grossing musical movie of the 1940s. Gene Kelly was originally cast in the male lead, but he broke his ankle playing volleyball just prior to production and Astaire, who had announced his retirement, was persuaded by producer Arthur Freed to replace Kelly. Astaire “retired” several more times over the next three decades.
Miller showed just how much she deserved to be in the same film as the legendary MGM stars as she tapped her blues away in Berlin’s Shakin’ the Blues Away, written in 1929.
Let’s get the sad stuff out of the way. When I think about Ann Miller, and I think about her often, I remember how her wealthy steel baron husband threw eight-months-pregnant Miller down a staircase in their home, breaking her back and injuring their unborn baby.
Weeks later, Miller gave birth in a steel harness to her only child. The baby died within a few hours. Her husband’s influential family then took away the baby’s body to a secret grave, not to be found for another half century, along with this chapter in Miller’s story.
Suffering with osteoporosis, and regretting never having children or having found someone with whom to share her later years, suffering from osteoporosis, Miller wrote:
“No matter what you’ve achieved, honey, if you aren’t loved, you ain’t nothing but a hound dog. I can still tap, but who wants to pay an old lady to tap?“
20-year-old Miller had briefly dated powerful 60-year-old MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer in 1944. Mayer begged her to marry him, she turned him down. The distraught Mayer swallowed sleeping pills and he immediately sent his chauffeur to bring Miller to his death bed. The ambulance arrived first; he recovered.
Instead, Miller married Reese Milner, a rich heir to a steel fortune, and they went to live on the biggest ranch in California where they raised prized cattle. The marriage ended less than a year later after Reese shoved pregnant Miller down the stairs.
She lost the baby and Miller filed for divorce from her hospital bed, her broken back in a steel harness. Later, returning to MGM to work, Mayer told Miller: “If you’d married me, none of this would have happened“.
In 1958, Ann Miller married William Moss, another millionaire, Texas oil man who, she later quipped: “…looked exactly like my first husband. Three months later, he broke my arm.”
Her third marriage was to Arthur Cameron, another rich oilman. This marriage lasted less than a year, but he was never violent with Miller and they remained friends.
You probably just remember Miller as the long-legged tap-dancer with the lacquered raven hair and Nefertiti eye makeup whose athleticism made her a star of movie musicals in the 1940s and 1950s.
She was America’s female tap star, inheriting the mantle of Ginger Rogers and Eleanor Powell. She always took a vigorous approach to dancing, and it was claimed that she could produce 500 taps a minute. Nobody doubted it.
She consistently won praise and fans for her roles in the great film musicals of the era such as Easter Parade, in which she danced gracefully with Astaire as she tried to woo him away from Garland, in a role she only got because Cyd Charisse, the first choice, broke a leg, and she had to dance in flats because Astaire was barely taller.
When she was doing the musical Sugar Babies on Broadway in 1979, Miller was asked if she would be working on Passover. She replied:
“Oh, honey, I don’t do game shows.”
When she filled out her W4 form, in the blank after occupation, she wrote “Star lady”. Comforting a friend who’d just had a miscarriage, she said:
“Well, just remember, we all have to go sometime.“
Miller felt that as a representative of the show business she loved, she owed the public a good show and a lot of glamour. She was a consummate pro, grateful to be working whenever she could, and, indeed, she had a remarkably long career, working from 1934-2001.
“I’ve never been happy in my personal life, ever. I’ve just had a wonderful time being Ann Miller.“