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Happy Birthday, Marvin Miller!

Though his show business career of nearly half-a-century extended to radio, TV, and motion pictures, the actor-announcer born Marvin Elliott Mueller in St. Louis, Missouri on this date in 1913 is perhaps best-remembered for doling out an impressive sum of money every week on CBS-TV’s The Millionaire, which aired on the network from January 19, 1955 to June 7, 1960. As Michael Anthony, executive secretary to wealthy billionaire benefactor John Beresford Tipton (voiced by Paul Frees), Marvin Miller would hand out a tax-free cashier’s check for $1,000,000 ($9.66 million in 2020 dollars) to some lucky recipient whose life would be inevitably changed by their reversal of fortune. In later years, however, Miller expressed “buyer’s remorse” despite the anthology show’s phenomenal popularity. “I never did another important part in a movie or television series,” he recalled in a 1982 interview. “I’d go in with an agent to a casting director and he’d say, ‘Hey, the audience would expect you to give away a million dollars.’”

Marvin Miller broke into radio (while still attending Washington University as a freshman) at the age of 18, once earning $5-a-week as a “one-man radio show.” Miller was working from dawn to dusk as “Assistant Chief Announcer” at St. Louis’s KMOX when he met (and then married) artist Elizabeth Dawson. The couple moved to Chicago (a major radio center at that time) in 1939 where Marvin was heard on an average of 45 shows a week. (Variety dubbed him a “one-man radio industry.”) Sometimes an actor, sometimes an announcer, Miller continued his busy ways upon moving to Hollywood in 1944. (Marvin explained to old-time radio historian Chuck Schaden in 1973 how it was possible to wear two performing hats: “…the only way I actually got around it in Chicago was to tell the advertising agency people that I was an announcer, and tell the directors that I was an actor—and sometimes I met myself coming and going. I’d be announcing a show and suddenly get a part on it!”)

Jim Cox, author of The Great Radio Soap Operas, credits Marvin Miller with acting/announcing on 20 different “weepies”: The Affairs of Anthony (as Anthony Marleybone Sr.), Aunt Mary (announcer), Backstage WifeThe Dreft Star Playhouse (announcer), Family SkeletonThe Guiding LightIrene Rich Dramas (announcer), Judy and JaneKay Fairchild—StepmotherLonely Women (announcer), Ma Perkins (announcing under his pseudonym, “Charlie Warren”), Midstream (Howard Andrews), One Man’s Family (portrayed 20 roles on this one, notably “Roderick Stone”), The Right to Happiness (“The Voice of the Past”), Road of LifeThe Romance of Helen Trent (Gil Whitney), Scattergood BainesToday’s ChildrenWoman from Nowhere (announcer), and Woman in White (Dr. Lee Markham). Gerald Nachman in Raised on Radio jestingly labeled Miller as “the most happily overworked actor of all.” Frank Buxton and Bill Owen’s The Big Broadcast 1920-1950 lists 86 credits for Marvin in the index.

Among the novel programs on Marvin Miller’s radio resume are Armchair Adventures, a 1952 series that allowed Marvin to cement his “one-man show” reputation by doing all the voices and narration. On The Billie Burke Show (Fashions in Rations), Miller not only handled the announcing chores but played two of Billie’s gentleman suitors, Colonel Fitts and Banker Guthrie. (Marvin was also the announcer on Burke’s 1945 sitcom, The Gay Mrs. Featherstone.) Miller portrayed Marvin Sample on Cousin Willie (a 1953 sitcom starring Vic and Sade’s Billy Idelson), “Mr. First Nighter” on The First Nighter Program, and the titular sleuth on Peter Quill, a detective drama that aired over Mutual in 1940-41. Marvin worked on a great many programs but two of his best-known were long-running stints on The Railroad Hour (“All aboard!”) and The Whistler (he even filled in for Bill Forman when Forman was in the Army).

A complete inventory of Marvin Miller’s voluminous radio acting and announcing credits would no doubt keep us occupied for years and years…but the list would inevitably include The Adventures of MaisieThe Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietThe Andrews Sisters Show: Eight-to-the-Bar RanchAunt JemimaAuthor’s PlayhouseBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBeat the BandBehind the StoryBeulahThe Bickersons (Old Gold Time), Broadway’s My BeatThe Chesterfield Supper Club (Jo Stafford), The Chicago Theatre of the AirConfessionThe Coronet Little Show (The Coronet Storyteller), Crime ClassicsCrisco’s Star PlayhouseThe Cruise of the Poll ParrotDark VentureA Date with JudyDragnetDuffy’s TavernFamily TheatreFather Knows BestFavorite StoryFibber McGee and MollyThe George Burns and Gracie Allen ShowGunsmokeHave Gun – Will TravelI Was a Communist For The FBIInheritanceJack ArmstrongJeff Regan, InvestigatorThe Kemtone HourLassieThe Lux Radio TheatreMe and JanieMusic by Ray NobleThe National Barn DanceThe NBC Star PlayhouseThe NBC University TheatreNight BeatThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowThe Quiz KidsThe Red Skelton ShowRocky FortuneThe Rudy Vallee Drene ShowThe Six-ShooterSmilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown GangSongs by SinatraSpace Patrol, The Stan Freberg ShowStars Over HollywoodStop That VillainStrange WillsTarzanTell it AgainThat Brewster BoyThe Theatre of Famous Radio PlayersWoodbury Journal (Louella Parsons), Your Movietown Radio Theatre, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Miller also did exhaustive duty for the Armed Forces Radio Service (Command PerformanceJubileeMail Call) and was an enthusiastic participant in attempts to revive radio drama (The CBS Radio Mystery TheatreHeartbeat TheatreThe Hollywood Radio TheatreThe Sears Radio TheatreTheatre Five).

Marvin Miller’s first credited screen role was playing the villainous Yamada in 1945’s Blood on the Sun (starring James Cagney and produced by Jimmy’s brother William). Marvin would portray any number of villains and heavies in his movie career, with his memorable films including Johnny Angel (1945), Deadline at Dawn (1946), Just Before Dawn (1946), The Phantom Thief (1946), Dead Reckoning (1947), The Brasher Doubloon (1947), Peking Express (1951), Hong Kong (1952), and The Shanghai Story (1954). Sadly, in those less enlightened times Miller played a lot of Asian characters (“yellowface”). Much of his best work involved voicing animation for studios like Disney (he’s the narrator in Sleeping Beauty [1959]) and UPA (many of the Gerald McBoing-Boing shorts). Marvin would achieve silver screen greatness by giving voice to “Robby the Robot” in the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet…a role he reprised the following year in The Invisible Boy (1957).

I mentioned in the essay’s opening paragraph that Marvin Miller’s small screen claim to fame was TV’s The Millionaire…but in addition, Marvin guest starred on TV classics like The Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietBat MastersonBatmanThe Danny Thomas ShowMission: Impossible, and Perry Mason. And yet, television allowed Miller to return to his radio roots narrating shows (Electra Woman and Dyna GirlThe F.B.I.) and voicing cartoons (The Famous Adventures of Mr. MagooThe Superman/Aquaman Hour of AdventureFantastic Voyage). (Many will fondly remember Marvin as the unseen narrator in the “bumpers” between cartoons on The Pink Panther Show.) Marvin Miller passed away in 1985 at the age of 71.

Here at Radio Spirits, we wouldn’t hesitate to open our inventory doors and offer you some of Marvin Miller’s finest radio work on CD. We have several collections of his signature series, The Whistler: Death Watch, Murder in Haste, Root of All Evil, and Skeletons in the Closet. We’ve also plenty of sets featuring “America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator,” with Marvin—Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Confidential, Expense Account Submitted, Fabulous Freelance, Fatal Matters, Mysterious Matters, and Wayward Matters. In addition, listen for today’s birthday boy on The Bickersons: Put Out the Lights!, The Bob Bailey Collection, Burns & Allen and Friends, Crime Classics: The Hyland Files, Dark Venture, Duffy’s Tavern: Irish Eyes, Gunsmoke: Dead or Alive, Have Gun – Will Travel: Dressed to Kill, I Was a Communist For the F.B.I.: Sleeper, Jack Benny: Be Our Guest, The Six Shooter: Grey Steel and Special Edition, and Strange Wills: I Devise & Bequeath.

You’ll find more Whistler collections in our digital downloads store (Archives Collection, Eleventh Hour, Impulse, Notes on Murder, Voices) in addition to Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Archives Collection, Murder Matters, Phantom Chases). Rounding out our Marvin Miller material are Broadway’s My Beat: Great White Way and Murder, Family Theatre, Great Radio Christmas, Jack Benny: The Gang’s All Here, Jeff Regan, Investigator: The Lyon’s Eye, Night Beat: Lost Souls, Radio Christmas Spirits, and Rocky Fortune. Happy birthday to Marvin Miller!

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