If there’s no business like show business, there was no star like Ann Miller. Alongside her at Cedars-Sinai Hospital was her copy of Daily Variety, her agent Scott Stander told me.
Miller — although wracked with osteoporosis and the cancer that had spread to her lungs (she never, ever smoked) — was planning to go out on the road once again with a one-woman show. She talked with Debbie Reynolds about helping create her act.
As fate would have it, Debbie was a patient at Cedars-Sinai, one floor above Miller, when the terp died early Thursday morning. Debbie was there for treatment of transient global amnesia caused, she claimed, by stress.
A tearful Reynolds reminisced: “I had known Annie since I was 17. At MGM I would be in rehearsals with Annie, Cyd Charisse, Vera-Ellen — all of their legs were taller than my entire body!
“Annie was so beautiful — there was no one like her. She could out-dance, out-sing and out-laugh anyone. We all know about her dancing, but her singing — she could out-Ethel Ethel Merman.”
Reynolds was a member of this sorority of friends of Miller’s: Ann Rutherford, June Haver and Anne Jeffreys. “She loved Trader Vic’s,” recalled Reynolds, “and when we were there we were the loudest table in the place.”
Rutherford said their friendship began with their mothers, all members of the Motion Picture Mothers Club. Rutherford and Miller have the unique distinction of having their same (listed) phone number for 40 years.
Throughout their friendship, Rutherford reminds, superstar Miller never drove a car, though she owned three. “She was so deliciously helpless,” Rutherford recalled.
And when Miller knew she was terminally ill, she had a bed installed in one of her limos and was driven to Sedona, Ariz., where she once owned 17 acres, to say goodbye to her many friends there.
By the numbers
Miller owned 54 fur coats, Rutherford laughed, and kept them all in fur storage at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. “And when she wanted one while on the road she’d merely phone and ask them ‘to send No. 23 or No. 14. …”
Rutherford reminded that Miller was always anxious and ready to return to work. After “Mulholland Drive,” she hoped to star in the series version.
Haver, who was at the hospital with Miller Wednesday evening, had arranged for Monsignor Padraic Loftus of St. Mel’s parish in Woodland Hills to confirm her in the Catholic faith and to give her last rites. He was with Ann when she died at 1 ayem Thursday, Haver said. “There’ll never be another hoofer like her. And there’ll be dancing in heaven with Annie, Fred (Astaire), Gene (Kelly) and Donald (O’Connor).”
Cyd Charisse was heartbroken when I told her the news of Miller’s death. They, too, were close friends and when Miller recently received honors from Seattle admirers, Ann asked Charisse to accept for her — and she did.
Mickey Rooney, who toured “Sugar Babies” with Miller for 10 years, said he kept Ann’s name in his act with wife Jan when they reprised, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love Baby.”
I loved getting phone calls from Ann, when she would unabashedly tell me of an upcoming stint, honor or — just chat. Our friendship dated back to her dating days in the Hollywood of yore. She was an constant item as a “twosome” at Ciro’s, the Mocambo, the Cocoanut Grove, etc. And, of course, great grist for the columns as she segued from her first to her third marriage with dozens of dates in between.
Laughing all the way
Last year, she laughingly told me she turned down a movie offer. “She wanted me to play a hooker!” she laughed. Her sense of humor was always evident in conversations, as in 1992, when she was to receive a Golden Boot Award from Gene Autry, with whom she co-starred in “Melody Ranch” in 1940. Annie reminded me, “I was his first screen kiss — other than his horse!”
When Miller was in the Oval Office of the White House in 1994 — she’d been there before with JFK and Reagan — the unaffected star told Clinton, “You’re the best-looking president I’ve ever seen!”
Looking back at the halcyon days of Hollywood, Rutherford summed up the love affair between these ladies and Hollywood with, “If we only knew we were living in a golden era, maybe we would have enjoyed it more. But — on second thought — I don’t think we could have.”