Director Robert Ellis Miller died Friday in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 89.
According to his nephew, the Emmy-nominated director, known for films “Reuben, Reuben” and “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” had been living at the Motion Picture Home for two years since his wife, documentarian Pola Chasman, died.
Miller had a varied career, working on features films, television films and on the board of the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He also was responsible for elevating the profile of several well known actors such as Anthony Hopkins and Sondra Locke.
Beginning his career while a student at Harvard University, Miller served as president of the Harvard Dramatic Club before returning to his hometown of New York. There, during what he called his “repertory period,” he worked off-Broadway shows and in TV on the likes of “Route 66” and “The Twilight Zone.” This and other work earned him both Emmy and DGA nominations before Miller made his feature film directorial debut with “Any Wednesday” in 1967, starring Jane Fonda and Jason Robards.
His 1968 “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” based on the Carson McCullers novel, won Oscar noms for stars Alan Arkin and newcomer Sondra Locke. The film also introduced Stacy Keach and Cicely Tyson in their first major screen debuts. He then directed “The Buttercup Chain,” which screened in the 1970 Cannes Film Festival,
Other actors who had early success in Miller’s films included Anthony Hopkins in “The Girl from Petrovka” and Kelly McGillis in “Reuben, Reuben,” the latter of which also earned Tom Conti an Oscar nom for best actor.
He later directed Brooke Shields and Timothy Dalton in the comic strip adaptation “Brenda Starr” and one of the many Walton family reunion TV movies, “A Walton Wedding.”
Miller was recognized for his work in “Just an Old Sweet Song” with an NAACP Image Award and became a lifetime trustee of the DGA’s pension plan in 1981. He served as a judge on the foreign film nominating committee for AMPAS and on the international jury of Belgium’s Ghent Film Festival. He gave back to the film community on the DGA’s Creative Rights Negotiating Committee and as a charter founder of the Artists Rights Foundation.
“Robert Ellis Miller was a skilled and prolific television and feature director known for eliciting powerful performances, but to us here at the Guild, he was a service-oriented stalwart with a broad heart and a sharp mind who was always ready to give back to our Guild and the industry,” Directors Guild of America President Paris Barclay said in a statement. “Robert’s career spanned four decades, with his features ‘The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter’ and ‘Reuben, Reuben’ earning numerous top accolades. He began his career directing such iconic TV shows as ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Breaking Point,’ for which he earned a DGA nomination in 1963.”
Miller is survived by a sister, two nieces, four nephews and two brother-in-laws. The funeral will be held on Feb. 1 at Sinai Chapel in Fresh Meadows, New York. The family has requested donations to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.