Springfield-born Hollywood actor dies

Kenny Miller (right) in a scene from 1964’s “Surf Party,” a 20th Century Fox beach flick. The movie’s instrumental theme song by The Astronauts is a real killer (and available on YouTube).
Kenny Miller (right) in a scene from 1964’s “Surf Party,” a 20th Century Fox beach flick. The movie’s instrumental theme song by The Astronauts is a real killer (and available on YouTube).

Springfield native Kenny Miller, who acted in movies, television shows, radio and theater and performed throughout the world as a singer and dancer, has died at age 85.

Miller died from complications of pneumonia in a hospital in Palm Springs, Calif., where he lived, on Monday, May 8, according to his niece, Vicky Holloway.

Miller became a cult movie favorite for roles in “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” which starred a young Michael Landon, and “Attack of the Puppet People.” Because of his baby face, he also was cast in numerous teen pictures where he also used his singing talents.

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He is survived by Holloway; nephews Keith Miller of Newport Beach, Calif., and James Miller of Sims, N.C.; and several great-nieces and great-nephews.

During his performing days, Miller acted in films starring James Dean, Paul Newman, Charlton Heston and Burt Reynolds, and he was directed by greats such as Cecil B. DeMille and Orson Welles.

“He was always an entertainer, an all-around good performer, and decided at an early age that’s what he wanted to do,” said Holloway, who lives in Xenia and would host Miller on annual return visits.

Born Oct. 15, 1931, the youngest son of a Protestant minister, it was a screening of “The Wizard of Oz” that set Miller on the performing path. He would have his own singing programs on several area radio stations, including WIZE.

Miller graduated from Springfield High School in 1949, later hitchhiking to Hollywood looking for his big break.

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His first film was 1952’s “Fearless Fagan,” but he was soon drafted, serving and entertaining in Germany where he also found acting work in a “Flash Gordon” television series. After being discharged, Miller headed back to Hollywood, where he got consistent work in everything from small parts, sometimes uncredited, in “Giant” with Dean, “The Buccaneer” with Heston and “Touch of Evil” for Welles, plus a series of B-pictures where he got bigger roles.

Holloway recalls a family trip to Florida in the early 1960s to see her uncle perform in a swank hotel.

“The Twist was in and he had several women performing with him there. It was fun,” she said.

Miller would return to his hometown to perform at Memorial Hall, where he invited his niece onstage to Twist with him, leading to another funny story.

“He pointed at me, and a little boy, about 6, thought my uncle was pointing at him and he went up too and we just Twisted away,” Holloway said.

She claims Miller also Twisted with then First Lady Jackie Kennedy.

Other favorite memories of her uncle were seeing “The Buccaneer” at a Springfield cinema and talking by phone to Debbie Reynolds.

“He knew so many people. Performers back then knew and liked each other,” she said.

Miller would perform all over the world, singing and dancing, releasing records and rarely slowing down.

Miller married just once, to singer and actress Molly Bee. They divorced and never had children, but made up for it with his nieces and nephews and their kids.

“Family meant the world to him,” Holloway said.

Miller returned to the area each summer to enjoy home-cooked meals, catch up with old friends and sit on the patio.

“He was just fun to be around, always laughing,” she said. “He was a name-dropper. We’d watch TV and he’d have a story for everybody. He even met royalty.”

Holloway said Miller’s remains would be cremated in California and returned here to be interred. His life will be celebrated on Sunday, May 21, at St. Mark United Methodist Church, 2043 Memorial Dr., Springfield.

The visitation will be 12:30-1:30 p.m. followed by the memorial service. It will be open to the public.

The family suggests donations be made to the Doris Day Animal Foundation.