|Denny Miller GALACTICA.TV interview|
|Written by Marcel Damen|
|Wednesday, 21 February 2007|
Some time ago Marcel Damen caught up with Denny Miller, who played Ser 5-9 in the Battlestar Galactica 1978 double episode "The Gun on Ice Planet Zero". He talked to him about his extensive career as an actor, his part on the Battlestar Galactica 1978 series, the writing of his books and what keeps him busy nowadays.
Below you can read the transcript of this interview. If you rather listen to the audio of this interview then click the "PLAY" button below to start.
This is Marcel Damen for GALACTICA.TV. Today we're talking to Denny Miller who played the part of Ser 5-9 in the episode "The Gun on Ice Planet Zero" on Battlestar Galactica. Mr. Miller I'd like to thank you for doing this interview.
You're very welcome. I like to do them.
Okay. Let me go way back. I understood for your first role you were recruited by a talent scout who stopped you on the street. Had you ever thought of becoming an actor before then?
No, I hadn't. He was a theatrical agent and I was planning on being a basketball coach or a football coach for all my life. It didn't happen. I was very fortunate. It was what I call a "happy accident". It hasn't happened since, and it didn't happen before that time, but I'm glad I paid attention to the man.
Did you have any acting classes later?
Yes, I did. At MGM they gave us drama lessons, they gave us fencing lessons, the gave us horseback riding, singing, diction... all kinds of lessons. Back in those days they used to have a stable of actors... MGM and Review, Warner Brothers. And they would put these people under contract. At the same time I was there, there was also Jill St. John and John Gavin, John Saxon and quite a few other people under contract. They would give us lessons and then loan us out to other studios and use us in project, movies, and television shows of their own production.
Denny Miller as Tarzan in Tarzan, the Ape Man
Because of the fact you were under contract for MGM you got the part of Tarzan, didn't you?
Yes, I did. I was recommended by a man by the name of Bill Smith, who was also under contract at the time. I thought he would be better than I, because he had very dark hair and was a well-built gentleman. Years later, speaking to Bill, I found out that he had recommended me, which was kind of funny!
You were also a contract player for Universal? You got the part for Wagon Train there?
Yes! That's what happened then. My very first job. I hadn't been under contract with anybody, was on a television show called The Life of Riley with William Bendix. That was the name of the actor who was the star in it. But while I was at MGM, I got to work with Buddy Ebson in a western called Northwest Passage, before I did the Tarzan film.
You did quite a few episodes on Wagon Train.
I did 110 episodes, I believe it was, stretched over three and a half years. Back in those days they did 39 episodes/year. Now 13-16 episodes seem to be the amount that they do for most hour-series. Back then doing 39, especially the one year we did 90 minute shows, we worked year round.
Denny Miller as Duke Shannon on Wagon Train
Also you became a character actor in many series after that. Can you name some of the parts or series you liked best or what were the most fun working on?
Yeah, sure. Well, what comes to mind first is a movie, not a series, called The Party with Peter Sellers as the star. I believe that Peter was a comic genius and I was very fortunate along with quite a few other actors to work with him in The Party for three months. My name, the name of the part that I played was ‘Wyoming Bill' Kelso, a very ridiculous television star, cowboy star who had his own name on the back of his own tuxedo.
And you also worked on quite lot of Glen Larson episodes: Six Million Dollar Man, Magnum PI, Buck Rogers.
Yes! Magnum PI... Lets see: I worked with Tom Selleck, three times at least. I did a Hawaii Five-O. I did over 200 commercials, television and radio. I worked with Bill Cosby on I Spy. I did a two parter for Dr. Quinn. I did two episodes of Vega$. Not the one that is being made now, but the one that was made years ago. I did two Laramie [episodes] with Bobby Fuller, Riverboat, with Darren McGavin, Have Gun - Will Travel, Wells Fargo, The Rifleman with Chuck Connors, Ben Casey, two Gilligan's Island [episodes]. [On Gilligan's Island] I showed up one time as the character Duke Williams, a surfer who showed up on a title wave, a tsunami. The other time I showed up as Tongo, the Apeman and they captured me and put me in a cage from which I escaped. I did a series with Juliet Prowse called Mona McCluskey and I fell into situation comedy which was a lot of fun. I did The Fugitive with David Janssen, I Dream of Jeannie, The Brady Bunch, Emergency with Bobby Fuller, Wonder Woman, two The Fall Guy [episodes], four Charlie's Angels [episodes], Six Million Dollar Man, an episode of Buck Rogers... Lets see, what else... The Rockford Files, two [episodes] with James Garner.
And you also had an episode on Gunsmoke?
Yes, I did. That was a very good part. The part of Lijah, who was a mountain man, who was wrongly accused of killing a whole lot of people. And I had most of my scenes with Erin Moran, who became famous on Happy Days. I did a Bronk [episode] with Jack Palance, a Hardcastle and McCormick [episode] with Brian Keith. I was very lucky to do two episodes of Streets of San Francisco. In one Bill Smith and I were the bad guys. Lets see, a segment of M.A.S.H. And some Canadian productions, one was... I played the sheriff for three episodes in Lonesome Dove: The Series, that was shot in Canada. Also a western called Bordertown, which was a lot of fun in Canada.
Denny Miller as Lijah on Gunsmoke
That's quite a list of parts you did. Also a lot of westerns in there.
Lots of them, lots of them. I enjoyed doing westerns. I worked with... I went to high school with Doug McClure. I was called... oh dear... It was an overland trail, a western he did. The High Chaparral, I did one [episode] and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Name of the Game... I did 235 episodic TV shows.
Yeah, that's quite a list!
I've been very lucky. It took me 47 years to do it though.
Did you have any actors or actresses you liked working with the best?
Yes, I did. I did have... I didn't have any problems with any of them, except with Betty Davis. I had a little argument with her, but the rest them were a lot of fun. I especially liked working with James Garner, Tom Selleck... I mentioned Peter Sellers before. Lee Majors was a fun guy to work with, Juliet Prowse.... The Fugitive, David Jensen, was very, very nice to work with. All the people on Gilligan's Island were a delight, especially Gilligan [Bob Denver]. James Arness was fun to work with. I Spy, Bill Cosby... Uhm, gosh... I've been very fortunate to work with a lot of talented people. And I'm doing a small part in a movie called Hell to Pay, a western with James Drury and Robert Brown and quite a few [others]. Bill Smith is in it as well and I worked on it this weekend. As a matter of fact I play a miner who had his claim jumped and I aim to shoot the guy who did it, but I'm stopped in my attempt. Nice shot though, I get to live to play again. I did a movie called Some Came Running with Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. That was fun.
Buck and the Preacher, I worked with Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier for three months in Mexico. I did The Norseman with Cornel Wilde and Lee Majors produced it. Caboblanco, I worked with Charles Bronson and Jason Robards in Mexico another time.
How were you approached for Battlestar Galactica? Did you already see Glen Larson at [the time of when you were on an episode of] The Six Million Dollar Man?
Yes, I did. I read for the part. I think I got the part... My beard helped a great deal for the mask that they made. It was easy to cover up the edges of the mask for the people who were my clones. They had about twenty of us walking around at the same time. That experience of having a mask made surprised me. It frightened me very much when they finally closed off both my eyes and put straws up my nose and I came roaring out of the chair. It took them two hours to talk me back in and getting into it again. But eventually they calmed me down and got a mask. It was a weird sensation [just being] in a room with... where there was nineteen or twenty other people that looked just like you.
They made actual facial masks for all the clones?
Yes, they did. The forms that they made off Britt [Ekland]'s face and my face. They made exact replicas of both of us and then the people who would play our parts, our clones, were the same height and the same weight that we were. And then they would put a mask on them that made them look exactly like us.
Did you know in advance you were going to be multiplied by twenty?
No, I didn't. I did know there were going to be a few, but I didn't know exactly what number. I wonder what happened to those masks? I would like to have one, but I don't know where they are.
Denny Miller as Ser 5-9 and Britt Ekland as Tenna on Battlestar Galactica
And how did the other clones feel... that they had to look like you? Did some of them study you or did they ask questions to become more like you?
No, I don't think they had much to do. They'd follow me in a room or down through a blizzard. Something actually, I was the only one that went on the blizzard. I figured in one of your questions [editor's note: I had sent the questions in advance] you asked why... how you picked one of your clones to fall in love with, marry or have children with. I think that probably happened and I was never told story wise by the writer... But it just it probably just happened that there were these two clones and she had twenty babies at one time. (both laughing) I don't know, but it didn't seem to bother anybody in the script. I do have a rather strange story to tell about when we were in the blizzard scene, where the avalanche happened. They had a huge tarp made of canvas above us, above the scene and it was full of cornflakes painted white that made them look like snow. They were very light weight and when we went along the edge of the ice and the signal was given to drop them, I was to throw myself over Britt to save her. And I did that, they did the scene and then called "Cut!". Everybody stood up and brushed themselves off and it was announced that some problem with the camera or light... I'm not sure which, but it happened so they had to do it over again. So they swept up all the snow, the cornflakes and loaded them in the tarp again, lifted it up and tied it in place. And then they called for all the actors, and everybody showed up, but Britt. And they called her name and went to see if she was in her dressing room and they went everywhere and couldn't find her. And they called and called and finally someone found her cuddled up in a corner behind the set in the soundstage, sobbing silently in herself. And she had been frightened to death. It was very, very [traumatic] as you can imagine under that pile of phony snow and she had been frightened by it. It took some time to calm her down, but she did. I must give her credit, [to do it] all over again and that time they didn't have the problem with the lighting or the camera or both and it was done. I've always wanted to talk to her about that afterwards, but we never did.
You never met her anymore?
No, I've never seen her again.
That happens a lot though in television. If you're lucky enough to work quite often, you're on your way to another job or you don't have occasion to meet up with the actors and actresses that you've worked with. I've become friends with a few, but I live now in Las Vegas so I'm quite removed from those places. When I joined the Screen Actors Guild there were a little over 8,000 members, now I think there are over 110,000.
Did you see any actors of Battlestar Galactica again after you had finished the show?
One or two on westerns, yes. Dressed differently and using their own face. I used to... I went up to a couple of them just before lunch breaks and they have my face and my costume on just like me and I would say to them very seriously, looking at me through their eyes in the mask: "You know, if I was you and I am..." and then I would walk away and they would either laugh or tell me to go jump on the lake... but other than that, I don't... I used to see a fellow by the name of Bill McConnell who was an actor and stood in for me on Mona McCluskey as well as my brother who did that, but he got bored and went to the mountains and ran a ski shop. I did work with the same... on Wagon Train, we used to use the same extras over and over again and you became as friendly with them as with the running cast. 30 or 40 shows a year and maybe the show lasted five days depending what was in the show, so over the years you became friendly with them. I did have an occasion to see Richard Hatch after I had done the Galactica part. He had a daughter or a son... Anyway, he had a child in this private school that I lived near and my daughter went to a private school near that private school. So he came up to that little town, it was called Ojai, O-J-A-I, and he makes a very good Caesar salad. (laughing) He came to our house when I was married to my ex-wife there in Ojai. He said he would bring the ingredients for a salad and he did and he made this salad and we ate every bit of it. He was very good at that. I haven't seen him since.
Did you like working with Richard Hatch on the scenes?
Yes, I did. It's sad sometimes when you get to be at least a working companion with some people, actress or actor, especially when you do for a series... I became very good friends naturally with the cast of Wagon Train and Mona McCluskey and Juliet Prowse, Robert Strauss, Elena Verdugo and the rest of the cast. And Mona McCluskey was just the name of the comedy situation that we did. But when you just work one time then that sometimes is the only time you have any contact with those actors. I'm much of a hermit, especially since I'm writing my second book now. It's called "Toxic Waist, W-A-I-S-T, Get To Know, K-N-O-W, Sweat". It's talking about the obesity epidemic in the United States. I have a degree from the University of California in physical education and that's what probably I'd be doing if I hadn't had that meeting, an accidental meeting with an agent 47 years ago. But anyway, the text is finished and I'm having a man from Disney, who has illustrated for Disney for 21 years, do 50 full page illustrations for the book and it will hopefully be out in the fall [of 2005].
You also did a fitness video in 1983, didn't you?
Yes! It was actually published in... Wait a minute: In 2004, last year, a book called: "Didn't You Used To Be What's His Name". It's a book and it sold quite a bit.
Those are your memoirs, aren't they?
Yes. Same is like when king Hussein came on the set of Tarzan, unannounced in a big limo with a huge guard of Los Angeles policemen surrounding him. And he was very nice and talked to us for a short time. I have some highlights [in it] that the public never saw, like for instance I did a screen test for my contract, to get a contract at MGM and it was directed by George Cukor. And I didn't know at the time he was one of the best and most famous directors of all time, but it sure was a wonderful experience for me to be directed by him. Vincente Minnelli directed the Some Came Running film. Sydney Pollack directed one episode of Wagon Train and I worked with him.
And how did you feel about director Alan Levi [of Battlestar Galactica episode "The Gun on Ice Planet Zero]?
Oh, he was a very good director. Yes, yes. He was amongst the best. And also... Who else did I get directed by... Anyway of the many directors that I worked for and with, those are the ones that come to mind.
Britt Ekland as Tenna and Denny Miller as Ser 5-9 on Battlestar Galactica
I also want to ask you a question about the costumes you wore on Battlestar Galactica. There's a lot of artic gear and it was all shot on a soundstage. Wasn't it incredibly warm [in those clothes]?
Yes. (laughing) Yes, it was. It was very warm. The Buck Rogers episode I was in was when [my character was] in the power of some alien space ship. They were trying to get someone we had in our midst. They would make us freeze and then they would boil the people in our place and make them very warm. That was quite unusual, I think I caught a very bad cold in that episode.
Because there's something very funny: in Battlestar Galactica it was about cloning and in Buck Rogers is was about mutation.
Don't you think it's ironic you ended up in that episode of Buck Rogers?
Yes, but there was no connection what so ever as far as I could tell. That happens sometimes. Hollywood sadly clones a lot. They clone successful shows. You're probably aware of the fact that they've been doing, remaking old standards which they've just made. They made sequels to Batman and Superman. In Wagon Train they had four guys of different ages, a cook with a beard and his name was Wooster. Rawhide had four guys of the same ages, a cook with a beard and who's name was Wishbone. Bonanza had four guys of the same formula ages: one young, one middle aged, one... Bob Horton was the one for the young ladies and the father thing. So the only differences where the names of the people playing the parts and the fact that Wagon Train moved people from east to west in the United States. Rawhide moved cattle from south to north and Bonanza had people go through [the area]. That's the only difference. So it will be something that audiences will have to live with. If some show series is successful, the next year you'll find some other show... It may not stick, it may not have the success of the first show, but it will be very similar, a clone of the successful show of last year.
They're even redoing Battlestar Galactica.
Did you see any of that?
That's a very good example. I watched it. It's different and the same. And it certainly has the same names. Did you tell me in one of your e-mails that Mr. Hatch is a part of the cast?
Good, good! Because he has devoted a lot of time and energy to...
... to making the revival. Yes.
Yes, exactly. I think he more than anyone... I'm anxious to see if we can go to some sci-fi film festival. We have been... Since I retired from the commercial world of being a spokesman of Gorton's Fish, the old and grey bearded fisherman for 14 years. This January they'll replace me with another one, so...
They're replacing you after 14 years?!?
Well, I don't know the gentleman, but I'm sure he's capable. I have more time on my hands now so I've been going, with my wife, to various movie festivals and film festivals. We've been to Kanab, Utah and Longpine, California. We've been to Scottsdale, Arizona and in Virginia and Tennessee. We're going again to some of those. We find an audience out there that see or have seen what I've done on film back in the black and white days. They watched with their mothers or their grandmothers and fathers and it's a very appreciative audience. I get a kick out of going to those affairs.
There's another one coming up in the UK. It's called Memorabilia and they're having a reunion of the Battlestar Galacitca cast. I was hoping you were invited, but...
I think you mentioned that in your e-mails, one of them. I would love to go and see if Britt Ekland would be there, but most of the time those affairs usually invite, for sure anyway, the running cast first. And then sometimes they have enough money left over to invite some other actors. Some actors that have been in one or two episodes.
I already missed you on the Galacticon 2003, because they had Britt Ekland there.
Wow. Well, with your help I think we'll now be considered at the Comic Con in San Diego, because you have got us some wonderful pictures we hadn't seen or hadn't had. Those in "Lijah" the western on Gunsmoke, Wonder Woman, Battlestar Galactica, V, I was in. So I think I qualify for having worked in quite a few sci-fi [series].
... and The Hulk as well.
Even Tarzan is a science fiction figure. Edgar Rice Burroughs by some people is regarded as the first science fiction writer in the United States.
I have been to seven of their conventions. They call them Dum-Dums, which doesn't mean D-U-M-B, it means the sound of the drums calling the natives together. They're a good group of people that I've enjoyed going back to, year after year. There have been 20 guys who have played the role of Tarzan now. Even starting back in the silent movie days with a man by the name of Elmo Lincoln. I was number 12 in the Tarzan group of people and at these conventions I've met quite a few other guys who have played the role: Johnny Weismuller, Buster Crabbe, Jock Mahoney, Gordon Scott, Ron Ely... James Pierce, who did the part on radio and the movies as well and married Edgar Rice Burroughs' daughter as a matter of fact. So it has been over the years very rewarding to have been in that fortune of men that played the monkey man. It was a lot of fun.
You were already quite buff there. Do you still work out?
I do, I do. I have my own gym at my house, but if I get tired of going to that one, three houses away in our community there's a wonderful gym and very few people ever go at the same time that I'm going, so I have the whole place to myself quite often. And they also have a lap pool, a swimming pool and a pool for children, so they don't get in the way of the people who want to swim laps. My book on fitness is very much in favor of people in the United States who seem to be a little lazy when it comes to exercising and that's probably one of the biggest reasons that they're overweight. The other reason is that they eat too much junk food. I believe that I wouldn't have had most of the parts that I played unless I had exercised. I've had active parts most of the time, because I worked out as a young man and believed in... not body building, I'm not against body building, but I never took it to that, to the Arnold Schwarzenegger level. But I did look fit and was fit enough to play active parts: cowboys and hero types or very, very... strong enough to be evil, the evil guy in the part. I've been reading the sixth book of Harry Potter, I have about three pages to go. I'm a great fan of the Harry Potter books and films and I wish I had been available to be one or more of the characters in... Hagrit, the giant, would be a wonderful part to play and it is for the lucky individual who got to play it.
I think the only American in it, a person from the United states, is the man who plays Harry Potter and the rest of them I think are English.
That's true. You also played a "very strange" part in The Hulk, because you were in a wheelchair there.
Yes, that was a very, very interesting part. A navy hospital where I used to live loaned me a wheelchair so I could live in it for a week before I started working on that part. And Bill Bixby was one of my favorite people to work with. I worked with him on Love, American Style and two episodes of The Hulk. The one who wrote the script "The Harder They Fall", that's the title of that [The Hulk] episode, was given a humanitarian award for saying some wonderful things to help people that are paraplegics.
Wow, is that so? You also met Lou Ferrigno then. Did you talk about fitness?
Yes, I think you've sent me a copy of him carrying...
Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk and Denny Miller as Paul Corton on The Incredible Hulk
...the photo of him carrying you, yeah...
Yes, he's carrying me. I weight 240 pounds and he picked me up like I was a 10 pound baby and ran across the street with me. He was and still is a remarkably strong man and has done many goods things in support of people who have hearing problems or are partly deaf like he is. My mother is totally deaf, so I know the problems that go along with that affliction. Lou Ferrigno has done some very, very good work raising money at charities for the deaf.
He was bigger at one time than Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both of them are intelligent guys and Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most successful athletes, actors and now governor, so...
Did you ever talk to him, Arnold Schwarzenegger?
No, I have never. I would like to. I wrote him a letter once congratulating him on being elected California Governor. I don't live in that state anymore, so he's not my governor anymore, but I'll send him, as I did my first book, I'll send him a copy [of my second book], because I mention him on several occasions. He wrote two books on fitness, on body building, before he became an actor as a matter of fact.
Did you talk with Lou Ferrigno about that?
No, I have not. I don't know why we have never crossed paths, but it's just like all those other actors and actresses I mentioned.
When you were in The Hulk, you were maybe already working on your video about fitness. It's about the same time.
I did a video on stretching and I taught it for the US Navy. I also taught it at two universities here in the United States. When I was a personal trainer I had a brochure that showed me running through the jungle with Cheeta and on the top of the brochure, the top page, it said: "Me Tarzan, You Train!" (laughing). I had my own little gym in my backyard. I lived at a place that had a barn for horses and I changed it in a gymnasium and I used to teach up to six people at a time, fitness, in that gym.
Okay. So your new book is coming out when? In the fall [of 2005]?
In the fall [of 2005]. Hopefully by the end of September it will be out on the market. It will be a good motivator, I hope, for people to buy for friends and themselves. To learn, not how to exercise, but where to find out where to exercise and be a motivator for the people who want to lose a little weight. They're finding out through many studies nowadays, that if you're very overweight that you're shortening your life span considerably and you're probably going to have some very, very serious health problems along the way. So I hope some people will be made mad enough by the book... (laughing) I'm not very kind to some people in the book and that's on purpose so they'll be mad enough to do something about their health.
'Didn't You Used To Be What's His Name' and 'Toxic Waist? ...Get To Know Sweat!'
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