Susan Miller: A Singer Who Got an Even Break

Susan Miller (1920-2018) figures in a couple of important classic comedies, and she passed away just recently, so she rates a shout out here today.

A native of Clark’s Summit, Pennsylvania, Miller won a local contest at a Scranton radio station in 1939, fresh out of high school. This immediately led to a movie contract at Universal. Her career was brief, and she was cast almost exclusively as a singer in night club scenes. Her first couple were Miracle on Main Street (1939) with William Collier and Margo, and a short called A Feller Who Plays in a Band (1941).

In 1941 she was cast in her best-known role, and probably her ONLY one, properly speaking, in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break with W.C. Fields. In the film, she plays Margaret Dumont’s beautiful but inexperienced daughter who lives atop a plateau and begs Uncle Bill to teach her what kissing is. The scene has always been gross, never more so than now. But her sexy rendition of “Comin’ Through the Rye” is one of my favorite parts of the movie — a subtly satirical absurdity, in a film that is full of such moments.

The other classic comedy Miller was in was Olsen and Johnson’s Hellzapoppin (1941) — she plays the lady who walks through the frame periodically calling for “Junior”. She also has nice bits in Swing It, Soldier (1941) an eve-of-wartime entertainment with Ken Murray, Frances Langford, Don Wilson and others.

Miller was apparently up for the female lead in Holiday Inn (1942) but didn’t nab it. Instead was cast in a couple pf shorts, The Gay Nineties with Johnny Downs and Campus Capers with Jack Teagarden, both 1942, and then cut loose. She returned in 1948 for one last cinematic turn as a singer in a cafe in An Innocent Affair (1948). She then spent the better part of six decades singing in night clubs, cafes and local theatres. Susan Miller died in August 2018, just five days prior to Gloria Jean, the other young female star in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. 

For more on show business history, see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube