I may well have never done a post on this topic, but a tweet from Penelope Ann Miller conveyed the news that her father, actor Mark Miller (1924-2022) just passed away on September 9, and I found all these resonances, including the fact that the centennial of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies author Jean Kerr’s birth was just a few weeks ago. And tomorrow will be the centennial birthday of the still-living Janis Paige, who was in the 1960 film version of that book. And so what’s AROUND our ostensible topic is just as interesting or more so than the subject at its center.
Starting with Penelope Ann Miller! I love so much of her work that I could easily write a post about her, although by rights I should hold off a few decades. But a lot of her projects feed back into our usual themes, including the neo-silent movie The Artist (2011), Attenborough’s Chaplin (1992, in which she played Edna Purviance), Big Top Pee-Wee (1988), the 1994 reboot of The Shadow, and the 2016 boxing bio-pic The Bronx Bull.
Miller’s career got underway just as her dad’s was winding down. She first gained attention for her performance in the original 1985 Broadway production of Biloxi Blues by Neil Simon. Whereas Mark Miller’s last screen performance had been in Savanah Smiles (1982), a movie he wrote and produced and which was inspired by Penelope Ann’s sister. A screen actor since the mid 1950s, Miller was best known for his role as the dad on this:
The provenance of this playful property also connects us back to silent movies, for its creator Jean Kerr (1922-2003) was the wife of the great critic Walter Kerr, who penned the indispensable and influential appreciation The Silent Clowns. The pair sometimes wrote together for the stage (I am delighted to note that they contributed to the 1953 edition of John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, which featured Kay Medford whom we wrote about just a couple of days ago). The Please Don’t Eat the Daisies saga begins with her eponymous 1957 humor book which went all the way to #1 on The New York Times bestsellers list. It was all about the pair’s zany adventures in a strangely Gothic house in the upscale suburb of Larchmont, New York.
The property was adapted into a Hollywood movie in 1960, starring Doris Day, David Niven, the aforementioned Janis Paige, Spring Byington, and Patsy Kelly. The characters were given fictional names and jobs, and a major part of the fabric of the film was the unusual house, and the wife’s struggles to turn it into home with four rambunctious sons underfoot (one of them is played by Stanley Livingston from My Three Sons).
The sit-com ran 1965 through 1967, with the couple now played by Miller and Pat Crowley, who had co-starred with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Money from Home (1953) and Hollywood or Bust (1956), and with Tony Curtis in The Square Jungle (1955) among other things. The supporting cast included Shirley Mitchell of The Roman Holidays (1972), King Donovan, Ned Glass, Dub Taylor, and a young Bonnie Franklin a full decade before One Day at a Time.‘
A toddler when this show originally aired, I only knew it from re-runs decades later. With the four mischief making boys and the large English sheepdog in the family, I definitely think of it as an entrant in the “large, chaotic family” comedy subgenre that was so prevalent at the time, which I wrote a little bit about here in my post on The Brady Bunch. Has anyone done anything on the fad for English sheepdogs on film and TV in the ’60s and ’70s? I’ll poke around and if not, I’m you’re man!
Anyway both Miller and Crowley were better looking than their big screen counterparts. Miller’s job seemed primarily about getting everyone to “keep it down” so he could concentrate on whatever he was doing, which seems to have been the principal job of American men in screen depictions for a century now. Miller had lots of other credits of course. It was after Daisies wrapped that he began to explore writing and producing. One very interesting project that I’ve come across which he created was the 1974 movie Ginger in the Morning starring an early career Sissy Spacek and Fred Ward (who also passed away earlier this year)
I’ve long wanted to do a Beatnik mash-up of this and a famous Kerouac project called Please Don’t Pull My Daisey. (By the way, Pull My Daisey had featured Delphine Seyrig, later the co-star of Mr. Freedom, which we wrote about yesterday).