“While in London in 1992, I had the great fortune to meet Robin Miller, then in his mid-60s. We struck up a friendship because of our mutual love of musical theater,” said West Coast-based writer/producer Ken Jillson. “When I discovered he'd written Dames at Sea, my jaw dropped because that tight little gem is one of my all-time favorite musicals since I first saw it at the Ivar Theatre in Hollywood in the early 70s.”

A Brit, Miller attended Eton, served as a Grenadier Guard and in Palestine in World War II. On leaving the military, he migrated to New York, where he became a journalist.

It was where he met George Haimsohn (a professional photographer shooting under the name Plato, and writer of erotic gay fiction under the name Alexander Goodman) and composer Jim Wise (who taught at Columbia briefly in the early 50s before joining the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he taught English composition, and composed musicals).

Miller regaled Jillson with many heart-warming stories regarding the struggles to get Dames produced. “He described endlessly pounding the pavement, carrying a portable speaker to do countless pitches to producers, where he played shoddily-produced demo recordings. I almost cried when he told me of what it felt like for him and co-lyricist/book writer Haimsohn and composer Wise when they finally got a ‘Yes.’"

The musical first played off-off-Broadway in May 1966 at Caffé Cino in Greenwich Village as Dames at Sea: Golddiggers Afloat, where it ran 148 performances. Young Bernadette Peters played Ruby, the small-town chorine who taps her way from the bus station to Broadway-at-sea stardom in 24 hours.

Robin described to Jillson how on opening night April 22, 1969, off-Broadway at the Theatre de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel) when Bernadette, finishing "Raining in My Heart," exited the stage in tears to the roar of laughter. “He asked her why she was crying. She replied, ‘Because they hated me!’ Miller dabbed away her tears, began laughing, and told Bernadette, ‘They absolutely loved you! The number's a parody. You want them to laugh.’ Then she got it, he said, and went back on in the next number to thunderous applause—and, the next morning, rave reviews." What a way to launch the career of a Broadway luminary!

Miller came to Laguna Beach (CA) in 1994 and co-wrote the book with Jillson for the annual charity musical, The Big Splash, performed in Jillson and partner Al Roberts's swimming pool and supporting Orange County's AIDS Services Foundation. The theme was 1947, and a spoof of the M-G-M Esther Williams swim extravaganzas complete with a Louis B. Mayer character (voice of Kirk Douglas), our "Aquanettes," in-drag unsynchronized swimmers; and three evil Hollywood gossip columnists (Bea Arthur, Dolly Parton, and Lauren Bacall) via a lip-synch soundtrack.

“Robin was fun and such a dear,” recalled Jillson. “How thrilled he'd be—No! Blown away! -- to know that after three revivals, Dames at Sea has made it to The Great White Way and making its Broadway debut at the Helen Hayes Theater, no less, in the capable hands of Randy Skinner, whom I've known since the original 42nd Street, when he assisted Gower Champion.

Born in 1928, this lovely man was such a dedicated, hard-working writer who never gave up. Though ill for several years and increasingly limited in mobility, Miller continued to write. At the time of his death, December 16, 2010, at age 82, he was working on a new piece. Dames was the big hit of his life, and how many writers have had their show on Broadway? I have this gut feeling he’s is singing ‘Good Times are Here to Stay.’"

[END]

Writer: 
Ellis Nassour
Date: 
December 2015