I want to talk about the classic Tolucan, actor Dick Miller. This sounds so formal, most likely because this is a tough one. I really want to cheer and dance up and down and wag my arms beyond reason. Yeah, he’s that exhilaratingly special. My column on Dick was supposed to be about the glorious 90th birthday party that his powerhouse wife Lainie produced for him… but now it is a memorial. January 30 was Dick Miller’s last day.
The first time I met Dick Miller was the two days that it took to film Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors in 1959. He played Burson Fouch, a flower-eating customer of the shop where I worked for Mr. Mushnick. “I’m crazy about kosher flowers,” said Fouch.
…Google Dick and Lainie Miller. Learn about their incredible accomplishments.
Some decades went by and we were cast as the Futtermans in the Gremlins movies. We were killed by a Gremlin-run snowplow in the first film. But we were miraculously healed for Gremlins 2. Lucky for me because it was then I became friends with Lainie. The most delicious memory was meeting Lainie and Dick in his trailer every morning eating an endless supply of Lox, a great way to bond.
I just recently learned that Lainie’s real name is Sheila. And Mrs. Futterman’s first name was Sheila. For my 80th birthday they gave me a terrorized picture from Gremlins, signed: “To Sheila from Murray.” It’s now a treasure in my hall.
Lainie and Dick, Dick and Lainie
It’s not possible to talk about Dick Miller without talking about Lainie. Fun people. A devoted couple, loyal friends. How smart they were, major intelligence and leadership. After the Navy, a bit of boxing, and work in the psychiatric world, Dick just fell into acting and never stopped. Lainie started as a dancer and performer, but was smart enough to know that two actors in a family was a bit uncertain, so she became a nurse, then a chief of all the nurses and a negotiator. From there she went into union leadership before she decided to become a producer and make a documentary about Dick’s life. Her tenacious drive and dedicated determination paid off and That Guy Dick Miller is and fascinating homage to her beloved husband and a bountiful gift to audiences who eat up film history.
(I just have to say here, please take a few moments to Google Dick and Lainie Miller. Learn about their incredible accomplishments. Check out the numerous credits that Dick has rolled out. Every single Joe Dante movie. Roger Corman films galore. A lifetime of work with some yet to be released!)
A life to celebrate
When I think of the Millers, I think of their love for swing dancing. There was a big band in the Valley that they frequented weekly. They danced at my 80th birthday party, and they danced at Dick’s 90th party.
OK, I’ll try to describe his unparalleled gala. Near the end of December, in a glittering ballroom, friends, Toluca Lake neighbors, and family gathered at large banquet tables, loaded with massive platters of Mediterranean delights. I sat with Jonathan Haze, my personal Seymour from the original Little Shop. We were dazzled and thrilled to reunite with Dick and Lainie, and Roger and Julie Corman, and the most loveable and excellent Joe Dante, and so many players from Dick’s films. There was a band and singing, but the most fun was watching Dick and Lainie slow dance, jitterbug, doing their stuff.
The most unique event of the evening was a candle lighting ceremony, each representing a decade of Dick’s life. One person who was prominent in each decade came forward and lit a candle as the events were narrated. We literally watched his life light up. A delicious evening chockablock with love, friendship and appreciation for a life well lived. An enormous tribute from a wife who had a very appreciative husband.
And now, life takes a turn. Living without a special someone is a task. How to express ones sorrow is a task.
But I’m trying…and we’ll talk…
Jackie Joseph is a writer and actress best known for her TV roles as Alan Brady’s niece Jackie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” the voice of Melody in the animated “Josie and the Pussycats” and as Jackie Parker on “The Doris Day Show.”