"The voice got louder, the sequins got morer and the wigs got bigger and bigger and bigger..."
If you’ve not heard of Ann Miller, it’s time to educate yourself in all things Annie, children. Corinna Tomrley explains why this unsung camp icon is one of the greatest and big wiggiest of them all.
There are four stages of Ann Miller. And if that sentence reminds you of the saying that there are five stages of grief then you should know that Ann Miller is the very opposite of grief. What would that be? Joy? Euphoric, exuberant, delicious joy.
Stage One is child Ann Miller pretending she’s grown up enough to be a chorus girl
Stage Two is hot, foxy super-tap-machine-perhaps-the-best-ever-tapper Ann Miller
Stage Three is ohmygod the WIGS Ann Miller
Stage Four is Call Me Coco, Everybody Does Ann Miller
When Ann Miller started in that business we call show, she lied about her age in order that she get jobs as a hoofer in the chorus on stage and roles in films. See for reference, Annie in Stage Door. Here she is, oh I don’t know, about two (she’s 14), but pretending she’s a young adult. You can kind of tell she’s a child but her brilliance and holding-her-own-with-Ginger in the dance and acting stakes shows that this kid had it.
I hated Stage Two Ann Miller for the longest time. And that reason was Judy Garland. Oh, Annie never did anything bad to Judy-the-real-person. But in the film Easter Parade Annie’s character is a total and utter bitch and Judy’s character’s nemesis. Now I watch the film for Judy and Annie. In fact, she’s one of the very few people who will draw my eye away from Judy and make me stop thinking about Judy when she’s not on the screen.
Annie’s number Shakin’ The Blues Away is an actual showstopper. And she looks great.
Then there’s, sigh, Kiss Me Kate. Despite the delicious Kathryn (she was a lesbian) Grayson, I watch this film for Annie and she totally steals the picture. Hell, she steals every picture she’s in when she’s on screen. Even from Judy. There I said it.
(this might be the best number on film, ever)
Stage Two is also the era of hot pinup Annie. They showed off those pins to their perfection. I’m not a leg man (unless the thighs are substantial). For me, the draw to her cheesecake is her fun, her joy, her easy, breezy sexiness.
During this time – shudder – she was dating Louis B Mayer. I hate this fact so much but really hope she got everything out of that relationship that she wanted. I don’t judge people on their choices, whatever the reasons. I just know that Mayer was a cunt and hideous to Judy and other women in his ‘stable’. I hope that Annie was ok.
Stage three is a rich, rich, rich period for Annie. It is the period that I love her most for. It is the period that sets a certain type of Kween’s heart racing. It’s the period of Ann Miller that I want to be when I get old. It’s a period of Will-You-Be-My-Mum.
Let me quickly explain that.
When I lived in (Old) York there was this woman. She had a massive faux fur coat, a massive black-dyed bouffant, massive costume jewelry. She was circa aged 55-70. One of those women. When I saw her for the first time I uttered, out of nowhere, ‘will you be my mum?’ She didn’t hear (thank god) but it became a genre of woman that me and my then wife would label WYBMM? Annie in Stage Three is definitely one of these. And I mean this wishing for that type of mum as an adult cuz I know what such a ‘fabulous’ mum means to a kid. Believe me, I know… anyway, Annie in Stage Three is the pinnacle of WYBMM. I want her to be my mum, I want to be her. The end.
Stage Three is Ann Miller cranked up to 11. The gestures got bigger, the voice got louder, the sequins got morer and the wigs got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger…
In fact, Ann Miller’s wigs have a personality all of their own. So much so that she actually had names for her wigs. According to Phyllis Newman Green in this delicious blog entry (this thing should be one of those web pages that gets stuck with superglue to the Internet so that it never disappears), they didn’t just have any old names. She called them names such as…Pussy, Twat… Wholesome, gee whizz kids, Ann Miller. It can only make you love the woman more.
Her wigs for Mame went up for auction and I know me and at least ten of my friends regret daily that we didn’t know, didn’t bid, didn’t buy them. Shit, we could have done it together on a time share.
This period stretches out over several decades. It starts around the time of this interview, one of many occasions where Annie was wheeled out to talk about how glamorous it was to be a movie star in the golden era, how they were ‘pampered like poodles’ and ‘you were literally carried around on a satin pillow with a bowl of cream.’ Well… if you say so, Annie. You were there, after all. Perhaps that only happened if you dated Louis B Mayer, though. Otherwise you got a cotton pillow and milk.
Stage Three Annie has inspired one of the other superb, genius things on the Internets – Punchy Players. Annie was introduced in their early works and all their videos are worth checking out (there isn’t anything else out there like this. The Punchy guys are gods). But personal favourite is Hollywood Hoarder in which Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli attempt to stage an intervention regarding Ann Miller’s collection tendencies.
If you’ve never heard of Ann Miller but are a David Lynch fan, or have at least seen his best film ever, Mulholland Dr, then you will have experienced Ann Miller.
The hair went from massive to as tiny as can be without her having shaved her head. And while I mourn the Loss Of Wig Bigness, this was her choice.
But… This was also the era of Coco.
The promise of Ann Miller in a David Lynch TV series set in Hollywood sent this reporter supergiddy. That it never happened is perhaps a tragedy. (The channel dropped Mullholland Dr. and Lynch turned it into the film) But what we have in its stead is quite spectacular. It’s the kind of consolation prize I’ll take. And we have Annie, in cheongsams, taking no shit – or ‘horse pucky’ as she calls it – and ruling the roost in both realms that this kooky film takes us to.
Coco is again a classic of that’s what I want to be when I get old. Or a Will-You-Be-My-Mum. Probably one you’d actually want to have.
Although my heart will always belong to Stage Three Ann Miller, all her stages are worth exploring, worshipping, adoring. Now let’s don massive wigs, stick on our tapatapatapatap shoes and whip those boys into a frenzy with a hotdarn musical number, for Annie.