W.C. Fields and She: Remembering Susan Miller

susan-miller
Susan Miller (1920-2018) was an actress and singer best known for her appearance in the W.C. Fields classic “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

Susan Miller … who knew?

Miller died this week in Phoenix at age 98 (wow!). She was an actress who appeared in one of my favorite scenes with one of my favorite actors in one of my favorite movies. The actor was W.C. Fields, and the movie was Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941).

And here is the scene (actually, it starts about a minute into this) …

The ultra-innocent blonde whom the old reprobate (Fields) attempts to engage in a fictional “parlor” game on a remote mountain homestead is Miller. Her insanely protective mother is played by Margaret Dumont, the frequent Marx Brothers collaborator who was now opposite one of the greatest of solo comedians.

A Universal release, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break was Fields’ last great movie — and perhaps the craziest of all. Its flights into surrealism and interweaving plot lines keep it lively. The flimsy central premise (scripted by the star) has Fields — playing himself, sort of — caring for his young niece while trying to pitch a movie script to exasperated mogul Franklin Pangborn. A climatic extended chase scene fits right in.

As for Miller, she acted and sang in a couple of handfuls of movies during the 1940s. Sucker was by far the most notable, and she also got to sing a song in that one: “Comin’ Thru the Rye,” which we hear later on after her byplay, as a character named “Ouilotta Hemogloben,” with W.C. (Fields liked colorful names like that, and it’s said he used to scour the phone book to find them.)

According to an Internet Movie Database contributor, Miller spent 60 years or so performing in supper clubs and live theater after her picture career ended in 1948. She was described by her neighbors at a Phoenix retirement complex as being “bright and bubbly” as she neared the century mark.

Miller is not the last surviving cast member of Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. The niece (seen at the start of the above YouTube clip) is played by Gloria Jean, the then-popular soprano who is still with us at age 92.

Author: bradleyedwinm

My name is Edwin M. Bradley … but please call me Ed. I am an editor of a university historical journal and film curator at an art museum in Michigan. I was a daily newspaper movie reviewer for 20 years. I have authored three books about early film history, with emphases on pre-1940 musicals and the transition to sound. (A fourth tome is coming soon.) My "Unsung Hollywood Musicals of the Golden Era, 1929-39" was named by Huffington Post and Classic Images magazine as among 2016's best new movie-related books.

2 thoughts on “W.C. Fields and She: Remembering Susan Miller”

  1. Nice little write up. I too liked the movie very, very much.
    One thing though, when I read about the death of the people born in the first quarter of the 20th century, for some reason it makes me a little sad. Not that I knew them or had any emotional attachment, but (And I know the time wasn’t as innocent as the movies) I feel a loss of innocence and wholesomeness. I sometimes wish we all could live to 150 or 160 years old, so we can listen to the older peoples wisdom.
    We can hope and wish still, can’t we???
    Thanks for the write up and information.
    Thanks.
    God Bless.
    James

    Like

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