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The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.

(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Walter Miller

Full name:
Walter Corwin Miller

1892 - 1940

Walter Miller's early life is a bit confusing. Some biographies have him born in/around Dayton, Ohio in 1892, and some note that he was born in Ohio but the family moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Further down this webpage, you'll find Miller's World War I draft registration, WW1 military service record and census data showing Atlanta, Georgia as his birth location. His Hollywood biographies aren't much help. The 1920 and 1921 Motion Picture Studio Directory has him born in Atlanta, Georgia. However, 1929 through 1938 editions of the Motion Picture Almanac lists Dayton, Ohio (and also mention that his parents were George E. Miller and Isabella Corwin).

We do know that Walter Miller made his first film appearance circa 1911-1912 and his early career included films at Biograph for D. W. Griffith. He made films for Fox, Metro, and other companies, and also did stage plays. During the mid 1920s (photo at top of this page), Miller hit his stride as the resident hero to serial queen Allene Ray in nearly a dozen Pathe cliffhangers.

Above - 1927 tradepaper ad for Miller and Allene Ray in HAWK OF THE HILLS cliffhanger which featured Frank Lackteen as the titled character and leader of a band of renegade Indians. Spencer Gordon Bennet directed all of these Miller/Ray serial adventures.

(Image courtesy of Jay Wilsey's granddaughter and
daughter, Tamera Mankini and Frances Eldene Wolski)

Above from left to right are Bill Cody, Wally Wales, an unidentified gent, Jay Wilsey (Buffalo Bill Jr.) and Walter Miller. This photo was taken in the mid to late 1920s during a Pathé Company/Pathé Exchange exhibitor/distributor get-together. The back of this still has a notation of "Ford Dallas" which may relate to the unknown man in the center.

He had a deep and resonant voice and was able to transition to talkin' pictures ... but his days as a leading man were numbered. Les Adams has him identified in 107 sound era films and that number includes 26 westerns and 20 chapterplays - fairly respectable numbers for an actor who passed away in 1940 when he was in his late forties.

It appears he got along well with Nat Levine, the owner of Mascot Pictures. There's good probability that the thrifty Levine figured Miller still had box office appeal and name recognition due to the Pathe chapterplays. Miller did six Mascot serials and he was on "the side of the law" in five:

During the same years he was working for Mascot, Miller was also employed by several Poverty Row companies in sagebrush adventures starring Lane Chandler, Wally Wales, Rex Lease and Bill Cody.

He picked up a lot of paychecks from Universal in western themed serials and oaters starring Ken Maynard, Buck Jones and Johnny Mack Brown:

There were lots of other film work at Universal. Miller took off his ten-gallon hat and six-gun for serials DANGER ISLAND (Universal, 1931), THE VANISHING SHADOW (Universal, 1934), PIRATE TREASURE (Universal, 1934), TAILSPIN TOMMY (Universal, 1934), and THE CALL OF THE SAVAGE (Universal, 1935). Fred Kohler Sr. and Miller were a conniving pair of nasties out to slaughter wild horses in STORMY (Universal, 1935). He can also be spotted in the Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi horror flicks THE RAVEN (Universal, 1935) and THE INVISIBLE RAY (Universal, 1936).

There were more meaty roles as the decade of the 1930s progressed. Some examples:

(From Old Corral image collection)

Buck Jones made four serials for Universal and Walter Miller was lead villain in the first three. THE RED RIDER (Universal, 1934) was Jones' second chapterplay and Miller (as "Jim Breen") is shown on the right in the above lobby card. Miller portrayed "Rance Radigan" in Buck's first serial for Universal, GORDON OF GHOST CITY (Universal, 1933). And he was "Gil Gillespie" in THE ROARING WEST (Universal, 1935). (Harry Woods was the brains heavy in Buck Jones' final Universal chapterplay, THE PHANTOM RIDER (Universal, 1936)).

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above - Walter Miller as brains heavy "Gil Gillespie" vs. Buck Jones in THE ROARING WEST (Universal, 1935) chapterplay.

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from left to right are Walter Miller (as "Flamer Willis"), Ken Maynard, Beth Marion and John Elliott in Maynard's THE FUGITIVE SHERIFF (Larry Darmour/Columbia, 1936).

In their book Best Of The Badmen (Empire Publishing, 2005), Boyd Magers, Bob Nareau and Bobby Copeland reported that Walter Miller suffered a heart attack at the Republic studios backlot on March 30, 1940 while he was working on the Gene Autry GAUCHO SERENADE (Republic, 1940). Miller was married at least twice - initially to Lillian Louise Coffin and later, to Eileen Schofield, a vaudeville performer and actress. From these unions, there was at least one offspring, a son named Richard. They also mention that Miller's wife arranged for his burial at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois.

Whether he wore a six-shooter or a business suit, Walter Miller was a solid performer who enhanced many B-westerns and serials of the 1930s.

Some closing thoughts on Walter Miller ... and some questions:

While many of Miller's appearances are substantial - meaning a good quantity of dialog and screen time - there were many 1930s films in which he had a bit or a minor support role as a cop, detective, guard, bartender, gang henchie, member of the military, etc. In these, Miller's name was well down in the cast listing and most often, not even among the credits. What was going on with Miller? He'd do a fairly large role and be third or fourth billed. Yet in his next job (or two or three), you had to really look close to catch his brief time on the screen. Example: I'm still trying to spot him as a henchman in THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF WILD BILL HICKOK (Columbia, 1938).

If he was cantankerous or a problem actor, guys like Mascot's Nat Levine wouldn't have hired him time and again. Had he become ill, possibly with heart problems that would later cause his death? Or was he simply acting whenever and wherever it was offered? Had he saved his dollars and only took jobs when he felt the urge? Or perhaps this was the norm back in old Hollywood when you were no longer hero material and relegated to B grade films.

Census, birth info, et al

The Family Search website (free), (subscription), ProQuest obituaries, the Newspaper Archive, and other sources have info on Walter Miller and family. If the 1890 census was available, we might learn more about Walter Miller's parents and home location. However, that 1890 census was lost in a 1921 fire (and water damage) at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.

There were many newspaper articles on the March 30, 1940 death of Walter Miller and below are some excerpts from April 1-2, 1940 as well as Chicago funeral notices:

Miller passed away in California but was buried at the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois. Evanston is a little north of Chicago and is the home of Northwestern University. Ye Old Corral webmeister has lived in the Chicago area for over fifty years, and worked in Chicago for twenty-five years. Calvary Cemetery was consecrated in 1859 and is one of the oldest cemeteries managed by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Interred there are many early Chicago politicians and members of prominent families including Charles Comiskey, the first owner of the Chicago White Stockings/White Sox (Black Sox) baseball team.


  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on:
     Walter Miller:
     Eileen Schofield Miller (1903-1980):

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website does not have a photo of Miller's grave marker but does note that he is interred at Calvary Cemetery, Evanston, Illinois:

The Silents Are Golden website has a 1920s photo of Miller:

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