|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|
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:
- He had the lead in three Mascots: KING OF THE KONGO (Mascot, 1929), THE LONE DEFENDER (Mascot, 1930) and KING OF THE WILD (Mascot, 1931).
- In the John Wayne THE SHADOW OF THE EAGLE (Mascot, 1932), Kenneth Harlan - not Miller - was revealed as the nefarious "Eagle".
- He portrayed "Major Duncan Heyward" in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (Mascot, 1932) which starred Harry Carey, Sr.
- Football great Harold "Red" Grange was the hero of THE GALLOPING GHOST (Mascot, 1931) and Miller was the boss of a gambling ring out to fix college football games.
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:
- Miller with Ken Maynard in GUN JUSTICE (Universal, 1933) and SMOKING GUNS (Universal, 1934).
- Miller with Buck Jones in GORDON OF GHOST CITY (Universal serial, 1933), THE RED RIDER (Universal serial, 1934), ROCKY RHODES (Universal, 1934), THE IVORY-HANDLED GUN (Universal, 1935), THE ROARING WEST (Universal serial, 1935) and BOSS OF LONELY VALLEY (Universal, 1937).
- Miller with Johnny Mack Brown in RUSTLERS OF RED DOG (Universal serial, 1935) and WILD WEST DAYS (Universal serial, 1937).
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:
- Wheeler Oakman, Miller and gang use a death ray to shoot down airplanes in the Tim McCoy GHOST PATROL (Puritan, 1936).
- Monte Blue and Miller are after Indian gold in the Buster Crabbe and Tom Keene DESERT GOLD (1936 Paramount).
- Ken Maynard's last battle with Miller occurs in THE FUGITIVE SHERIFF (Columbia, 1936).
- Miller and his outlaw band were after the wagon train in RANGER COURAGE (Columbia, 1937) which starred Bob Allen.
- rodeo owner Miller and his cutthroats were out to get Bob Livingston and a horse named Cyclone in the Three Mesquiteers' WILD HORSE RODEO (Republic, 1937).
- Miller portrayed Carter Collins ("The Shark") in the serial THE SECRET OF TREASURE ISLAND (Weiss/Columbia, 1938).
- in LAWLESS VALLEY (RKO, 1938), Miller is an undercover government agent helping George O'Brien vs. the father and son team of Fred Kohler Senior and Junior.
- crooked cattle rancher Miller tries to cover up a hoof and mouth disease outbreak in the Gene Autry HOME ON THE PRAIRIE (Republic, 1939).
|(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), Ancestry.com (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 is a user submitted ancestral record on Family Search for George Elmer Miller (1864-1948), first wife Isabel Corwin (about 1868 - ?), and second wife Henrietta Catherine Schultz (1864-1947). Walter Corwin Miller is shown with an 1890 birth year and his mother is Isabel Corwin: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.2.1/MZ3P-QKZ
- 1900 census: 34 year old George E. Miller (born Ohio), 46 year old wife Henrietta (born Ohio), 8 year old son Walter S. (born Ohio), 1 year old daughter Martha (born Georgia), and a servant are living in Atlanta, Georgia: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M3NY-SYK
1900 census takers worksheet notes different mothers for the two children: George and Henrietta have been married about 5 years; George's occupation is difficult to read but looks like "buyer of dry goods"; son Walter is "at school" and his mother was born in Michigan; daughter Martha is 7/12 years old (meaning 7 months) and her mother was born in Ohio: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11629-140709-89?cc=1325221
- 1910 census: 38 year old George E. Miller (born Ohio), 38 year old wife Henrietta S. (born Georgia), 18 year old son Walter C. (born Ohio), 10 year old daughter Martha G. (born Georgia), and a servant are living in Brooklyn, New York: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M54H-3CR?cc=1727033
Ancestry had the 1910 census takers worksheet: George E. Miller (born Ohio) has been married twice and occupation is "Vice President - Comb Co.". This is the first marriage for Henrietta. There is no mention of work or school for 18 year old son Walter C. The family is renting at 6 Alice Court, Brooklyn, New York.
- World War I draft registration for Walter Corwin Miller, born March 9, 1892 in Atlanta, Georgia; address is 235 W. 107th Street, New York City; and his occupation/employer is "Actor - Metro Picture Corp., New York City". Under the question about people he supports: he lists his wife, father and mother-in-law: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-26523-11004-63?cc=1968530
- Ancestry had the World War I military service abstract for Walter C. Miller, born March 9, 1892 in Atlanta, Ga., and he resides at 235 West 107th St., New York, New York. From the abstract:
Inducted at LB134, New York, N.Y., August 8, 1918
Organizations served in: Co A 305 Bn Tank C to disch (meaning discharge)
Grades (rank): Pvt (meaning Private) lcl October 21, 1918
Wounds or injuries: none
Served overseas: No
Honorably discharged on January 3, 1919
- 1920 census: 27 year old son-in-law Walter C. Miller (born Georgia) and 32 year old wife Lillian (born Illinois) are living in Manhattan, New York City with her parents, George A. and Isabelle Coffin: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MJBW-CYG
Ancestry had the 1920 census takers worksheet: son-in-law Walter C. Miller and Lillian Miller are residing with her parents at 233-235 107th Street, Manhattan, New York City. Both Walter and Lillian report their occupations as "Actor Motion Picture Films ???".
- California Birth Index has an entry for Richard Schofield Miller, born September 26, 1926 in the Los Angeles area. His mother's maiden name was Schofield: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VL5H-C8H
- 1930 census: didn't locate Walter, but 26 year old Eileen Schofield Miller (born Illinois) and 3 1/2 year old son Richard S. Miller are living in Chicago with her parents, William F. and Nellie Schofield (both 50 years old; both born Illinois). Richard isn't listed at this Family Search link because of a missing entry by the census taker which was corrected about a week later on a different census sheet: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XS53-SVL?cc=1810731
Ancestry had the 1930 census takers worksheet dated April 9, 1930: Eileen Miller is about 26 years old, married at age 21, and her occupation is "Dancer - Theatrical". Her parents own their home at 738 North State Street, Chicago. Father William's occupation is "Florist store". This census sheet is labeled "8A", and next to Eileen's name, there is a notation to "See page 12A Line 45".
April 14, 1930: on census sheet 12A, Line 45, we find 3 1/2 year old grandson Richard S. Miller, born California, and living at 738 N. State St.
- The Records and Archives for the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Cook County, Illinois has history and estate information on "gangster Florist 'Dion' O'Banion". Quote from that webpage: "O'Banion was also co-owner of Schofield's Flower Shop at 738 N. State, across from Holy Name Cathedral, and derived much enjoyment from furnishing floral arrangements to those whose deceased relatives had departed from the world of organized crime. Schofield's was the florist of choice for Chicagoland's gangsters, and O'Banion added his profits to his underworld earnings.": http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/?section=RecArchivePage&RecArchivePage=o_banion
Photo of the Schofield Co. flower shop, 738 N. State St., Chicago: http://www.hymieweiss.com/October%2011,%201926.htm
- 1940 census: 60 year old William F. Schofield, 23 year old son Stephen E., and a housekeeper are living in Chicago: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K4MF-Z5S
1940 census takers worksheet: the Schofields are still at 738 North State Street, Chicago, and both William and Stephen's occupations are related to the florist shop: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-27858-13052-9?cc=2000219
- Death certificate: 48 year old Walter Corwin Miller was born March 9, 1892 in Dayton, Ohio. Parents were George E. Miller and Isabelle Corwin. Miller passed away on March 30, 1940 at "Republic Studios, lot, Studio City". An autopsy was perfomed and cause of death was chronic myocarditis and arteriosclerosis of coronaries and aorta. Death certificate informant was his wife Eileen S. Miller and they lived at 6306 West 5th Street, Los Angeles. Removal and burial at Calvery [sic] Cemetery, Evanston, Illinois.
- California Death Index mirrors the death certificate: Walter Corwin Miller, born 3/9/1892 in Ohio, Mother's maiden name of Corwin, and he passed away on 3/30/1940.
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:
- "He performed in a fight scene at Republic studio last Thursday, returning Saturday for closeups. In the midst of the latter he was fatally stricken. His widow, Eileen Schofield Miller one-time vaudeville headliner said she would take his body to Chicago."
- "... autopsy to determine what caused Miller's death in the Hollywood receiving hospital following his collapse on a set in Republic Studios Saturday night. Friends stated the veteran actor had complained of feeling unwell since falling Thursday during the enactment of a fight with a member of the Gene Autry troupe."
- "An autopsy surgeon decided today that Walter Miller ... succumbed to heart trouble ..."
- the April 5 and April 6, 1940 issues of the Chicago Daily Tribune had funeral notices on Miller, the "husband of Eileen Schofield Miller, father of Richard." Service was held at 716 North State Street, Chicago on Saturday, April 6, 1940.
- Google Newspaper archive article on Miller's passing: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=888&dat=19400402&id=mDgmAAAAIBAJ&sjid=RU0DAAAAIBAJ&pg=6095,264452
- Relating to Miller's death, there were some rumors or reality about "Eastern hoodlums" trying to "muscle in" on the film industry, and federal and state law enforcement agencies were investigating. The Google Newspaper archive has articles about that:
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: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0589494/
Eileen Schofield Miller (1903-1980): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0774517
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,
The Silents Are Golden website has a 1920s photo of Miller: http://www.silentsaregolden.com/photos2/waltermillerphoto.html