Ron Miller met just about every famous TV and movie actor in his 22-year career as a syndicated columnist for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. Personal stories about people who have been household names for decades fall out of him like beans from a slit coffee bag.
“Charlton Heston was one of the warmest, nicest guys I’ve ever met although our politics were poles apart,” said Miller, who began an eight-week series of lectures on film Wednesday night that continues through the month of October.
“Heston knew everything about film, down to the tiniest detail, an encyclopedic knowledge he lost later in life with Alzheimer’s,” Miller continued, adding that once when he was interviewing Heston at his home high in the Hollywood hills he noticed a telescope on a patio. When Heston was called to the phone Miller took a look and found it trained on a swimming pool at the base of the hills.
“Later I interviewed Angie Dickinson and when I walked in to meet her I said to myself, ‘Geeze! This is the same pool!’ I mentioned this to Dickinson who simply shrugged and said something like ‘Oh, that old reprobate!’ ”
Three of the evenings will be devoted to specific stars, Heston, Gregory Peck and Lillian Gish. He also has an evening devoted to Alfred Hitchcock and another to a screening of The Big Trail, John Wayne’s first starring role. The series concludes with “Famous Monsters I have Known” in which Miller talks about meeting well-known movie bad guys Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Tony “Psycho” Perkins and Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund.
“Peck and the director John Huston were good friends until the filming of Moby Dick,” Miller said. “It was done in the North Sea in very cold water, and in the scene where Ahab is tangled in gear and effectively lashed to the whale, the mechanical beast rolled over with Peck still tied to it. He got so mad they never spoke again.”
Wayne’s movie, The Big Trail, was filmed in an early wide-screen technology called Grandeur, a 65 mm format that gave it a look that Miller said is better than cinemascope.
“Most of the prints were engineered to fit regular theater screens, so not many have seen this version. When they get to the part about lowering the wagons down a cliff to make their way across a valley it’s quite something to see,” he said.
All the lectures are on Wednesday evenings from 7 to 9 in the Discovery room theater at Semiahmoo and are free. Coffee and popcorn will be provided. Next Wednesday, September 9, Miller’s talk is The Hollywood Hit Parade, about Hollywood’s efforts to turn pop stars into movie stars. Sometimes it worked – Bing Crosby, Elvis – and sometimes it didn’t.
On September 16 he talks about Gregory Peck, trailing his career through Moby Dick, Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird. Skipping September 23, he talks on September 30 about The Best of Hitchcock, analyzing his style and talking about his interviews with Hitchcock and a lot of the stars that worked with him.
Miller screens The Big Trail on October 7 and talks about Charlton Heston on October 14. Lillian Gish, the first big Hollywood movie star, is the topic for October 21 and the series closes on October 28 with Famous Monsters I Have Known. For more information contact Semiahmoo Resort at 318-2017.