Ann Miller was notorious for being the best tap dancer in Hollywood—but behind closed doors, Ann suffered the most unspeakable tragedies. From crushing losses and brutal betrayals to one of the most heartbreaking love stories imaginable, poor Ann was put through the wringer. But despite all this, she was so no damsel in distress. In fact, Ann Miller's story is a harrowing testament to the human spirit: She was a survivor.
1. She Had A Terrible Illness
Born April 12, 1923, Johnnie Lucille Collier had a long way to go before becoming Ann Miller, a dancing Hollywood sensation. Growing up in Houston, Texas, little Ann had her fair share of hardship. For one, her health was terrible, and before the age of five, she'd already been diagnosed with rickets. But unbeknownst to her, this was a blessing in disguise.
2. She Was A Prodigy
Worried about her daughter's weak legs, Ann's mother Clara placed her in dance lessons. To everyone's delight, Ann absolutely shone on stage. Recognizing her daughter's talent, Clara tried to push her daughter into becoming a ballerina. However, Ann had something else in mind. What she loved most about dance were the pulsing rhythms—the drums and the beat.
And so, Ann spurned ballet and followed her heart, throwing herself into the world of tap dancing. Under the spotlight, she was entirely in her element. But behind the smiles and the jolly performances, Ann hid a world of tribulation.
3. She Caught Her Father Red-Handed
When she was only nine years old, Ann's family came apart at the seams. On one devastating occasion, Ann and her mother arrived home to find her father, John Collier, in bed with another woman. In fact, it was Ann who noticed her father's mistress in the window and tried to shield her mother from the heartbreaking sight. But that wasn't all.
4. She Protected Her Mother
Disgusted with her father, Ann walked straight through the front door and yelled, "Get out of my mother's home". After that, everything was different. Because of her father's infidelity, she and her mother turned their backs on him entirely; they packed their bags and headed to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, her hopes of a prosperous fresh start were quickly dashed.
5. She Had No Choice
Because Ann's mother was deaf, finding a job and a steady income was a constant struggle. Sometimes, Ann and Clara weren't able to put food on the table. And so, from a very young age, the responsibility of keeping them afloat fell to Ann. In many ways, she had to become the mother. Determined to make some money, 11-year-old Ann strapped on her dancing shoes and took to the LA nightclubs.
It was there that she shed the skin of Johnnie Lucille Collier and adopted her stage name—Ann Miller. Little did she know, her hard days were numbered.
6. She Knocked Their Socks Off
In 1936, Ann began dancing at the renowned Bal Tabarin, a San Francisco club and one of the hottest city spots. One night, actress Lucille Ball and talent scout Benny Rubin sat in the audience, watching Ann's performance. Needless to say, they were deeply impressed. Afterward, Rubin came to Ann and offered to secure her an acting contract with RKO Studios...However, there was just one condition.
7. She Wasn't Old Enough
Rubin told Ann that the contract was hers as long as she could prove that she was 18 years old. This was a massive issue because, of course, Ann was only 13. Desperate to make this opportunity a reality, Ann had no choice but to turn to her cheating father for help. As a lawyer, John Collier had the power to give his daughter exactly what she wanted.
8. She Lied Through Her Teeth
To get her foot in the door, Ann had her father break the law for her: He made her a fake certificate "proving" to RKO studios that his daughter was actually 18. To complete the ruse, her mother also offered her some key advice on how to act like an adult: "Always dress impeccably, wear makeup, and keep your mouth shut". With this mature facade in place, Ann Miller set off to take Hollywood by storm.
9. She Had The Perfect Breakout Role
The very same year, Ann landed a small role in Stage Door, and it was practically a dream come true. She starred with not only Katharine Hepburn, but one of her greatest idols, dancing royalty Ginger Rogers. When Ann learned that Ginger needed a partner for one of the numbers, she begged director Gregory La Cava to give her the part.
When La Cava told her that she was too tall to dance next to Ginger—Ann had a brilliant comeback at the ready.
10. She Danced With Her Idol
To drive her pitch home, Ann Miller told director Gregory La Cava, "I can wear a higher top hat and a lower heel—if she could put on a little higher heel and a little lower top hat". This was the right thing to say. Ginger Rogers began laughing her head off, and before La Cava could say anything, she cried, "Okay string bean, you got it".
Unsurprisingly, her performance alongside Ginger in Stage Door opened other doors, and soon Ann was well on her way to becoming a household name.
11. She Kissed Her Crush
The very next year, Ann, now 15 years old, found herself a new kind of role. In 1938's Radio City Revels, she played a romantic part opposite Kenny Baker. Not only was he her first onscreen kiss, but he was also her very first kiss, period. And that wasn't all. Ann harbored a schoolgirl crush on Baker, making the liplock twice as exciting.
Ann had a habit of romanticizing her life every chance she got. But, as we'll see, this didn't always fare well for her heart.
12. She Was In Over Her Head
Working for RKO Studios proved much harder than Ann expected. After her performance in Frank Capra's You Can't Take It with You, the studio sent Ann on a tour so brutal that she contemplated escaping her contract. They had her perform in eight shows a day. She had no free time for personal pursuits, and the exhaustion was absolutely overwhelming. But that wasn't the worst part.
13. She Broke It Off
To add insult to injury, RKO studios denied Ann Miller a raise. Her agents, seeing that the young starlet desperately needed a change, broke her out of her contract. But even then, there was no slowing down for Ann. The next stop? Broadway. And boy, did she make a splash. Her debut was Mexiconga, and when she took to the stage, audiences—especially her hungry male audience—couldn't get enough of her.
14. She Was A Stunner
Ann Miller was a beauty through and through. She moved with a grace that never wavered and her angelic face was purely magnetic. As such, she drew the attention of many suitors, and before long, this attention led her into an adult world of fancy dates and parties. Her adult facade had them all fooled—but there was a catch.
She was still a teenager, and no matter where she went, her mother Clara shadowed her footsteps as the ever-dutiful chaperone. Of course, Ann wasn't going to be a little girl forever. She couldn't wait to become an adult and take control of her own love life.
15. She Didn't Have To Lie Anymore
After two years away from Hollywood, Ann burst back onto the scene, and before long, her milestones started pouring in. She signed a seven-year contract with Columbia Pictures, and during the filming of 1941's Time Out for Rhythm, she finally turned 18. As long as she returned home by midnight, Anne had free reign to let loose and kick up her skirts—and she did.
16. She Lusted After Playboys
Ann's taste in men was surprising, to say the least. Unlike other girls her age, she wasn’t interested in the handsome actors that she saw every day in the film studio. She was way more into rich playboys. For the next few years, Ann filled up every spare moment with work, and when she wasn't filming, she was out on the town, partying the night away.
Her whole life revolved around being a social butterfly and staving off loneliness, no matter the cost. By 1945, Ann felt like she needed a break from her hectic schedule—and a deep dive into romance sounded like just the ticket.
17. She Dreamt Of A Fairytale Marriage
Despite becoming an adult, Ann still lived in a precious little bubble of naïveté. At the time, she wanted the American dream—a white picket fence and picture-perfect family, with enough money on the side to afford pretty dresses and expensive perfume. It was only later that she realized what a dreamland she'd been living in: "I'm thinking like Tinkerbell. I wanted everything to be beautiful".
Ann wanted so badly to find a husband, and luckily for her, she had no shortage of wealthy suitors vying for her hand.
18. She Had A Surprising Suitor
Perhaps of all her early suitors, Ann's most notable beau was none other than Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM Studios. Ann’s mother tolerated it—until he went too far. Mayer actually proposed to Ann, and her mother was not having it. After all, Ann was 40 years younger than the movie mogul, and as such, her mother vehemently forbade her to marry him.
Instead, Ann settled on a ridiculously wealthy scrap iron heir named Reese Milner—after he made her an offer she simply couldn't refuse.
19. She Fell For His Fortune
In a bid for her hand in marriage, Milner played the money card; he promised Ann that she would never have to work another day in her life. This was music to her ears. After years of giving her entire life to her career and providing for her mother, Ann just wanted to settle down, relax, and have a man take care of her.
Unfortunately, Milner was the exact definition of a wolf in sheep's clothing...Poor Ann was in for the rudest awakening imaginable.
20. She Had To Escape First
Ann was ready to cash in her chips and run away with Milner. Unfortunately, she still had one problem standing in her way. Her contract with Columbia Pictures still bound her to work for another couple of years, and before she could wed, she'd have to break her way out. But when Ann approached Harry Cohn with her desire to leave the studio, his response was absolutely terrifying.
21. She Refused To Believe Him
To her surprise, Harry Cohn told Ann that she should not marry Reese Milner. But his advice didn't end there. He was so worried about her engagement that he found some of Milner's exes and brought them in to regale Ann with their horrifying stories. According to these girls, Milner was a brute—aggressive and dangerous.
Anne refused to believe these girls' claims, thinking that Harry Cohn had managed this whole intervention in an attempt to keep her at Columbia Studios. Sadly, it turned out that Cohn wasn’t acting out of spite…
22. She Didn't Know Anything About Intimacy
In 1946, after Cohn begrudgingly freed Ann from her contract, she and Milner tied the knot two days after Valentine's Day. The chapel wedding in Montecito, California went off without a hitch. But there was something Ann didn't know. Her mother had never taught her about the birds and the bees, and so she had no idea what the wedding night would entail.
23. She Couldn't Sleep With Her Husband
Luckily, her bridesmaid Marjorie Reynolds came to her rescue and filled her in on the ins and outs of intimacy. But when Ann heard about the realities of married life, her reaction was chilling. Instead of being excited for her wedding night, she absolutely dreaded it. In fact, it made her feel "icky". Clearly, a passionate honeymoon was not in the cards.
She later said, "It took all the romance out of romance, and consequently, I didn't do it".
24. She Battled Her Husband's Jealousy
Even though Ann didn't enjoy shaking up the sheets with Milner, within two months of being married, she was already pregnant. Still, as excited as Ann was to be a mother, she couldn't deny that her marriage had taken a dark turn. Milner was a wildly jealous man and even resented Ann spending time with her mother and friends. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
25. Her Husband Was Vicious Man
When Ann married Milner, she had no idea what she was getting into. To her dismay, she soon learned that Milner had unpredictable mood swings, ranging from aggressive to terrifyingly vicious—but there was a tragic reason behind it all. You see, years before, a horse had fallen on Milner, and the resulting head injury had made him aggressive and altered his personality forever.
Sadly, Milner turned his volatile nature toward Ann, and in the end, she paid the ultimate price.
26. She Wrote A Secret Letter
That summer, Ann sat down to write a harrowing letter to her mother. But this wasn't just any letter. In it, she documented the horrors of her three months of marriage—her fear of her husband and his unspeakable treatment of her. And the saddest part of all? The letter was only to be opened in the event of Ann's passing.
It was almost as though she was expecting something horrible to happen...and she was right.
27. She Broke Her Back
When she was nine months pregnant, Ann and Milner were staying at his ranch, eagerly awaiting the birth of their baby girl, Mary. In a horrifying turn of events, Milner lost his temper during an argument and ended up throwing Ann down a flight of stairs. The fall fractured her lower back, and soon after, she went into labor. This is when the real nightmare truly began.
28. She Suffered A Harrowing Loss
On November 12, 1946, Ann Miller managed to deliver her daughter while laboring through the pain of a broken back. But her relief was short-lived. Little Mary only lived for three hours before passing. In the wake of this loss, Ann's devastation was immeasurable. And just like the rest of her troubles, nobody could know the truth. Instead, the media reported a completely different story...
They claimed that Ann Miller had been in a car accident and that tragically, she had lost the baby.
29. She Escaped The Nightmare
For Ann, this traumatic experience finally pushed her toward reason. Instead of moving back in with her toxic husband, she went to live with her mother to recover from her injuries. Ann was done with Milner and had no desire to return the nightmare that took her baby's life. She filed for divorce, but even though she won her freedom—the settlement they arrived at was absolutely pathetic.
30. She Couldn't Leave Her Bed
Of Milner's many millions, Ann only saw $20, 000—just enough to cover her medical bills and her time off work. And her troubles didn't end there. Because of her broken back, poor Ann had to lay for weeks in a traction bed to ensure the correct healing of her spine. With all this time on her hands, she had ample time to think about her choices.
Most of all, she thought about her disillusionment when it came to the supposed "happily ever after" she'd been promised.
31. She Had A Heartbreaking Revelation
When Ann realized her own naïvete, well, that was the rudest awakening of all. She had always been told that romantic relationships were like a fairytale, and so, when she met Milner, she had every reason to believe that this was her Prince Charming. In a later interview, she admitted, "I was very innocent—dumb really—about men".
Armed with a newfound wariness, Ann focused on healing. She had to keep her eye on the horizon, and of course, all she wanted to do was dance.
32. She Made A Roaring Comeback
After she recovered, Ann dove back into the fray. She slapped on a smiling face and returned to acting; she joined MGM Studios and landed a role in 1948's Easter Parade. But even though Fred Astaire and Judy Garland were the moneymaking leads, it was Ann Miller who took everyone's breath away. The film charmed audiences and met with great success.
In fact, Ann was so charming that she even won hearts behind the scenes.
33. She Always Put On A Happy Face
Ann was known for her sense of humor, and was always very open with her friends and coworkers, spinning riotous stories and making people laugh. Fellow actor Tommy Rall had an absolute ball working with her: "She was a kick to work with...We'd all be on the floor". And that wasn't all. Even with her hidden tragedy, Ann maintained her joyous spark, and still held out hope that one day, she might find a good man.
34. She Followed Her Gut
One day, Ann stumbled across a picture in the newspaper that changed everything. It was a picture of California politician William O'Connor. He was a total stranger, but when she looked into his face, she felt a rush of certainty. She picked up the paper and showed the portrait to her mother, exclaiming, "You see that man? I'm going to be in love with him".
35. She Found Her Prince Charming
One thing's for sure: If Ann put her mind to something, she could achieve anything. After setting her sights on William O'Connor, Ann eventually got the chance to meet him. They had their first meet-cute at her friend Margaret Pereira's place, and after that, the rest was history. O'Connor was dashing and intellectual and everything Ann had hoped he be.
Best of all, he was the antithesis of her awful ex-husband. Sadly, Ann's newfound bliss was never meant to last forever.
36. She Was Mad About Him
Ann and O'Connor were wildly attracted to one another, and after meeting, embarked on a whirlwind romance. They stepped out together frequently, and soon, snapshots of the gorgeous couple peppered the gossip columns. Ann was on cloud nine. But despite being swept away by the honeymoon phase, there was still one problem: O'Connor's ex-wife.
For some reason, she absolutely refused to sign the divorce papers, and this fact alone helped tear Ann and O'Connor apart.
37. Her Beau's Ex Ruined Everything
Ann fell hard for O'Connor. She was completely, head over heels, in love with him. But without his wife's signature on the divorce papers, O'Connor would never be allowed to remarry. To make matters worse, he was a strict Roman Catholic. Ann, too, had a strict guiding light—her mother. Clara recognized O'Connor's hold on her daughter, and she didn't approve of it. Not one bit.
38. She Had To Let Him Go
Ann's mother feared for her daughter's heart and told her, "Until his wife signs those papers, you're not gonna be tied to anybody". So, while the rest of the world anticipated an engagement announcement, Ann had to make a devastating decision. She realized she had no choice but to end things with the love of her life.
The timing was all wrong and she needed his undivided loyalty. But just as her heart-wrenching offscreen drama unfolded, Ann's onscreen career took flight.
39. She Loved The Glamor
For Ann Miller, the late 4os and early 50s were her golden years; she was at the top of her game. And unlike many of her peers, fame fit Ann like a glove. She was a born social butterfly, and while many of her peers wilted under the demands of showbiz, Ann thrived. She always arrived on set with nary a hair out of place, strapped into her high heels, and looking resplendent.
As one of her costars remembered, "She was always dressed to the nines". But behind this picture-perfect presentation, Ann hid a world of anguish.
40. Her Heart Yearned For Him
You see, even as Ann nailed her roles and went out on the town with scores of charismatic people, her heart remained forever tied to William O'Connor. She just couldn't shake him. She had countless suitors—rich and wonderful men just dying to marry her— but she turned down every single proposal she ever received. It seemed like her flame for O'Connor would never go out.
Later, she remembered, "He literally, more or less, ruined my life". Her disappointed hopes were becoming a problem, and Ann needed to find a way to move on with her life.
41. She Settled
Feeling that O'Connor would never be hers, Ann decided to settle. The lucky guy? A stupidly rich oilman from Texas, William Moss. Just like her first husband, he promised her a lifetime of financial security. In 1958, Ann and William tied the knot. But even though their wedding day was meant to be a joyous celebration, by the end, it was more heartbreaking than anything else.
43. She Had Happiness Within Reach
On August 22, 1958—the day of Ann's wedding—William O'Connor finally made up his mind. He loved Ann more than anything and decided to leave his religion behind in order to be with her. But there was one huge problem...The church bells were already ringing. On that fateful day, O'Connor tried calling her over and over, desperate to get through to her and stop the wedding.
44. She Never Got His Phone Call
While O'Connor was busy dialing her number, Ann was also busy...saying her wedding vows. William O'Connor had had his revelation far too late, and consequently, he lost the one woman who truly loved him. And even though Ann was determined to be happy with her new husband, it would never come close to what she felt for O'Connor.
45. She Married A Party Animal
Sadly, Ann's marriage was doomed from the very beginning. Right off the bat, their lifestyles seemed to clash. Moss was an extreme party animal, and often, his parties lasted up to three days. Although Ann enjoyed a good romp, her husband's idea of fun was so over-the-top—it became unbearable. Miraculously, they managed to make it to their first anniversary.
While celebrating this milestone, Ann had a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach. She had no idea why, but she felt that something awful was going to happen...She was right.
46. She Had A Gut Feeling
Spurred by a gut instinct, Ann reached out to William O'Connor. Only, she never got to speak to him. Instead, she discovered the most earth-shattering news. On August 27, 1959, William O'Connor had suffered a heart attack and died. Ann's grief was all-consuming, and after that agonizing day, her marriage to Moss didn't stand a chance.
47. She Gave Up On True Love
Two years later, Ann and Moss separated, but that very same year, she married someone else. Ann Miller didn't waste time. After the passing of O'Connor, it seemed that Ann had truly given up on the possibility of ever finding another true love. Instead, she just wanted a happy partnership and to be taken care of. Her old friend Arthur Cameron seemed to fit the bill perfectly—another Texas oilman perfectly poised to keep her comfortable.
48. He Was Shameless
Unfortunately, Ann wasn't aware of Cameron's dark side. Much like her father, he had a shameless penchant for infidelity. One night, she overheard conversation and laughter emanating from the direction of their pool. When she went to investigate, Ann couldn't believe her eyes: Her husband was entertaining a horde of beautiful women. When she asked him who these girls were, his response shocked her to the core.
49. She Gave Him An Ultimatum
Nonchalantly, Cameron told Ann, "Darling, these are my mistresses, but you're my queen". Completely taken aback, Ann gave him an ultimatum. He could have the mistresses, or he could have her, but he couldn't have both. For Cameron, the answer was easy. He contemplated her for a brief moment before responding with, "Well, pack your bags".
Unfortunately, when it came to betraying his wife, Cameron was just getting started.
50. She Sought Revenge
After the breakup, Cameron denied ever having married Ann in the first place—a total slap in the face. Unsurprisingly, Ann came at him with her claws out and sued him for $7 million. But her plan went awry. Ann Miller did not get to walk away from this mess as a millionaire. Instead, she only got three things: a divorce, a diamond ring, and a $50,000 trust for her mother.
Back to being on her own again, Ann had to slip into her dancing shoes and return to work. But there was only one problem.
51. She Became A Millionaire
By the 1960s, the golden era of Hollywood musicals was already over, and Ann's line of work was pretty much extinct. Forever rolling with the punches, Ann chose a different route and found herself back on the Broadway stage. Although the upheaval terrified her, she never once lost her composure. Her dazzling performance in 1969's Mame won her critical acclaim, and her later show Sugar Babies enjoyed a long and fruitful tour after its Broadway run.
And the best part of all? Sugar Babies was so successful that Ann finally earned the millions she'd always dreamed of.
52. She Couldn't Dance Forever
Sadly, a lifetime of rigorous dancing eventually wore Ann Miller out. Through the 80s and 90s, although she still took on the odd job, she spent most of her time trying to capture some hard-earned peace and quiet. She settled down in Sedona Arizona, built her dream house, and focused on herself—spending time with friends and enjoying her retirement.
For a woman who had endured so much heartache, these restful final years were well-deserved.
53. She Lies Next To Her Baby Girl
On January 22, 2004, after a hugely successful career and largely tragic life, Ann Miller passed away from lung cancer. She was laid to rest next to her daughter, Mary. Today, the world remembers Ann Miller not only for her tap dancing skills but also for her larger-than-life personality and uproarious wit. She was the embodiment of glamor and grace, and above all, resilience.