Thug. Sketch artist. Taxi driver. Townsman. Pawn shop clerk. Factory watchman. Bookstore owner. Palm club owner. Game show host. Gangster. Teacher in auditorium. Crusty old cop. Young soldier. Spectator. Wrangler. Vendor. Rigger. Heckler. Garbage man. Repairman. Security guard. The sculptor. Gangster dressed as a cop. MP at hanging. Pizza delivery guy. Pickup guy. Pit crew mechanic. Horseshoe player. Chicken gang member. Club manager. Wallflower at the swing shift. Reporter at press party. Rifle man from Team B. Bartender. Doorman. Jimmy Tonto. Tall tree. Happy Mione. Father Stillicato. Officer Miller. Billy The Bucket Boy. Chuckie Sol. Boxcars 'Boxy' Bennett. Sgt. Bresner. Officer Hugo. Uncle Willy. Fouch. Charlie Drake. Crazy Mel. Al Spanky. Al Kramer. Bennie Buckman. Buck Gardner. Wilbur Janeway. Nick Pellegrini. Eddie O'Neill. Herb Denning. Joe Pipes/ Murray Futterman. Walter Paisley.
Those are but maybe a quarter of the over 200 roles that the late Dick Miller portrayed in his seven decade career. He has always been an actor known more as "That Guy" than his actual everyday Joe name. The average person would recognize him from two roles in two 1984 films, as the pawn shop clerk in The Terminator that winds up getting terminated or his role as the hapless Murray Futterman in Gremlins.
Personally, his role in Joe Dante's film put me onto his past and future work from his dual roles in 1955's Apache Woman to portrayal as cigar-chomping sleazebag Burt in Evil Toons.
It all began when he approached future B-movie legend, director/producer Roger Corman.
According to the man himself, "Roger said to me, 'Tell me what you do and why I should hire you,'" states Miller. "I said, 'I'm a writer' and Roger replied, 'I don't any need writers — what I need are some good actors.' So, almost without thinking, I said 'Actually, I'm an actor as well.'"
Boy howdy was he ever. He was inspiration to myself and other movie dorks. So much so for myself that I contributed to a Kickstarter documentary about the man as well as named my YouTube account after him. I was initially going to attempt a moving tribute to the man but there are several out there that have eulogized him more eloquently than I could imagine. So instead I rather highlight some of the work of a man who once told a super-stoned Corey Feldman, "Shut the fuck up, kid, we're trying to do some acting."
Every other film directed by Joe Dante
While the Gremlins films were a great example of the working relationship between Miller and Dante, it wasn't the first or the last time they worked together. Miller played a huckster bookstore owner in the werewolf film, The Howling. In the 1993 period comedy Matinee he played Herb Denning, a huckster in 1962 that worked alongside John Goodman in promoting B-movies during the atomic age. In The Burbs, he had a cameo as a cranky garbage man that wasn't a fan of suburbia, life-changing seminars, or half-naked women wandering around with their dog. In the greatest Jaws rip-off ever, Piranha, he was Buck Gardner, a slimy real estate agent opening up a new resort while ignoring the incoming threat of teethy fish. While the mouthy, low threshold for bullshit trait was his stock and trade, he did show his range in other films. Most memorably, his role as the wistful Charlie Drake, a police helicopter pilot that encounters a spaceship built by three kids.
- Courtesy America International Pictures;
Not Of This Earth
Mr. Miller had a cameo as Joe Piper in Roger Corman's film as a pushy fast-talking door-to-door vacuum salesman that talks his way into the home of an undercover alien. In a 1957 sci-fi horror film his role in an already fun film made it even more fun.
A Bucket Of Blood
The role that defined him for pre '80s audiences was his role as Walter Paisley in the low budget horror/comedy. As a dimwitted untalented busboy at a beatnik-filled cafe, the downtrodden Paisley accidentally finds accidental fame that leads him down a path filled with dead bodies and accolades. Miller's performance was so memorable that many films down the road would name any of Miller's countless cameos in films like Chopping Mall and Shake, Rattle & Rock as Walter Paisley.
Having recently wrapped production on Eben McGarr's horror film, Miller, in a role that would turn out to be his last, played a rabbi that helps some teens. His name? Rabbi Walter Paisley.
That Guy Dick Miller
Having contributed a pittance to this 2014 doc, I'm seriously biased. It's available to watch for free on Amazon Prime Video. There really isn't too much too say about it other than that you should check it out. It's a great encapsulation of his life and an excellent dedication to a gent who made every movie or TV show just a little bit better.
Rest in peace, Mr. Miller.