Look in the middle of MGM's famous 1949 Silver Jubilee cast picture (an assemblage of "the greatest stars in the galaxy"), and you'll find Ann Miller, snuggled next to Ricardo Montalban and Jeanette MacDonald.
Miller, along with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, was one of the studio's secret weapons: Her bright smile, gorgeous gams and machine-gun tap dancing packed 'em in. One of the most popular stars of her time, one who always answered her fan mail, she somehow managed to find time to turn in critically acclaimed performances in the film classics "Easter Parade," "Kiss Me Kate" and "On the Town."Even when the Geritol years dawned, Miller refused to slow down. She toured in the '70s and '80s in the Broadway smash "Sugar Babies." Still a dancin' fool at 67, she's now trying to persuade a network to give her a TV sitcom.
I visited with Miller hours after a shooting not far from her Beverly Hills home. "Some cop blew two people away last night!" she railed. "I'm really wrecked over it!" But she found time to talk about her towering bouffant, panty hose regrets and previous life, in which she was blind and crippled.
Q. You have huge hair. How does it stand up to that teasing and torture?
A. Those are wigs. I started wearing them when I was doing Broadway. In the MGM days, when I wore my real hair, you'd have to get there two hours early, at 5:30 a.m., so it could be washed and sprayed and set. That takes up a lot of your day, honey! When I did Broadway, I went out and bought wigs because I said I didn't want to come in early any more. The hairdressers just take the wigs and beat them to death. In real life, I have long hair - down to my waist. People have made fun of my wigs . . . Like Roger Dangerfield (Editor's note: Try Rodney, Annie). But let me tell ya', wigs are a godsend.
Q. You're also famous for your bright, bright, bright blue eye shadow. What shade is that exactly?
A. Peacock, sweetie. I have dark blue eyes, and blue eye shadow photographs well. Do you think people think I go around wearing that in real life?
RYAN: Yes, I do.
ANN: Oh . . .
Q. Have you ever had any plastic surgery done?
A. I never have. But I assure you that as time rolls on, I'm considering it, honey. (Laughs) I'm looking for someone to tie it all up in a big bow. You gotta look good when you're in show business.
Q. You're renowned for your long supple legs. So finish this sentence for me: "My legs are as long as . . . "
A. A stork's. Or a flamingo's. I'm all legs. When I'm sitting at a dinner table, I really look like a little girl. And when I stand up, people can't believe how tall I am.
Q. I continue to be shocked that you haven't done a commercial for L'Eggs panty hose . . .
A. I'm surprised, too. After all, I'm the mother of panty hose! That was my idea, panty hose. Willis of Hollywood worked with me at RKO, and I said once to him, "Why don't you just make tights out of hosiery and add some panties to them?" And he did it, and I never got any credit.
Q. I understand you're really into reincarnation.
A. Yes. I just wrote a book about it called "Tapping Into the Force." It's just out, and it's a metaphysical book. It's to support people who have these beliefs, you know, to prove that believing in metaphysics doesn't make you bonkers.
Q. Who do you believe you were reincarnated as?
A. I won't tell you. You have to read the book.
Q. Ah, come on . . .
A. (Defiantly) No! Read the book.
Q. (Just as defiant) I want to know. (Long pause) I MUST know.
A. Well, I have danced through the ages. I also believe I was a blind person and a crippled person before. In India. I have to go (to India) before I pass on. But I'm dreading it. I know I'll hate it.
Q. If you had to pay an annual fee to maintain your current level of fame, how much would it be worth to you?
A. Oh honey, I don't know. Press agents are important today. But it's so expensive nowadays, so I handle my own press. Back in the MGM days, there were 100 people who worked in the press department, and they talked about you morning, noon and night. But when the studios fell, you had to do it yourself.
Q. When you were doing "Sugar Babies" with Mickey Rooney, is it true you hated each other?
A. Well, we had arguments. He would step on my lines, and I would let him have it backstage. But basically, we got along well. All that fighting stuff is a bunch of malarkey. I respect Mickey and he respects me.
Q. Why do you think he's married so many times?
A. That's his problem. He's like the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt. He's had eight wives and 10 children! He's all man. (Wistfully) It's just a shame that his legs didn't grow any longer than they did . . .
Q. What do you do if your toilet overflows?
A. Oh, I get absolutely hysterical. It's the most frightening thing in the world. Gunshots, a man getting killed on your front lawn like last night? That scares me, but not like a toilet bowl overflowing. That's real panicsville. I sit and yell and scream. Oh, it's just spooky!