Ann Miller: Profile
by Steve Starr
The rich steel heir threw his eight-month-pregnant wife down the stairs in their home, breaking her back and injuring the baby. Not long after, the effervescent dancing star gave birth in a steel harness to her only child, Mary, who died within a few hours. Her husband's influential family then zipped the girl away to a hidden burial spot she was not to find for another 55 years.
Lucille Ann Collier was born April 12, 1923 on her grandparents ranch in Chireno, Texas. Expecting a boy, Mr. Collier named his daughter "Johnnie."
Johnnie's father was a well-known criminal lawyer who had defended famous gangsters Bonnie and Clyde and Baby Face Nelson. Viscious Pretty Boy Floyd used Crayolas to draw six-year-old Johnnie a picture of a peacock as she sat on his lap in the state prison on a visit there with her dad.
Mrs. Collier enrolled her three-year-old little girl in dancing lessons to help strengthen her legs, which had become weakened from a case of rickets. At age seven the tot made her first public appearance as a dancing Pink Rosebud in a Police and Fireman's Ball.
When Johnnie was ten she met Bill "Bojangles" Robinson at a local theatre and he gave her a quick tap-dancing lesson. She liked that style of dance very much, and decided to concentrate on it with further lessons.
One night, after visiting her grandmother, Johnnie came home and found her daddy in bed with a strange woman. When hearing-impaired Clara arrived, Johnnie yelled loudly, "Mother, pack your bags!" Johnnie’s parents divorced, and Clara Collier whisked her daughter off to Hollywood, determined to get into show business. There, the pair hocked everything they couild, including the car, in order to survive.
Johnnie enrolled in Fanchon and Marco's dancing school. The five-foot-seven, eleven-year-old brunette, pretending to be of legal age, was soon hired to dance for $25 a week at the Sunset Club, a small lounge where gambling went on upstairs.
Using the stage name of Ann Miller, she practiced her machine-gun tapping for the thrilled patrons. She also danced at the seedy Black Cat Club, where she scooped up the coins customers threw into her skirt to help pay the bills. Times were very difficult for the duo. There was no alimony for Clara, and her handicap kept her from working. One Christmas, a neighbor baked Clara and Ann a chocolate cake, and it became their entire holiday dinner.