How Did Both of Us Wind Up Here?
How did a prepster---whose prosaic parents put him and his siblings in The New York Social Register— who graduated from Yale College in 1962 with a BA in English and from Tulane University in 1967 with an MA in Theatre & Speech----wind up covered in tattoos, writing a terribly tacky but horrifically successful horror flick and spend the next 20 years of his life engineering hot-sheet roulette for serially adulterous soap characters? And what is it about my career/life that brought you here? What follows is who I am and how I got here. If you want to turn into me or learn how to make a comfortable living as a writer for hire, be my guest. I'll do my best not to lie to you
The Bare Facts about Victor Brooke Miller:
: May 14, 1940 in New Orleans, LA to John Dabney and Barbara Leovy Miller---the third of four kids, older sister Adair, older brother John, younger brother Keith.
: Metairie Country Day, 1945
: Clay County School, Green Cove Springs, FL (and home-schooled because I had nightmares about my teacher for three months)
: Lawrence School, Hewlett, L.I., NY (I had a nice Finnish teacher named Miss Khanti who caught me cheating with an open spelling book in my lap.)
: Lloyd Harbor School, Lloyd Harbor, L.I., NY (Puberty hit me like a ton of 2000 lb bricks. I ballooned up to 142 pounds at 5'2".)
: Milton Academy, Milton, MA (I stayed 142 pounds but grew up to 5' 11" and I still didn't understand puberty, but I hid it better. It was at Milton where I perfected my ability to use humor and a keen sense of the absurd to protect me from bullies, pain of all kinds and complex emotions such as love and fear and hate and jealousy. I also began a lifelong affair with language as a means to escape the negative consequences of my actions. I also learned I could write with great flair— unfortunately flair was not what Milton wanted out of me. They were training us in critical exegesis and academic analysis. Milton taught me how insidious the passive voice can be. It also taught me that selling condoms to my fellow students at 800% profit was not a great career choice.
Yale College, New Haven, CT (1958-1962) B.A. in English
. I took every creative writing course Yale had at the time---from Daily Themes with Harry Berger, Jr., to short story writing with Edward Gordon, to fiction with the celebrated Robert Penn Warren. As soon as I graduated I stopped writing anything. One other thing I did as soon as I graduated was to marry Elizabeth (Tina) Couzens Thurston whom I had met and fallen in love with the fall of my senior year. (Note: Despite all odds and through no brilliance on my part, we are still married forty-seven years later.)
Benton & Bowles Advertising, 666 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY (1962 to 1963)
. I worked in TV Programming for Lee Rich, Irwin Segelstein, Stuart Erwin and Phil Capice, all of whom went on to major careers in nighttime TV or the recording industry. I got so bummed by the venal, brown-nosing world of advertising that I ran to:
The Hill School, Pottstown, PA
, where I taught English and Public Speaking for three years under the direction of the renowned Headmaster, Edward T. Hall, a legend in his own time. One of the students I didn't teach while we were both there was soon-to-be-famed filmmaker and conspiratorialist Oliver Stone. I began to realize that I needed more education and so I got an NDEA grant to get a PhD in theatre at—
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
. This was 1966 and the anti-war sentiment was boiling over. I was almost finished my Masters Thesis in theatre & speech when the faculty got in a fight with the not-too-bright President of Tulane and most of them resigned, making the chances of my getting a PhD dicey at best. Sensing that I would make a less than inspired teacher of theatre arts, I took an offer that came to me by means of a recommendation by my Dept. Chair, Dr. Monroe Lippman, to Ms. Mary Hunter Wolf of The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, CT, to head up the brand new Title III Program between the Theatre and the CT State Department of Education's Vocational-Technical School Division. Tina and I moved North with our stuff to Guilford, CT from whence I commuted to—
The Connecticut State Department of Education in Hartford & The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, CT (1967-1972)
. Our job was to help train the teachers and students so that they might better appreciate their visits to the Theatre's Student Audience Season. At that point a much-too large number of schools simply bused their kids to The Theatre w/o any preparation. Some of the kids, frustrated and bored, would slingshot paperclips at the actors. The actors would get angry and scared. The results were not good. By the time we were finished training teachers and students, we had kids who'd never dreamed of going to a classic play enjoying the plays and defending the actors from kids who were not in our program. Working with notables in the theatre/education field (Bob Alexander from The Arena Stage, Martin Kushner and David Shookhoff from the Yale School of Drama, and Frank Wittow from Atlanta's Academy Theatre) Mary Wolf and I came up with our own approach to using theatre games and improvisation to teach content in fields as diverse as English and Physics.
: Tina gave birth to our first son, Ian Dabney Miller.
At The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre I worked with Milan Stitt, who was, at the time, Director of Development
. (As a graduate of the Yale School of Drama's playwrighting program, Milan wrote the prize-winning play, The Runner Stumbles.) While we worked in CT together he gave me a wonderful tutorial in playwrighting---things he had gleaned from his teacher, the legendary John Gassner. I began to write plays under Milan's tutelage. When he left to work in NYC, I took a semester at HB Studios' playwriting unit. Herbert Berghof hated my work, but I learned a great deal from him. It was Herbert who insisted that I stop judging my characters and simply let them act and react on the stage.
: Our second son, Joshua Galleher Miller, was born.
In the early 70's
Robert Mandel came across my play, Manchineel, while he was a reader at Joe Papp's Public Theatre. Joe didn't want to do it, so Bob took it to The Cubiculo where Manchineel had a showcase for several nights. After the experience of working with actors and my text (arguing about everything) I decided I would be a novelist. (I decided a lot of things in those days---I would cop a major resentment and go boomeranging off in the opposite direction.) I wrote a detective novel, Fernanda, about a female private eye who only handled rape cases. I knew nothing about detectives except what I'd heard on the radio as a kid or seen in the film noire as I grew up. I knew even less about the workings of The New York City PD, which makes Fernanda quite possibly one of the least researched novels ever written. It was bought by Pocket Books' Bernard Shircliff who thereupon asked me if I'd like to novelize three Kojak episodes from Television.
He figured I could handle the first- person, side-of-the-mouth narrative style of Det. Kojak. Sure, I said, my eyes flashing at the idea of making $2,700 from my very own writing. I sat down at my typewriter and began immediately. I also gave notice to Ms. Wolf at The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre that I was now a professional writer and I'd be quitting. (Thank God she gave me odd consultant jobs over the next five years or we'd have starved. Writing Kojak novelizations was not going to be the fountain of cash I had imagined even though Mr. Shircliff gave me six more scripts to novelize.)
From the mid-70's to 1980
: Karen Hitzig introduced me to Brud Talbot who introduced me to Saul Swimmer and Sean Cunningham. For Saul Swimmer and Brud Talbot I did the screenplay for The Black Pearl, a novel by Scott O'Dell. The movie got made but it was, from what I hear, a disaster. I did a number of projects for Brud, one of the most unlucky people I've ever worked with. He could not get out of his own way and died much too soon. But he hired me to write the screenplay for bank robber Willie Sutton's life. I got to sit and talk with Sutton for hours even if the screenplay project never got picked up or made.
Sean and I hit it off right away and started hanging out and working on ideas together. Sean had made Last House on the Left with his pal, Wes Craven. I wrote Here Come the Tigers for Sean, a low-budget kid-flick about a screwed-up baseball team. We then moved on and made Manny's Orphans, a low-budget kid-flick about a screwed-up soccer team. The operating theory at the time was that America craved good family fare. The theory was incorrect, as Halloween quickly proved. Sean suggested we leave the G-rated universe and move boldly into the world of chair-jumpers and emotional roller-coasters. I went to see Halloween, learned the genre and figured out the following truths:
Begin with an historical evil, some event in the past that threatens the present (Jason's drowning at the hands of shtupping counselors)
Create a landscape in which post-adolescents are on their own, beyond the help of the grownups (summer camp before it opens)
Kill anyone who makes love out of wedlock.
Friday The 13th opened in May of 1980
. Six months earlier my wife (who was working as a legal secretary) and I were flat broke. I tried to sell my blood for $30 to a Bridgeport drug research firm, but they told me I didn't have enough antibodies. By June I was waltzing into the head of Columbia Pictures' office (Frank Price at that time) and making a deal for a picture I called Asylum— a one-sentence pitch I made to Mr. Price. I was paid handsomely for that screenplay, but the picture was never made and soon I learned what it was like to be hot for a very brief time.
Sean asked me to help with his next picture, an adaptation of Mary Higgins Clark's A Stranger is Watching, for MGM. I got co-screenplay credit and the film did so-so in its release.
Sean's next idea was to make a film based on a title he'd come up with---Spring Break. He wanted to grab the audience which was spending millions on the recent success, Porky's. I wrote a couple of drafts, but, as so often happens in this industry, Sean wanted to go another way (which can mean almost anything from, "Your drafts are awful" to "My backer has another writer he wants us to try"). That was the last time we spoke. In a few short years we'd gone from dreaming about making the blockbuster film to making it and losing a friendship that was very special. (There are several lessons in there if you have been paying attention.)
1982-1984 ABC-TV, Associate Head Writer for One Life To Live
. Jackie Smith, Head of Daytime Programming for ABC-TV, The Queen of Daytime (as she liked to be known---in direct opposition to Agnes Nixon who really was The Queen of Daytime) was looking for new blood in her stable of daytime writers. Thanks to Richard Blumenthal, an attorney with Mike Lynne (Blumenthal & Lynne represented Sean), I had lunch with Ms. Smith. I drank way too much wine in the ABC executive dining room, but Jackie and her sidekick, Eleanor Timberman, and I laughed and had a great time. The next thing I knew I was working under Head Writer Sam Hall at OLTL.
: Victor is represented by Rick Hashagen, the agent with whom he will stay until 2002. The Miller family moves from Stratford, Connecticut to Milford, Connecticut.
1984-1986 ABC-TV, Associate Head Writer for All My Children
. When Sam was let go at OLTL, I was moved over to AMC where I worked under Wisner Washam and wrote some of my best stuff for the character played by Michael Knight, Tad Martin. Wisner taught me the real craft of daytime, but I was rankling and wanted to get out from under his thumb, so, when I got a call from Mary Ryan Munistieri at Guiding Light, I went. But, by the time I got there, P&G had let Mary go and suddenly I was—
1986-1987 P&G, Associate Head Writer for Guiding Light under Joe and Sherry Manetta
, an odd couple if ever there was one. They made it very easy to take the offer to return to—
1988-1989 ABC-TV, Associate Head Writer at All My Children for Lorraine Broderick and Agnes Nixon
. That period saw The Writers' Guild Strike of 1988, a six month walk-out driven by the screenwriters which just about devastated the daytime writers. Inasmuch as we were on salary, we lost six months of income, never to be regained. The screenwriters, by contrast, were sometimes on the picket line and sometimes at home writing screenplays which they sold for tidy sums after the strike was over. Somewhere in that period of time Jozie Emmerich, then Head of Daytime for ABC-TV, made me co-head writer with Lorraine. (That was the only time I was actually a head writer. It was fun, but I found being an associate head writer much more fun and more relaxing during my 20-odd years in the groves of serial writing.) Lorraine and I were suddenly replaced by Maggie dePriest, talented, eccentric, and funny. Somehow we all got along in what should have been a nightmare of hurt feelings and strange dynamics. I was fired at the end of that contract and went to—
1989-9?-Another World, as Associate Head Writer again, this time under Donna Swajeski, Peggy Sloan and Carolyn Culliton
. These were good times for me, even if Another World was doomed to go under, which it eventually did. We went through a regular merry-go-round of producers until my old friend from All My Children days, Megan McTavish, asked P&G to trade me to their other show,
199?- 199? Guiding Light, to work for her. 1996: Tina and Victor Miller moved to Trumbull, Connecticut. Victor took refuge at The Center for Dzogchen Studies in New Haven, Connecticut.
Guiding Light was fun until Megan was fired and re-hired at—
199?-2001 All My Children where she took me along
. Megan was replaced by Richard Culliton and so she took me over to—
2001-2002 General Hospital where I finished my career in daytime. 2001
: Tina and Victor Miller moved to Alameda, California to be near their sons, daughters in law and brand new grandson.
[Looking back at this strange autobiography, I see that I raced through the last few decades. Daytime TV can be really boring to those whose lives are not ruled by it. Writers are hired and fired regularly whenever the ratings go down. That would be a logical concept if the writers were totally responsible for what the audience sees on air. Instead, what happens all-too often is that network executives and producers (depending on the executive or the producer) make the ultimate decisions which the writers must carry out and be blamed for. Oftentimes stars on the various shows become so powerful that they have the power to accept or decline storylines. Most actors are not all that good at story decisions—which explains why so many good actors make so many horrific films.
The most important thing out of all this is that Tina and I are really happy with the people we have become. Even better, we really love our sons and their wives and our grandchild. You'd have to ask them, but I get the impression that they love us back. I take photographs, watch movies (bad and good) and help young writers who ask me to look at their work. I am usually honest, but not mean spirited.