Iconic low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman (article) is famous for the array of top directors–among them James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorsese–who got some of their first breaks working for him at the American International and New World studios. But when it came to on-screen talent, one of the longest and most diverse careers to emerge from those humble B-movie breeding grounds must be that of craggy-faced actor Dick Miller, a Corman regular who would become a “good luck charm” for many of those future auteurs and a cult favorite.
A Bronx, New York native born in December, 1928, Miller worked on Broadway and as a worker in New York mental hospitals, and also served in the Navy, where he fought as a middleweight boxer. Moving to California with plans of being a writer, Dick was introduced to Corman by actor Jonathan Haze and made his debut appearance in the director’s 1955 western Apache Woman. Actually, he had several roles in the film, playing both an Indian and a townsperson (and possibly wound up shooting at “himself” in the movie).
More supporting turns in such AIP drive-in fare as Gunslinger, It Conquered the World, Not of This Earth, The Undead, and Sorority Girl followed. 1959 saw Dick get his first lead, in the horror spoof classic A Bucket of Blood. There he played nebbish busboy Walter Paisley (remember the name), who becomes an underground art sensation by killing people, covering the bodies in clay, and exhibiting them as sculptures.
Corman went back to the shock-and-laugh formula the following year with the original The Little Shop of Horrors, in which Miller played a patron of the title flower shop who liked to eat his purchases. Roger also cast Dick as Boris Karloff’s manservant in his shot-in-three-days wonder, The Terror, and in small roles in “X”: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, The Wild Angels and The Trip.
The new generation of filmmakers that Corman inspired used Miller regularly in supporting roles in the 1970s. Johnathan Kaplan put him in the softcore romps Night Call Nurses and The Student Teachers; his Walter Paisley character became a talent agent for the showbiz satire Hollywood Boulevard ; Dante had him play a sleazy resort manager in Piranha; and Scorsese cast him as a nightclub owner in New York, NewYork.
In the ’80s, Miller’s Walter Paisley returned as an occult bookstore owner in Dante’s werewolf opus The Howling. Dick was also the pawnshop clerk who made a fatal sale to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Cameron’s The Terminator, and he battled the nasty title critters as Mr. Futterman in Dante’s Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Even Quentin Tarantino wanted to work with Miller, although his scenes as junkyard owner Monster Joe in Pulp Fiction didn’t make the final cut.
As if that wasn’t enough, Miller’s dozens of TV appearances range from The Untouchables, Bonanza and Dragnet to Taxi, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, NYPD Blue, and ER, and he’s also directed TV episodes and was co-author of the Jerry Lewis comedy Which Way to the Front? and the blaxploitation actioner T.N.T. Jackson. That’s enough credits for several different cults.