Kristine Miller

Kristine Miller

Birthday: June 13, 1925
Born Place: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Birth Name: Jacqueline Olivia Eskeson
Height: 5' 9" (1.75 m)

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Kristine Miller was born Jacqueline Olivia Eskesen, the daughter of Johannes Eskesen, vice-president of Standard Oil of Argentina, headquartered in Buenos Aires, where Miller was born. Miller’s mother, Myrtle Bennett Witham, was an Orpheum Circuit singer from Fresno, California. After a decade in Argentina, the family moved to Myrtle’s hometown of Fresno for a year, then to Copenhagen, Denmark in 1932. In 1938, before the beginning of the Second World War in Europe, they moved back to Fresno, then on to San Francisco.

Due to traveling internationally as a child, Miller speaks English, Spanish and Danish fluently, and has a working knowledge of Portuguese and German. Miller said of her childhood, “My mother was a professional singer and I think she was eager for me to go into the entertainment field.” However, after she played a main role in her high school’s production of George S. Kaufman “The American Way” (1939), her taste for show-business began to form. In one version of how she was discovered by Hollywood, in 1944 the 18-year-old Miller saw an opportunity when a Warner Brothers talent scout was to attend one of her school’s performances. The scout never showed up, so she sent a letter and photograph to the studio, and garnered a screen test at Warner, where she changed her name to Kristine Miller. Though she failed the screen test, she was noticed by producer Hal B. Wallis, who was then feuding with the studio head, Jack L. Warner. Under acrimonious circumstances, Wallis left Warner Brothers for Paramount Pictures. Wallis brought with him Miller and another actress that also failed a screen test at Warner, the 21-year-old Lizabeth Scott.

At Paramount, Miller made her debut, an uncredited bit part, opposite fellow newcomer Scott in You Came Along (1945). Miller played a showgirl and was billed as “Jacqueleen Eskeson.” The pair would appear together in five films, four of them produced by Hal Wallis.

In July 1946, it was announced that Hal Wallis planned to star Miller in the film version of the Broadway play, “Beggars Are Coming to Town” (1945), a noirish story of betrayal and vengeance. Wallis intended this to be Miller’s breakout role. In the winter of 1946, Miller appeared briefly in Western noir, Desert Fury (1947). She played the priggish Claire Lindquist, daughter of a corrupt judge.

Immediately after Desert Fury, Wallis began work on “Deadlock”, the original project name for “Beggars Are Coming to Town”. Again Miller would be cast with “Desert Fury”‘s Burt Lancaster and Wendell Corey. After weeks of rehearsals on the Modjeska Canyon location, under the direction of Byron Haskin, Miller suddenly became the second leading lady. Lizabeth Scott, ever competitive with all actresses, grabbed the Kay role for herself. Miller later recalled, “(Wallis) planned to star me in “I Walk Alone”. He tested me with Burt; it was a wonderful test. But then Lizabeth Scott decided she wanted the role, and Lizabeth got whatever she wanted-from Hal Wallis! [laughs] So, I got the second part instead.” The 21-year-old Miller was recast as the slumming socialite divorcée, Alexis Richardson. Miller was afraid that playing a “meanie” role might typecast her. In designing Miller’s wardrobe, Edith Head was impressed by Miller’s physique, describing it as “the most exciting figure since Betty Grable.” The resulting film was renamed I Walk Alone (1947). Despite Miller’s fears of being typecast as a femme fatale, film historians tend to typecast her “as always playing the ‘good girl.'”

In early May, 1948, the 23-year-old Miller was loaned out again, this time to 20th Century Fox for “West of Tomorrow”-her first leading lady role. The screenplay was based on William Bowers’ play of the same name. During WWII in New Guinea, a US Army Air Force squadron has been assigned to protect Australia and despite having inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese, they supernaturally had none themselves. Miller played Jean Gillis, a Broadway actress and former anti-war activist, who joined the USO after her husband’s death at Dunkirk. By happenstance, she ends up having to entertain the airmen by herself when she finds out the rest of her troupe is stranded. During an improvised “dinner dance,” she learns about the pilots’ wives and girlfriends and their hopes for the future, but equally learns about herself. Arthur Franz makes his film debut as Miller’s love interest. The next morning, all but the squadron leader and Jean are killed after an attack on the airstrip. Similar to Death Takes a Holiday (1934), the airmen reach the epiphany of their lives in the few hours they spend with Jean. The resulting film was released as Jungle Patrol (1948), the sole film that Miller had 1st-place billing. Despite Miller’s preference for Bowers’ original title, the film is her personal favorite.

After establishing herself as a “discovery” of Hal Wallis, Miller soon found herself left behind. In an interview with Mike Fitzgerald, she was quoted as saying, “Hal called me the ‘Viking Girl.’ He didn’t know what to do with me.” The situation was aggravated by the return of veteran actors from overseas, either in uniform or the USO. Compounded by the economic slump after the war, rise of television and the breakup of the studio system, Miller’s initial difficulties during the war years would be multiplied many fold. Miller’s prospects began to look a little better when she met journalist and film producer Mark Hellinger, who felt sure that she could become a star. But Hellinger died suddenly in 1947, and Miller soon found herself making a living with the usual small roles that she had always been given. Of the nine films she would make under contract to Paramount, three were loan-outs to other studios, two of which were more significant than her Paramount films, with the exception of I Walk Alone. Typical of the Paramount years, in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), she was cast as the wife of the investigating detective but was recast as the mistress of the physician, dropping from 3rd to 13th place in billing.

Later that year, she moved on to a more substantial part, again opposite Lizabeth Scott, in Too Late for Tears (1949). In her third and last loan-out-this time to United Artists-Miller played Kathy Palmer, the sister-in-law of Jane Palmer (Scott), whom she suspects has murdered her brother. As she is romanced by Don DeFore, the pair quietly investigate the shady dealings of Jane.

At the end of 1948, Miller made a brief appearance in the “weepie” Paid in Full (1950). In the last film she would do for Paramount, Miller was to play Nancy Langley, the younger modeling sister of Jane (Lizabeth Scott), a department store illustrator, who allows her younger sister to marry Bill Prentice (Robert Cummings), despite Jane’s love for him. A few years later, Jane has an argument with Nancy, who catches Jane and Bill having an affair. Distraught, Jane backs up her car and accidentally kills her young niece. But as with ‘I Walk Alone’, Miller’s role was given to another actress-Diana Lynn. Miller ended up playing a bridesmaid at Nancy’s wedding, dropping from 3rd to 10th place in billing. In February 1949, it was announced that Miller’s contact with Paramount was dropped due to the post-war slump in the film industry. That December, Miller’s marriage with television executive, William Schuyler, was announced.

Undaunted by career setbacks, Miller tried her hand with smaller studios such as Monogram and Republic Pictures, though she would still work for the occasional big studio. Miller also made further incursions in the then-new medium of television, which she began before her contract with Paramount was dropped. Despite the demands of raising a family, the 1950s would be Miller’s most prolific years, seeing her as a television regular. Throughout the ’50s, she was able to display a broader acting range than when under Paramount and Hal Wallis. Though Miller missed out on being Lizabeth Scott’s younger sister in “Paid in Full”, she played a younger sister in the noirish Shadow on the Wall (1950), which also involved two sisters competing over the same man. The older sister, played by Ann Sothern, discovers that her younger, married sister is having an affair with Sothern’s fiancé, which leads to murderous results and short screen-time for Miller. Though never leaving the noir genre, Miller would begin her reputation for Westerns with Young Daniel Boone (1950), but as the female lead.

Later that year she would return to the Western genre with High Lonesome (1950). John Drew Barrymore is a misunderstood teenager, Cooncat, who creates a rift between Miller’s rancher father and her fiancé, who believes Cooncat murdered his parents.

In the fall of 1951, Miller was cast as an Eastern European in the Cold War thriller, The Steel Fist (1952), opposite Roddy McDowall. Miller played Marlina, a young woman who hides a student protester (McDowall) from the communists. In the spring of 1952, Miller appeared in her second femme fatale role. In “The Iron Banner Story,” an episode of Dangerous Assignment (1952), an espionage series starring Brian Donlevy, she played Lilli Terrescu, a woman with a dark secret in post-war Greece. As with The Steel Fist, Miller used her accent skills in two Dangerous Assignment episodes and later in The Millionaire episode, “The Anton Bohrman Story.” Later in the year, Miller was the second female lead in her first musical, Tropical Heat Wave (1952).

On July 27, 1953, Miller finally married William Schuyler in Santa Barbara. That October, it was announced that the Schuylers were expecting their first baby.

In 1954, Miller appeared as the second leading lady in three films. Flight Nurse (1953), starring Joan Leslie, was a drama about US Air Force flight nurses in the Korean War. Miller is a fellow officer of Leslie, involved in a romantic triangle with two pilots. Geraldine (1953) is a comedy starring Mala Powers. In the noir Western Hell’s Outpost (1954), Miller again costarred with Leslie. “Hell’s Outpost” would introduced Miller to Jim Davis, who would be the male lead for the only television series that Miller had a continuing role in. During that year, Miller made two appearances on the television series The Lone Wolf (1954), starring Louis Hayward. In one episode, Miller played an adulterous wife reminiscent of “The Shadow on the Wall”, but is shot by the cuckolded husband instead. She also made a guest appearance as Mrs. Manning on Republic’s first television series, Stories of the Century (1954), starring Mary Castle and Miller’s old “Hell’s Outpost” costar, Jim Davis.

In 1955, Miller returned to “Stories of the Century” to star in her most famous role-Margaret “Jonesy” Jones. The series concerned a pair of railroad detectives dealing with cases from the 1850s to the first decade of the 20th century, “wrapping them around previously shot films and serials to save money.” Typically, the Jones character would do reconnaissance before Matt Clark (Jim Davis) arrived, misleading everyone into thinking the two were not working together. Originally Miller was to star in the series, but was unable due to her first pregnancy. As a result, Mary Castle, a Rita Hayworth lookalike, took her place for the first 26 episodes. Castle had portrayed Clark’s fellow detective Frankie Adams. After Castle quit or was fired, Miller replaced her, much to the disappointment of the then director, William Witney, who left after directing a few episodes with Miller. Despite the change of leading lady and the replacement of Witney, “Stories of the Century” with Miller went on to be the first Western to win an Emmy Award in 1955. Despite the award and excellent ratings, the series was cancelled.

After the cancellation of Century, Miller changed genres with the first of four appearances on Science Fiction Theatre (1955). In “The Strange Dr. Lorenz” (1955), she played the wife of a physician, whose debilitating condition is cured by a miraculous royal jelly. But the jelly has an unexpected side-effect. In “Operation Flypaper” (1956) she and Vincent Price are scientists trying to catch a thief who can suspend time. During this period, Miller would make three Western films in succession: Thunder Over Arizona (1956), Domino Kid (1957) and The Persuader (1957), a religious Western starring William Talman. Miller would rejoin Jim Davis for the last time in an episode of M Squad (1957)-“The Case of the Double Face” (May 23, 1958), starring Lee Marvin. Miller is married to a mild-mannered, bespectacled Davis, who is accused by the Chicago police of being a jewel thief. Miller’s last film role was in The Heart Is a Rebel (1958), a religious drama starring Ethel Waters.

Miller’s last television appearance was as Ruth Hudson in the 1961 episode “Prince Jim” of NBC’s Tales of Wells Fargo (1957), starring Dale Robertson. Of the genres and cross-genres spanning her film career, Miller participated in making five traditional noirs, one noir-thriller, four Westerns, two noir Westerns, one religious Western, three military dramas, two comedies, one comedy-drama, one soap opera, one religious drama and one musical. Seven of Miller’s roles were walk-ons or deleted from the final film. Her television work involved similar genres. In contradistinction to being only a supporting actress as described by most film historians, she was leading lady in six of 22 films.

Due to demands of family and her husband’s business, Miller retired from acting. The Schuylers left Los Angeles for the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1960s. Previous to the move, her husband was setting up television stations throughout Northern California, such as Sacramento’s KSCH and KTVU in Oakland. Together with William they founded two television stations in Monterey-KMST and the Spanish-language KSMS. The Schuylers eventually settled on the Monterey peninsula in 1969, where William became president of the Schuyler Broadcasting Corporation. The Schuylers later lived in Idaho during the 1990s, where they started two television stations. They returned to Monterey in June 2001. Ever civic-minded since her Hollywood days, Kristine Miller has lectured on her experience in film and television in Monterey as well as participating in local charitable activities.

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