My thanks to Walter, one of our loyal readers, for transcribing this article. Cheryl is a fascinating woman.
Strange men don’t scare me
Somewhere out there is a two-legged animal just for Cheryl Miller, but for now the star of Daktari prefers the four-legged variety!
By Paul Denis, Motion Picture magazine, November, 1966
Fearless Cheryl Miller is cozy with lions, hyenas, chimps, elephants, tigers and gorillas on her Daktari TV series-and with iguanas, tarantulas, snakes and black widow spiders in her home backyard.
But she’s not afraid of two-legged males, either, even strangers. In fact, blonde Cheryl is one of the few Hollywood actresses who is not afraid of blind dates.
On the contrary, she claims, she has always enjoyed blind dates. “I’ve always had a lot of fun.” she says. “Blind dates are always worth it in one way or another; sometimes they’re even better than the conventional-type dates. Everybody can be interesting, and I learn so much from a blind date – even when I don’t particularly like the boy.”
Most actresses fear – and avoid – blind-dating either because they often get stuck with bores or because the dates end up in wrestling matches in the car or at their front door. But Cheryl insists, “It’s always the girl who sets the pace. A boy won’t try to get fresh unless the girl encourages him. I believe a boy behaves like a gentleman when the girl behaves like a lady. I go into each blind date looking for the best in people.”
Looking for the best in people stems perhaps from her church training. She’s a member of the Bel-Air Presbyterian Church where’s she’s program director and social chairman, as well as vice-president of the college division.
Another reason she believes blind dates are more exciting than conventional dates is because “a blind date is a challenge – I rarely know what to expect. This gives the date an extra dimension of excitement. And, of course, I’m not afraid – I can take care of myself!” (A bouncy 5 feet 8 inches, she once placed first in her school’s physical fitness competition.)
“Some of the blind dates, I’ve had,” she admits, “were not the handsomest men in the world – but the handsomest men are not necessarily the most interesting. You can learn a lot from every date. For instance, you cannot be with a very sophisticated man without learning something you wouldn’t have known otherwise. Recently I went out with an agent who really knew his way around. I felt like I was out with royalty: he knew what’s expected from the waiter and the headwaiter and how to order.”
Cheryl’s gone out with younger men, too. “I’ve gone with men four months younger than I, and found them very worthwhile.” But one thing she won’t do is go out with a married man. “I’ve never blind-dated a married man and never intend to.” Her blind dates, she goes on to explain are arranged by friends, who every so often will tell her, “1 know a fellow who’s just right for you.”
Cheryl’s mother, a travel agent, always knows about Cheryl’s blind-dating. “Mother approves,” says Cheryl. “But my parents didn’t meet through a blind date, and neither did my brother Gary, who met his wife when they were both students at Occidental College.” In actual fact, Cheryl’s blind dates are so successful that “I usually go out with them a second and a third time.” And her attitudes on the subject don’t mean that she’s a non-conformist. “It’s just that I’m so busy working on Daktari – blind dating is my only way to meet new men.” There are some bachelors working on Daktari, including her leading man, Yale Summers. “Yale looks 21 but he’s 32 – and he has a girlfriend,” Cheryl elaborates.
Daktari, now in its second season on CBS-TV, is filmed in the Mojave Desert, 79 miles from Cheryl’s home in Sherman Oaks, California. Fortunately, the cast and the crew are “very nice, and when you’re stuck in the desert l2 hours a day, it’s lucky to have nice people to work with. Hari Rhodes from our show is teaching me karate. I’m learning it simply because I think it’s a good thing to know, and I’m athletic anyway.
No,” she laughed.” l don‘t intend to use it on my blind dates. So far, I’ve never had to resort to muscle to ward off a blind date. But I have been on blind dates when the car had a flat, and l was the only one who could fix the tire!”
Never married, she does claim she was “informally engaged once. Even though it’s fun being single,” she says wistfully, “I sort of wish the searching and hunting were over with.” Her ideal man as she describes him would be “hard working, able to enjoy light fun, someone who likes himself and is at peace with himself, who can adjust to any situation. I’m a mature person for my age, and I don’t think l could stand an immature man.”
But she insists she’s not depressed about being single. “I know what l want, l know what is going to be right for me. I know a lot of charming men, but l also know that I do not want to marry them.” She is not avoiding marriage, she says, because her own parents divorced some years ago. “And” she claims, “the stuff I know about divorce in Hollywood doesn’t bother me, either.”
Cheryl adds that what make things simpler for her is that her mother doesn’t push her towards marriage. “I have had too many girlfriends whose mothers pushed them into marriage – and it’s no good! And all those fathers who hold back their sons from marrying – that’s not good, either! ” She recalls a certain father who kept telling his son for five years that there was only one girl for him – Cheryl. “Now, this son and I are good friends, and once we decided to teach his father a lesson, once and for all – in the form of a joke. His parents were in Hawaii, and we phoned them there to tell them that we had just eloped.
“When they returned, we met them at the airport wearing wedding rings; we even brought along relatives who kept throwing rice at us. When that rice began to hit us, we both got scared and began to pale a little, thinking maybe this isn’t such a good joke after all. His father couldn’t make up his mind whether we were playing a joke or not. Suddenly seeing his son married was too shocking even to contemplate. So when we finally told him the truth, he was too relieved to be angry. My relations with this boy were strictly platonic, never romantic,” Cheryl added.
Cheryl is not a typical young actress. She’s of the newer breed: educated, active in church, and with cultural interests that go way beyond show business. A grandniece of composer Franz Schubert, she has a degree in music from U.C.L.A. and has studied at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. She’s a singer (MGM Records), plays the piano and classical guitar, and sings in the church choir. “In fact,” she says, “I can fill out any choral group. My voice has a three and a half octave range. If you need a tenor, just send for me!”
She was working with her church’s African Mission, and was offered a chance to go to Bogota, Colombia, to train missionaries in music and sight-reading, communicating with these young people through the international language of music. It was just about that time that Walt Disney decided he wanted her for his movie, “Clarence, The Cross-Eyed Lion.” She decided to do it.
She has never planned to stay in acting all her life. “I acted in order to get money for my education,” she explains. She is enjoying her first TV series, Daktari, in which she plays the daughter of a doctor working in an animal study center in Africa. “Still,” she says, “I’m trying to be open enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong,” is how she tries to sum it up. “I got my ideas from my family mostly, after all, they’ve lived more years than I have. But I always try to weigh all opinions for myself and decide what’s good for me. “
One of the things she’s gotten from her family is her eagerness to learn. Education was always stressed in her home. “My family is fanatic about learning,” she explained, as she sat in her family’s modestly-furnished frame house just off a highway in the San
Fernando Valley. “Father was an architect during the years when you did not have to have a college education to work at it. My brother Gary graduated from Occidental College, then became a dentist. Mother went to Notre Dame College for women. She taught English before she married, but for 20 years she didn’t work at all. Then, five years after the divorce, she became a travel agent.
“She’s a wonderful woman and I admire her. I remember when I was in school – some mothers were so involved in school and civic affairs they were never home when the kids came home. But my mother was always home. And she introduced me to so much. When I started school, mother had taught me so well that they couldn’t put me in first grade – they had to skip me. And she’s so understanding! When we were growing up she interfered as little as possible in our affairs. She just let us work out our problems for ourselves.
“I guess my brother and I have my mother to thank for our curiosity about so many different subjects.” As proof of this, Cheryl’s lively conversation can touch on Hawaiian real estate (she owns some), and go on to auto-racing, religion, church music, calculus, gentling race horses, art, marital problems, period furniture, investments – and mating iguanas. Mating iguanas? Yes indeed. She bought two iguanas and offered one to her brother. But her brother’s wife adamantly refused to house the iguana, so Cheryl took both home, putting them in cages in the garage. In time, the iguanas accomplished the supposedly impossible feat of mating in captivity. (They average 80 offspring in one litter.) That’s when Cheryl took them out into the desert and let them go free.
“I’ve had thousands of pets but I kept them mostly in our garage, because mother doesn’t like animals. My brother (who’s five years older) and I used to catch lots of wild animals, snakes and insects. He told me once not to be afraid of spiders, so I started to collect them. When I showed them to my mother and she recognized them as black widows, she plain fainted, and had nightmares for a long time after. But they never bit me, so I was never afraid.
“I had three tarantulas,” she continued from her vast store of animal love, “and their bite can poison you. But – they never hurt me. I used to let them walk on my hands but photographers kept coming around for pictures of this trick. So I took the tarantulas 90 miles out into the desert and freed them. 1 just can’t bear to hurt an animal.”
Today, the only animals she owns are a Saluki dog named Lilly and a Siamese cat named Worthless. “Worthless had a twin sister, Useless, who died three years ago,” she recounts somewhat sadly.
It was because she handled animals so well on “Clarence, The Cross-Eyed Lion” that producer Ivan Tors hired her for Daktari. On Daktari she has to be quick, for even “trained animals” can attack. “Each animal has a warning signal,” Cheryl explains. “It may be a movement or it may be a sound, but you must learn to spot the signs – know when an animal is hungry or restless or tired. I always try to treat animals with consideration.”
A strong and athletic girl, Cheryl used to run with her dog three miles before breakfast every morning. Now she doesn’t have the time for that. Besides, lifting a 50-lb. chimp, holding on to a 500-lb. lion and moving among wild animals, which she does for her series, is exercise enough.
She gets more than just exercise on the show. Sometimes she has to run for her life. “Once we were working a lion on a street set, when it suddenly charged.” she recalls. “I ran one way, the trainers ran another, and the crew just scattered in all directions. I spotted an inlet in a wall and dashed in, only to find myself flush up against the back of a frightened cameraman, who was making like he was part of the building. The lion charged toward the nearest highway. Maybe he was heading for Disneyland. But they finally caught him.
“Once l was scratched by a hyena,” she continues, not yet through with her animal adventures. “I’ve been thrown of an elephant’s back while wading in a lake. I’ve been knocked down by ostriches. Once a tiger cub got away from me, and 1 chased it as it ran down toward our stream. I was suddenly knocked down flat by the trainer, who saw the cub but didn’t see me as he jumped from the rise above me. He landed on the side of my leg, rolled off, and jumped into the lake to rescue the cub.”
Despite all this, she still prefers to work with larger animals. “I hate little ones – they’re too sneaky. I’d rather work with a 12-foot python than a little garter snake! At the desert compound where Daktari is filmed, we have yellow jackets and hornets and I was stung a dozen times, but that didn’t bother me. It’s the mosquitoes that bother me. When they bite me, I swell up and get fever!” When she went to Florida to do a few segments of Flipper – that was before Daktari – she got 115 mosquito bites on her leg the very first day. “And I really got sick! They had to spray me, skin and clothes, for l5 minutes at a time, starting at 7:30 A.M.”
Incidentally, when she was working on Flipper she was instructed not to tell her age because her role called for her to be sweet on 16-year old Luke Halpin. But somebody snitched and said she was 22. “Viewers sent in nasty letters that Luke was being ensnared by an older woman!”
Cheryl was a Miss Golden Globe for 1966, she was Walt Disney’s Deb Star for 1965 and does her promotion tours dutifully. But she is not a typical aggressive starlet. She’s a home girl. “We’re family,” she affirms, “and we believe in being together. We do things together. We believe no one else is going to love us as much we love each other.”
She got into show business early in life, really early. When a mere 19 days old she played the baby in Casanova Brown, starring Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright. She and her brother subsequently did hundreds of child roles; but their parents never placed a great deal of emphasis on their careers. As a matter of fact, Cheryl worried more about sports than movie work. She holds the San Fernando Valley record of 6.5 for the
50-yard dash; she surfs with a 10-foot board; She skin-dives and plays a fine game of tennis. In order to work on Flipper without a double, she dove 80 feet into the Paciﬁc Ocean to renew her international diving license.
Yet she is utterly feminine. She’s a gourmet cook; she measures 37-22-35, keeps her weight down to about 114, owns 50 pairs of shoes, about as many dresses and a dozen hats, and has hypnotic eyes – one hazel and one green.
She’s ambitious only in the sense of wanting to be a complete person. “I’m growing up and I’m reaching for answers. I look forward to marriage and children and to an exciting life. But right now I’m too agile-minded to concentrate on one field. I’d like to be able to do everything well. Until you’ve tried every ice-cream flavor, how do you know which is best?” she concludes.
Her hazel-green eyes sparkling, she adds, “Besides, think of all the blind dates still to come!” –PAUL DENIS
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