Jason Miller: Playwright, Actor and Director
In total, Miller was in 29 movies. None could top The Exorcist, but an outstanding television movie in which he starred with Tuesday Weld was F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood. Miller’s performance went deep into the soul and psyche of the troubled Fitzgerald.
There was no hiding from Miller the sweat and blood and bad times of those who lived tortured lives searching for the right words. He often drank heavily himself, and at times, after his return to Scranton, you would see him walking alone, hunched, staggering, wearing his favorite coat, a dark olive U.S. Army combat jacket.
I think one of his big disappointments in life was the film version of That Championship Season. As director, Miller had assembled a first-rate cast to film in Scranton. William Holden was set to play the lead role of the coach, and liked the screenplay so much that he believed it would resurrect his career.
But Holden died, and Robert Mitchum was given the part. Not everyone agreed that Mitchum was the best choice because of his laid-back manner. Miller told me about this one day after some critics had panned the movie.
In the mid-1980s, Miller decided to leave Hollywood and return home to Scranton. He took up permanent residence in an apartment on the corner of Spruce Street and Washington Avenue in the heart of downtown where he had a sweeping view of the city and the Lackawanna County Courthouse, across the street.
Miller wanted to revive the arts in Scranton, and with his friend Bob Shlesinger diligently co-founded the Scranton Public Theatre. It didn’t take him long to get things going. He was asked to appear at every event from A to Z, and he generously accepted. It became noticeable that many people in Scranton would say, “Oh, I was out with Jason Miller last night.”
Downtown one day, I ran into William “Bill” McAndrew, Miller’s longtime friend and publicist, and he told me to be on the lookout for a letter from Miller inviting me to a party at his apartment. Sure enough, I received a note saying, “And please don’t bring the ghosts,” a reference to my book and movie, The Haunted.
It was a nice time at the gathering, and as I was leaving, Miller came over to me, hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and said, “I love ya, pal.”
We joked about what would happen to our legs if we tried to play basketball again.
Miller was quiet, polite and somewhat shy, but at times he’d open up to have some fun. One day, Richard Harris arrived in Scranton where he had agreed to teach university drama students, and put on a play. I was on the city courthouse steps with Miller when Harris arrived.
The Masonic Temple, with a huge theater inside, was a short walk up the street, and Harris wanted to see it and get the lay of the stage. Miller and I had been inside scores of times and decided to wait outside.
Suddenly, Miller walked up the steps to the temple, and out of nowhere, began reciting from a play, I believe it was something from Shakespeare.
He continued this tour de force while I clapped and chanted “bravo,” and people walking up and down the street may have thought we were two lunatics.
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