Harry M Miller was an entrepreneur of Australian show business. (Supplied: National Library of Australia)
A pioneering promoter who cut his teeth on rock ‘n’ roll before revolutionising musical theatre with Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, Harry M Miller has been celebrated as the impresario who wrote the rule book on Australian live entertainment.
- Harry M Miller’s life to be celebrated at memorial
- The promoter was responsible for bringing major musicals to Australia
- He is remembered as having transformed the live entertainment industry
From the stage at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, Miller’s daughter Lauren, the only one of his children who followed him into the family business and stuck with it, described a father whose business she now runs.
Ahead of the celebration, Ms Miller said she was feeling “nervous and excited”. “It’s a big show,” she said.
Miller toured major artists around Australia, creating a circuit where previously there had not been one.
He developed musical theatre audiences which, previously, had no chance to see shows equal to those playing the West End and Broadway.
Ms Miller spent her childhood years surrounded by celebrities, and her godparents were two of her father’s famous clients, TV star Graham Kennedy and beauty icon Maggie Tabberer.
“It wasn’t an everyday childhood,” Ms Miller said.
Prince Charles and Harry M Miller at Armstrong Recording Studios, Melbourne. The Prince was there to record an interview with Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum to launch Countdown. (ABC archives)
She describes commuting in small private planes between the family’s property in northern NSW and Sydney, switching her schooling between a rural convent school and one in the city, as the family’s needs dictated.
Miller was a vacuum cleaner salesman before he moved to Sydney and cut his teeth in the 1960s by touring bands like The Rolling Stones, which he booked as a support act to star of the era Roy Orbison.
He then branched into musical theatre upon securing the rights to tour the risqué pop musical Hair in 1969. He promised audiences full frontal nudity and it sold out.
With Miller ‘everything was possible’
Marcia Hines owes her life in Australia to Miller after he recruited her as a 16-year-old from the United States to perform one of the lead roles in his musical Hair.
Miller acted as her legal guardian, keeping an eye on both her and her daughter Demi, who was born just months after she arrived.
Miller had three wives and two significant partners — model Deborah Hutton and catering entrepreneur Simmone Logue — who remained by his side until his death on July 4, eight years after he was diagnosed with dementia.
Bert Newton, Graham Kennedy and Harry M Miller are photographed for a spread in TV Week magazine. (Supplied: Tony Sattler)
Miller’s long-time friend and entertainment promoter Andrew Kay said he was a force of nature.
“Everyone who worked for Harry was completely seduced by him,” he said.
“He made eye contact, he made you feel special, he gave you his time.
“A lot of people’s lives were changed by him, he was the shining light of how to market [shows], what to do. Everything with Harry was possible.”
Miller continued the theatrical success which began with Hair, launching Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show. All three were directed by Jim Sharman.
The Rocky Horror production in Sydney pre-dated Sharman’s hit movie version, which has become a cult classic.
The cast of Jesus Christ Superstar rehearse in 1972. (Supplied: National Library of Australia)
Jesus Christ Superstar launched the career of the then unknown rock singer Jon English when it premiered at the Capitol Theatre.
Ms Miller cites the 1992 arena concert tour of Jesus Christ with Kate Ceberano as Miller’s greatest success.
“They thought they’d do six shows and they did almost 90,” she said
‘Nobody’s above the law’
Ms Miller dropped out of university and took on reception duties in her father’s business, eventually working her way into a place where she was willing to take it over from him.
Harry M Miller, Simmone Logue and his daughter Lauren Miller on her wedding day. (Supplied: Lauren Miller)
“I did quit a few times,” Ms Miller said.
She also interviewed for jobs in other companies, but found they lacked the excitement and dynamism of the family firm.
“Would he tell me how excited he was when I was becoming CEO? No. Would he tell everyone else? Yes,” Ms Miller said.
Miller was neither the first, nor the last promoter to envy the rivers of gold that flowed from ticketing companies and so in the late 1970s he became an early pioneer of computerised ticketing and founded the company Computicket.
The business was under-capitalised, went into receivership within six months and eventually Miller was convicted of fraudulent misappropriation.
He served 10 months in a New South Wales prison.
Former High Court judge Michael Kirby represented the promoter in the legal tussles and remained his friend throughout the ordeal, which he said Miller found “extremely humiliating”.
“Nobody’s above the law and he knew how the system worked,” he said.
Chairman of peak producers’ body Live Performance Australia, Andrew Kay, worked with Miller throughout his career and is effusive in his respect for the mentor he described as “just an amazing person to be with”.
But, Mr Kay said: “He wasn’t great with details.”
He recalled a production meeting in the 1990s during which a mobile phone rang.
Miller froze proceedings, left the room and came back with an empty wastepaper bin into which he collected phones from the 16 people around the table.
He gave his receptionist the task of answering the bank of devices and taking messages, thus enabling the meeting to proceed uninterrupted.
Miller represented Lindy Chamberlain, Stuart Diver
Miller took on the representation of Lindy Chamberlain following her wrongful murder conviction. She attended the celebration at Capitol Theatre on Friday.
A review of the musical Hair said Sydney was “shocked and delighted” by the arrival of the production.
(Supplied: ABC Archives.)
He also flew to Stuart Diver’s aid after he was the sole survivor of the 1997 Thredbo landslide that took the lives of 18 others.
Among Miller’s other accomplishments was a stint as chairman of the Art Gallery of NSW Society, consultancies with the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, the Australian Opera, the Australian Ballet and Melbourne Theatre Company.
In 1977, he was appointed chairman of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Commemorative Organisation and Mr Kirby recalls attending a dinner Miller hosted in honour of Prince Charles where the main course consisted of beef, whipped cream and strawberries.
Mr Kirby said it was a culinary combination he had not encountered before, or since, which bemused guests none-the-less assumed was the height of sophistication.
“He was a very unusual man [whose] greatest contribution was smashing the puritanical attitudes and laws of the 1960s,” he said.
“After hitting them with a hammer he jumped up and down on the pieces to make sure they can never be restored.”
Mr Kirby said it was for that reason that Miller’s greatest triumph was Hair.
“Hair was a game-changer because Australia was extremely puritanical,” he said.
There were calls for the shows to be closed and for Miller to be prosecuted for obscenity.
“It looked very grave for Harry but then Princess Anne joined a performance on stage in London,” Mr Kirby said.
Mr Kirby said that royal seal of approval calmed the Australian puritans.
Harry Maurice Miller died on July 4, 2018, at the age of 84. He is survived by Ms Logue and five children.
Harry M Miller (pictured right) appears on A Current Affair to receive four gold records for the cast album of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1976. (ABC archives)