Controversy And Combination Spins: The Audrey Miller Story

Photo courtesy the City Of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1257, Series 1057. Used with permission.

Born February 11, 1918 in Toronto, Ontario, Audrey Elinor Miller was the daughter of Toronto born salesman Herbert Edmund Miller and Wisconsin born Gladys Violet (Adams) Miller. Like so many great Canadian skaters, she spent her winters toiling away on patch sessions at Toronto's prestigious Granite Club.

A late bloomer by today's standards, her first big success came at the age of twenty one when she placed a creditable third in the junior women's event behind Mary Rose Thacker and Norah McCarthy at the 1937 Canadian Championships. The following year, she moved up to second in the junior women's event behind McCarthy in a field of six. 'Skating up' in the senior women's event, she placed sixth, well below winner Eleanor O'Meara. The January 22, 1939 issue of "The Daily Illini" noted she was "famed for her her interpretive free skating." As was the case with many promising skaters at the time, World War II got in the way of her competitive aspirations and the lure of the almighty dollar beckoned at a time when Sonja Henie fever was at its height.

Photo courtesy the City Of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1257, Series 1057. Used with permission.

Audrey turned professional in 1942 and for a time skated in the Ice Follies and in shows in the restaurant at the Hotel New Yorker. She later coached in Modesto, California, the Winter Club of Indianapolis and the Icelandia Skating Club in Toronto before taking a job as the chorus director for film and ice show producer Boris Petroff in Hollywood. While there, she skated in the first major ice show in Long Beach, "Hollywood On Ice". When the Canadian National Exhibition rebooted up again in 1947 after the War, the organizers were eager to capitalize on the Barbara Ann Scott craze with a midway attraction like no other: an ice show. Barbara Ann or Belita she was not, but Audrey certainly had some lovely eight by tens and more than a few industry connections.

Photo courtesy the City Of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1257, Series 1057. Used with permission.

After a stint teaching at the Iceland rink in Berkeley, she put together The Audrey Miller Ice Show - the CNE's first skating production - which opened in 1948 in a twelve thousand seat big top previously used for Terrell Jacobs' Wild Animal Circus. It later moved to a more permanent structure designed by Jack Ray and Joe Drambour, the midway architect for Palisades Park.

The Audrey Miller Ice Show was performed up to ten shows a day on a twenty by twenty four foot ice surface, replete with its own ice-making equipment. The cast was mainly Canadian, and including an eight woman chorus and two to four male performers, mainly cast from the hotel ice show circuit. Audrey skated one of her big solos to "My Moonlight Madonna". It was the unheralded Canadian's first and only major big and sadly, it was a short-lived one.

Photos courtesy the City Of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1257, Series 1057. Used with permission.

Audrey packed it back up and headed back south to California and took a job directing ice revues at the St. Moritz Figure Skating Club with fellow Canadian Hubert Sprott before marrying Darragh Phelan and moving to Florida. If Audrey Miller's Ice Show wasn't obscure and compelling enough for you, wait until you hear about her life afterwards.

Audrey caused a huge raucous in July 1944 when she showed up in a U.S. District Court in St. Louis to apply for American citizenship. She was asked to take the Oath Of Allegiance alongside Private Terry Takeshi Doi, an American born graduate of the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling who had lost his American citizenship when he was required to briefly serve in the Japanese army while attending school overseas.

Audrey refused to take the Oath and stormed out of the courtroom saying, "How can I be sworn in alongside a man who belonged to an army now killing American boys?" It was later revealed that Doi, a Technician Fifth Grade Sergeant, was one of the first soldiers who had set foot on Iwo Jima... and had earned the Silver Star for entering a cave unarmed to urge Japanese soldiers to surrender. Audrey got blasted in the April 19, 1945 issue of "St. Paul Pioneer Press" for her anti-Japanese sentiments and the word of the controversy made it all the way to the American War Department, Military Intelligence Division in Washington. She never publicly apologized.

Photo courtesy the City Of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1257, Series 1057. Used with permission.

By April 1960, Audrey and her husband were arrested in Marion County, Florida for "contributing to dependency of minors". She was back in court in October 1961, suing a man she had been in an automobile collision with and the car's owner for fifty one thousand dollars, claiming she had been "disfigured by a scar and suffered shocks, cuts, bruises and leg and internal injuries".

Audrey went on to become a mother and grandmother and started skating again at the age of sixty three, after two hip replacements and a fractured knee, at the Sunrise Ice Skating Center. She hadn't been in an ice rink in twenty five years. She lived out her days in Lake Worth, Florida, passing away on April 18, 1998 at the age of eighty. Her story serves as a reminder for many skaters, fame is short-lived and life after skating? Not always a fairy tale.

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