Remembering A Forgotten Side Of The Marvelous Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller with a parrot from his recording of Pinocchio

Marvin Miller with a parrot from his Audio Book recording of Pinocchio

Cover of Audio Book of Pinocchio

Cover of Audio Book of Pinocchio

Marvin Miller, who was born Marvin Mueller, was well-known for his radio, film, and TV appearances as a man with a strong baritone.  However, his work with the Audio Book Company of St. Joseph, Michigan has been virtually forgotten.  Yet he provided hours and hours of pleasure to youngsters like myself, reading classics to eager children.  In essence, the Audio Book Company built on an idea from the 1940s:  To have established actors act out adaptations from children’s classics.  In the 1940s, a whole series of 78 albums were produced for children that featured actors such as Herbert Marshall, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Coleman, Margaret O’Brien, Ginger Rodgers, Thomas Mitchell and many others.  The albums were quite successful and spurred the talking audio books that began in 1954.  The audio books were played at 16 2/3 rpm and required an adapter if your record player had no 16 speed.  Like the albums from the 1940s, the Audio Book Company employed famous character actors including Jeff Chandler, Gene Lockhart, Hans Conried,  Dan O’Herlihy, and, of course, the incomparable Marvin Miller.  These albums were the first to include complete renderings of such classics as A Christmas CarolTreasure Island, The Wizard of OzAlice in WonderlandThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Adventures of Pinocchio.  Because of his well-known ability to provide numerous voices for characters, Marvin Miller was the first actor hired for the readings and was entrusted with several titles.  The audio excerpt below features Marvin doing several voices for Chapter XVI of Pinocchio.  Please lean back and take the time to hear Marvin’s superb artistry.

A Note about Pinocchio:  Originally, Pinocchio was intended to be a moral tale;  showing what happened when a block of wood(a “blockhead”) failed to obey his father and his conscience after several trials.  To whit:  Pinocchio was taken in by two street villains, the Fox and the Cat and was hanged by them when he refused to give them his money.  That was to be the end of the story.

The author, Carlo Lorenzini(Carlo Collodi) saw his adventure as belonging to the moral, educational trend that was prevalent in 19th century Italy.  The novel was full of the sadistic, didactic episodes that were not only common in Italy, but in other European countries as well.  But a strange thing happened:  Children began to write letters, begging the author to continue the story of this young scapegrace and Carlo Collodi complied.

The ending, which the author intended to be an inspiration to naughty children, was weak.  The illustrator’s drawing of a young boy was anti-climactic.  It was the puppet’s unwieldy, independent, self-serving character that children identified with.  In many ways, Pinocchio was more of a real boy as a puppet than the figure at the end of the book and that was the author’s problem.  For Pinocchio was as individual as Peter Pan and became a favorite among children throughout the world.

The chapter below was the first chapter that Carlo Collodi wrote when he brought Pinocchio back to life to enjoy new adventures. Chapter XVI from Pinocchio as read by Marvin Miller    

Some Alice Collectibles

Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated by Alice in Wonderland.  After reading it several times, I purchased a 16 album, which was popular at that time.  In fact, record players used to include 16 as a possible speed.  If you didn’t own such a record player, you could buy an adapter, which would cut the 33 1/3 speed in half and also provide a soft space for you to put your 16 on.  Talking Books or Audio Books were produced by the Audio Book Company in St. Joseph, Michigan.  Their popularity spread and many stores carried them.  The idea was to select movie personalities or famous readers such as Marvin Miller to read complete works of literature.  Movie actors had read parts of literary classics on 78 albums in the 1940s with varying degrees of success, but the Audio Book Company wanted complete versions if feasible.  Alice in Wonderland was a Talking Book, which featured the multi-voiced talent, Marvin Miller, who did all the voices except Alice, which was done by Jane Webb.  I remember listening to it many times and following the Alice text as I listened.  In time, I collected different editions of Alice, including foreign editions and I picked up plates, figurines, cups, recordings.  I told my friends about my interest in Alice and they responded by bringing back some splendid items for my collection.  Here are a few items from my Alice collection.  I plan to do separate posts on illustrators of Alice and her changing identity, because Alice in Wonderland is much more than a children’s book; it is an intimate look at a child’s psyche and the twisted adult figures that are reflections of that mind.

The Alice nesting doll

The Alice nesting doll

A Walrus and the Carpenter mug

A Walrus and the Carpenter mug

A Mad Hatter and the Dormouse mug

A Mad Hatter and the Dormouse mug

A White Rabbit cup
A White Rabbit cup

Alice and friends behind glass
Alice and friends behind glass

Alice and the Caterpillar plate

Alice and the Caterpillar plate

The Trial plate

The Trial plate

Bambi Linn as Alice in Eva Le Gallienne's production of Alice in Wonderland on 6 78s.

Bambi Linn as Alice in Eva Le Gallienne’s production of Alice in Wonderland on 6 78s.

Ginger Rogers in Alice in Wonderland on 3 78s.
Ginger Rogers in Alice in Wonderland on 3 78s.

Jane Asher as Alice

Jane Asher as Alice

Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland

Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland

David Del Tredici's Final Alice with Barbara Hendricks

David Del Tredici’s Final Alice with Barbara Hendricks

David Del Tredici's In Memory of a Summer Day

David Del Tredici’s In Memory of a Summer Day