For his first four decades, Tarzan was a brunette. Johnny Weissmuller, Lex Barker, Buster Crabbe… the actors playing the Ape Man all had something in common, a broad chest and dark locks.
Until 1959. That year, the tall, blond Denny Miller, a former UCLA basketball player and furniture mover, donned the loincloth and swung into action in Tarzan, The Ape Man, a cheapie remake that even recycled old footage.
From then on, a blond Tarzan was no big deal. Heck, in the most recent Hollywood reboot, he was portrayed by a Swedish man, Alexander Skarsgård.
As for Miller, he quickly transitioned to television at the start of the 1960s. Due to his physical stature, the Indiana-born Adonis continually played characters with names like Duke, Moose, Tank, the Rockhead, Butcher Dan, Zoltar. He took roles playing a surfer, a football player, a jealous husband, a Marine, a gunslinger, a hermit and so on.
Later in life, Miller became a familiar product mascot found in the frozen food aisle.
Miller passed away in 2014. He will live on in dozens of television shows. Here are some of our favorite roles.
Tarzan, The Ape Man
We should start with Tarzan, a rather auspicious first film credit for an actor. This iteration of Edgar Rice Burrough's character shamelessly lifted from older films. The movie even reused old shots of Johnny Weismuller's vine swinging. More footage and plot elements were taken from King Solomon's Mines (1950). And people think Hollywood today has no new ideas. All that being said, Miller is the perfect specimen to play Tarzan. And his image might be the first that comes to mind when some think of Tarzan.
Have Gun – Will Travel
One of his first TV roles came in a 1960 episode of this Western. Miller played Svenska (literally "Swedish" in Swedish), a young fellow sharing a cell with our hero, Paladin.
The following year, Miller landed a regular role on Wagon Train, for which he is most known. Curiously, he was billed as Scott Miller (his given name is Dennis Linn Miller) when he joined the cast for seasons five through seven.
Miller washed up on the shores of Gilligan's Island twice, in both black-and-white and color. First, in "Big Man on a Little Stick," he played surfer Duke Williams, a man more concerned with flirting with Ginger and Mary Ann than any rescue operation. Two seasons later, he appeared as another unforgettable hunk, one that spoofed his most famous role to that point. He was the Tarzan spoof Tongo the Ape Man in "Our Vines Have Tender Apes."
Shifting back to the big screen for a moment, we wanted to draw attention to Miller's memorable moments in The Party, the 1969 overlooked Peter Sellers–Blake Edwards comedy. Miller seems to stand a full foot over Sellers, which is fitting as he plays a rambunctious cowboy star named "Wyoming Bill" Kelso.
The Brady Bunch
In 1973, Carol Brady saw her old high-school flame, Tank Gates, drift back into her life in "Quarterback Sneak." The former football star makes poor Mike feel inferior. Who better to play the happy-go-lucky jock than Miller? As the past few selections have shown, he possessed wonderful comic timing and slapstick skills.
The joyfully kooky "The Pied Piper" gave us Martin Mull as a flute-playing rocker named Hamlin Rule, not to mention Eve "Jan Brady" Plumb, in 1977. Also in the mix was Miller as a thug who gets in a tussle with Wonder Woman inside a recording studio. He throws her through a wall before she flips him into a drum set.
Miller turned up three times on Angels, the first coming in 1977, when he played a knife-tossed bad guy named Helmut in "Circus of Terror."
Remember that beard. It would become a key feature in future Miller roles. Here, in "Gun on Ice Planet Zero," a 1978 two-parter that in some ways mirrored The Dirty Dozen, Miller played a burly team member alongside Bond bombshell Britt Ekland.
The Incredible Hulk
In 1981, Miller fell into the tender arms of the green behemoth in "The Harder They Fall." He played a paraplegic who connects with David Banner in this series highlight. The bromance was real.
In "Tell It to the Marines," Hawkeye tried to help a young immigrant Marine get home to see his mother, who is being deported. In the process, he ruffled the feathers of the kid's C.O., who dispatched a burly M.P. (Miller, naturally) to fetch Hawkeye.
As the guest-starring roles began to die down, Miller found work between the scenes — in the commercial breaks. For years, he donned the yellow slicker to portray the Gorton's Fisherman. The illustrated mascot on those boxes of fish sticks even looked like him, thanks to his bushy white beard.
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Miller's final television role came in the two-part "Dead or Alive" in 1996. Sadly, his mountain man character, Noah McBride, appears mostly in shadow, but who better to play a surly hermit?