Gerald R. Miller: A Personal Remembrance

Article excerpt

In the summer of 1956, I enrolled in my first graduate courses in the Speech Department of the University of Iowa. This department included rhetoric, public address, theatre, and broadcasting, and was under the direction of H. Clay Harshbarger, an impressive fellow who specialized in broadcasting. Dr. Harshbarger had recently succeeded the legendary E. C. Mabie, who had emphasized professional theatre to the perceived detriment of the other areas then called "Speech," and who had a reputation as a real tyrant.(1) The broadcasters and the rhetoricians in the Speech department were full of optimism about the new Harshbarger regime and were hoping for equity at last. Even though I had been a drama major I felt a move to Speech was indicated for me, in that I had no future as a professional actor, and the night work in educational theatre was daunting. So I took a course in "Directing the Forensics Program" taught by Carl Dallinger, together with an introductory course in directing for television, taught by Harshbarger himself.

Both courses were less than challenging, in that I had already a good deal of experience in high school forensics activities and had worked in television since the first stations opened in Sioux City. To put it mildly, I was bored. I could tell that my boredom was shared by only one fellow student, another iconoclast named Gerald Miller. Miller and I had similar backgrounds: we had both grown up in straitened circumstances in depressed river towns, we had both served in the army in Korea (he in a supply depot and me in a POW camp), and we both had families. What really set us apart in the directing forensics course was our shared attitudes about high school forensics. Gerald and I had both come to the conclusion that the system only rewarded winners, and our personal philosophy was that one should win at all costs, since the system gives you little support for developing character. We made the profound mistake of admitting this in class discussions, and together with our inbred skepticism for the student-centered pedagogy so popular at the time ensured that he and I soon became outlaws. We constantly disagreed with the instructor and just about everyone else, and class sessions often became acrimonious sessions in which Gerald and I took on the establishment.

We took to hanging out between classes at the local pool hall and played the odd game of "eight-ball" or "rotation" instead of discussing serious issues such as the relative contributions of original oratory or extemporaneous speaking. We discovered that we had both been forced to attend Iowa because of our low undergraduate grade point average (they had to take us since we were Iowa residents). We had both applied to Northwestern's prestigious School of Speech and had been unceremoniously rejected.

One day we had started a game of rotation without regard for the time and discovered that we had only ten minutes to get to class. Miller calmly ran the table (for those of you not familiar with pool, this means making every ball in succession--fifteen straight perfect shots). I was amazed. He had never exhibited such skill in previous games between classes, and I discovered that he had been playing at my level so that we could enjoy ourselves. In actuality, he had been the Big Ten billiard champion the year before he was drafted.

Pool was not the only place he excelled. He was an outstanding softball pitcher--next to impossible to catch, in that his fastball always rose and if you weren't careful, would hit you in the chest or other sensitive places. No one I knew could hit his pitching. His really impressive skill was with cards, specifically poker. He had brought home enough money from Korea to finance a year of school!

The only thing I could beat him in was chess, and naturally we didn't play that very often!

The summer ended and I got an "A" by some miracle, and Miller got a "B." It was the only time I got a better grade than he did. …