Friday, October 15, 2010
Happy birthday, Jan Miner!
One of the most accomplished of stage, radio, film and television actresses was born ninety-three years ago on this date in my mother’s old stomping grounds of Boston, MA. Jan Miner, the daughter of a dentist and painter, harbored theatrical ambitions at an early age and fulfilled them by studying at the Vesper George School of Art before graduating and becoming a student of Lee Strasberg’s; she would later make her stage debut in a Boston production of Street Scene in 1945.
Jan established herself as one of radio’s busiest actresses by appearing regularly on such shows as The Mysterious Traveler and Dimension X…and though it probably wasn’t the case, she was almost a weekly presence on NBC’s anthology series Radio City Playhouse. OTR fans will easily recognize her tones as Boston Blackie’s girlfriend Mary Wesley (in the 1945-50 syndicated version) in the titular series about the famous sleuth and reporter Ann Williams on Casey, Crime Photographer. (When Casey had a brief flirtation with television, Miner reprised her role for that version along with John “Ethelbert” Gibson.) She also played at one time the part of secretary Della Street on Perry Mason—back when the show was a five-day-a-week soap opera and not the more familiar Saturday night institution that premiered on CBS-TV in the fall of 1957.
And speaking of soaps—Miner did quite a few of those on the radio, too; she was on Lora Lawton and The Second Mrs. Burton…and also Hilltop House, an audio sudser that was heard from 1937-41 before being revived in May 1948 for an additional nine-year-run. The show was sponsored by Miles Laboratories, but the earlier version had Palmolive paying the bills…which brings me to Miner’s best-known role.
“You’re soaking in it!” That’s what Madge the Manicurist, the operator at the Salon East Beauty Parlor used to tell her customers who’d plunk their digits in a bowl of liquid at her station…without bothering to inquire as to whether or not the solution might be caustic. Not to worry—“it softens hands while you do the dishes,” went the famous slogan in an iconic ad campaign for Palmolive that ran from 1966 to 1992. It put Miner’s face in front of the public, despite her prominent stage accomplishments and appearances in films like The Swimmer (1968), Lenny (1974) and Mermaids (1990)—to name just a few. Though the world came to know and love her as a wage-slave who shilled for a dishwashing liquid, I like to remember the birthday lady as one of the colorful members of the fourth estate who spent their off-hours sucking them down at the Blue Note Café…during those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.