born March 1885, Pasadena, Calif.
died April 1957, Los Angeles (age 72)
Possibly the most prolific Iverson cinematographer, Ernest Miller showed a love for the movie ranch’s dramatic rocks during a career that included productive stints at Mascot, Republic, PRC, Western Adventure and eventually Monogram and some of its smaller production house partners. During the short lifespan of Western Adventure from 1948-1952 he shot 11 of the company’s 12 movies — all of them at Iverson. At the same time he kept up a busy work schedule at Lippert Pictures, Monogram, Republic and others.
He hailed from Pasadena in the Los Angeles area, and got an early start in the movie business and at Iverson. He was in his mid-40s by the end of the silent film era and had already amassed a lengthy resume as a DP. He hit the ground running in the 1930s, working steadily at Mascot Pictures during the first half of the decade before joining Republic in 1935 as part of the newly formed company’s acquisition of Mascot. He would remain at Republic for the next ten years before jumping to PRC soon after World War II.
Early examples of Miller’s Iverson work include the Mascot serials Fighting With Kit Carson (1933), The Law of the Wild (1934, starring Rin Tin Tin) and Gene Autry’s breakthrough production The Phantom Empire (1935). While at Mascot, where dual DP credits were the norm, he shared cinematography duties on a long list of projects with either Jack Marta or William Nobles, both of whom would make the migration to Republic along with Miller and would continue to shoot at Iverson. During his first year at Republic, he was often again paired with Marta. Presumably one of the two DPs handled the studio work while the other was sent on location — but which one did which? We would love to unlock that little secret, but our suspicion is that Miller, who was the veteran DP, got the more desirable studio assignments, while Marta — Miller's understudy, in a sense — had to suffer the hardships of Iverson.
Miller was not yet a B-Western specialist when he arrived at Republic, although he did work on projects starring Gene Autry a few times early on. It was Mascot stablemate William Nobles, who had been shooting B-Westerns steadily since the silent era, who immediately established himself as the new company’s go-to B-Western shooter, landing the bulk of the prestigious shoots with Autry and John Wayne in those first few years at Republic. Miller typically handled more indoor-oriented fare at that point, and only later established himself as a powerhouse in B-Westerns, in outdoor adventure shoots ... and at Iverson.
Bill Rock, partially visible at top left in this shot from the 1937 Three Mesquiteers movie "Come On, Cowboys," is a relatively common feature in productions shot at Iverson. Far less common is the rock at center-right, which looks like a grumpy candelabra that might be at home in Beauty and the Beast.
He had a breakthrough in 1937, shooting an Iverson rock spectacle in Come On, Cowboys, a Three Mesquiteers feature. That production was followed by a period in which his B-Western workload at Republic steadily increased, and by the early 1940s he was working regularly with most of the company’s cowboy stars, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Sunset Carson (Bordertown Trail, 1944), Don “Red” Barry and Bob Steele. He also continued to shoot much of Republic’s long-running Three Mesquiteers series. His special flair for showcasing Iverson can also be seen in a few Allan “Rocky” Lane features from the late 1940s — The Bold Frontiersman, released in 1948, is a prime example.
He moved in the mid-1940s to PRC — Producers Releasing Corp. — and most of his Iverson masterpieces can be found among his circa 1947-1951 work with first PRC and then PRC spinoff Western Adventure. Both companies specialized in cheap B-Westerns shot in about a week, and both took ample advantage of Miller’s eye for Iverson. During this period he filmed a steady string of Eddie Dean and Lash La Rue pictures — Dead Man’s Gold (Lash La Rue, Western Adventure, 1948), The Hawk of Powder River (Eddie Dean, PRC, 1948), Check Your Guns (Eddie Dean, PRC, 1948) and Outlaw Country (Lash La Rue, Western Adventure, 1949) being just a few of the many highlights.
Miller went on to work with tiny outfit Lippert Pictures for a couple of years, 1949-1950, shooting Don “Red” Barry Westerns — something he had also done earlier in his career at Republic — and filming a batch of Jimmy Ellison Westerns, which again involved plenty of work at Iverson. He ended up with other minor production houses in the early ‘50s, mainly companies with distribution and production partnerships with Monogram, such as Silvermine Productions, where among other things he shot the last of the Whip Wilson B-Westerns in 1951 and 1952, and Westwood Productions, where he was part of the last gasp of the B-Western as a viable theatrical format, shooting several Wild Bill Elliott features — again reunited with one of his occasional Republic subjects — in 1953 and 1954.
Ernest Miller eventually made a mark in the early television Westerns, notably shooting episodes of Hopalong Cassidy and Gunsmoke before calling it a career in 1956. He died the following year in Los Angeles at age 72.
Miller left his mark on Iverson, on B-Westerns and on film as a whole, leaving behind one of the longest filmographies we’ve seen for a cinematographer, with 338 movie and TV credits as DP. But beyond the numbers, his camera work, his eye for interesting angles and his intuitive sense of the drama inherent in the Iverson landscape have never been equaled.