At 6 PM every night in the mid-70’s before the primetime shows came on, our local TV channel would air the syndicated “Star Trek.” I would make sure my homework was done so I could watch these older shows of Captain Kirk and Spock. The next day we would gather at school and talk about this series that was new to us. I can still, with ease, form my hand into the Vulcan sign for “Live Long and Prosper.” It is almost second nature for people my age isn’t it?
On of my favorite episodes was “Plato’s Stepchildren” which was first broadcast November 22, 1968. It is popularly cited as the first example of an inter-racial kiss on US television (between Kirk and Uhura). But we felt a kinship for one of the character on this episode, as a little person, whose name was Alexander, was pushed around by the Platonians who wears clothing reminiscent of Earth’s Ancient Greece and have special powers to make others do their bidding.
The dwarf in the role of Alexander was Michael Dunn. The renowned actor and piano prodigy, who stood 3 feet, 10 inches in height, has finally been laid to rest near his home in Oklahoma. What is most bizarre is that Dunn died 33 years ago.
Remains of Dunn, who was born Gary Neil Miller, were reburied at Sunset Memorial Park last week close to graves of his mother and father, Fred & Jewell Miller.
Before his death in London in 1973, Dunn was nominated for a Tony Award (for his role in the play, “Ballad of a Sad Cafe”) and his career took off. Encouraged by actor Roddy McDowall, Dunn and actress Phoebe Dorin formed a slightly bizarre but popular New York song-and-comedy nightclub act, which eventually led to their being cast on TV’s “The Wild Wild West” (1965) as evil Dr. Loveless and his assistant, Antoinette. For this role he was nominated for a Emmy award. He played in episodes of “Bonanza,” “Night Gallery,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” and many other TV shows during the 60’s & 70s. He was nominated for an Academy award for his role as narrator in the 1965 movie, “Ship of Fools.”
Dunn’s mother told the family that one day when the boy was 3, he walked up to her and said, “Momma, I can read.” The mother told him, “Sure you can, Gary.” then the boy “picked up the paper and started reading to her.” Tests showed the boy’s IQ to be 178. After the family moved to Michigan when he was about 2, Dunn won the state spelling bee three times in a row, once finishing as national runner-up in the finals in Washington.
He was 5 years old when he knew he’d be a dwarf but was determined not to let it stop him or make him dependent. He graduated from Detroit Redford High School in 1951, where he had been active in many school activities, including the student council and was captain of the cheerleading team. He was an editor of his college newspaper, and received his degree in 1956. He’d supported himself during school by singing at local bars, and knew by graduation that he wanted to be an actor. “Frankly”, he told a reporter, “I knew there wouldn’t be too much competition for roles. There are a great many professional midgets, but there aren’t too many dwarfs who can act.” Waiting for his big break, he found employment as a sports reporter, a hotel detective, and a missionary.
He was a gifted pianist, although he didn’t care much about pursuing that ability, relatives said. But it was the talent that was obvious from his earliest youth, his singing voice, which would lead to his career as an entertainer.
After appearing in several TV shows and movies, Dunn was in England to play the role of Birgito in the production of “The Abdication,” when he died Aug. 30, 1973. According to a news report, officials said Dunn reported his leg was injured in his hotel room, and he telephoned for help. When help arrived, they found the actor dead. The general consensus is that he died of heart failure. Although family members think something strange there went on. Dunn’s mother received a telegram shortly before his death that said, “I’m OK. The cops are looking.”
Dunn’s body was brought back to the states and was buried in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where his parents were getting ready to move. A couple of years ago, during a visit to Dunn’s grave there, relatives decided it was time to bring him home to Oklahoma.
“His headstone was 3 inches below the surface of the ground,” a relative said. “It had dirt all over it, no flowers or anything like that.” “I just didn’t want him to end up in Florida where no family could visit him and we couldn’t look after the grave.”
For the entertainment that Michael Dunn gave us, he was a big man, all 3 feet, 10 inches of him.