You might love TV, but there’s no way you love it as much as Lillian Miller. For more than 30 years, Miller was a regular on The Tonight Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and loads more of her favorite programs. But the little old lady and fan favorite wasn’t a famous actress. In fact, she didn’t sing, didn’t wrangle animals, and she certainly didn’t do any stupid human tricks. Miller was simply an audience member—and she practically turned that passion into a profession! Here’s how she did it.
Like many elderly retirees, Miss Miller decided she needed a hobby to fill her time. And since knitting and quilting didn’t catch her fancy, she found herself attending studio tapings. First, it was just a lark—something she enjoyed for day trips when she worked in Philly or Boston. But as she had more time, it quickly became part of her routine, and before long, the shows’ hosts began to notice. Sometimes they’d chat her up in the downtime. Then, in the middle of one episode, Jack Paar asked her why she attended so frequently: “Because I’m lonely,” she admitted.
That confession cemented her place in his audience. For the next three years, Paar made her promise to show up nightly. Sometimes he even paid her $320 to sit on his panel of guests. You can catch a glimpse of her on this episode with Liberace and Muhammad Ali:
But it wasn’t just Paar who took a shine to Miss Miller. Merv Griffin liked her so much that he paid her to review Broadway shows. And when he moved his program to a different channel, he used her to tape a promo (she won a Clio Award for the spot!). Carol Burnett, too, enjoyed Miss Miller, occasionally calling out to her from the stage. And Steve Allen and his wife Jayne Meadows actually used to sometimes drive her home after Tonight Show tapings. So, how did she fit it all in? Here’s what a typical weekday schedule looked like, later in her career:
Monday: I’ve Got a Secret and Jeopardy!
Tuesday: To Tell the Truth and Merv Griffin
Wednesday: Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson
Thursday: To Tell the Truth and Johnny Carson
Friday: Jeopardy! and Johnny Carson
Late afternoons were spent catching up on her soap opera, Edge of Night, and evenings were reserved for watching the late-night shows she had attended.
Over the years, Miss Miller became so popular that she was given free tickets to Broadway shows and invited to star-studded parties. Tiny Tim made her a special guest at his wedding. Along the way, Miss Miller had made so many TV appearances that she had to join a television and radio artists’ union. When a Chicago Tribune reporter went to visit her in 1971, she was living in a hotel as close as she could find to the studios, in a room that was fairly sparse aside from some autographs of her favorite celebrities, and heaps of fan mail addressed to her. Though “regulars” undoubtedly still frequent studios like Fallon’s and Letterman’s, no one has matched Miss Lillian Miller’s celebrity audience member status since her death in 1990.