SUSAN WATSON SPEAKS! Actress Linda Miller Remembers King Kong Escapes!

Actress and model Linda Miller, just after finishing her work on King Kong Escapes. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Actress and model Linda Miller, just after finishing her work on King Kong Escapes. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Linda Miller is a name that fans of Japanese monster movies have known for years, but any information about her beyond her name has been frustratingly elusive. Born on December 26, 1947, Ms. Miller eventually moved to Japan where her modeling and acting career took off like a rocket. She achieved her greatest fame as Lt. Susan Watson in Ishiro Honda’s popular kaiju eiga romp King Kong Escapes (1967), starring alongside Akira Takarada and Rhodes Reason. The following year, she appeared as a background extra in the cult classic The Green Slime (1968), filmed at Toei Studios. During her time in Japan, she developed a relationship with Toho star Yosuke Natsuki (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, Dogora the Space Monster, Godzilla 1985), about whom she has many fond recollections.  

Under the stage name Leslie Michaels, Ms. Miller also pursued acting in the United States before deciding to move on to new careers. For the first time ever, in this exclusive interview with Brett Homenick, Linda Miller shares her memories of Japan, acting, and King Kong Escapes.    

Brett Homenick: Please talk about your background, growing up. What were the circumstances? Please talk about your background.

Linda Miller: Both of my parents are from Northwest Pennsylvania. My dad was a POW in World War II in Germany for three years, and a few years after my parents married he went back into the service when I was about four years old. From the time I was four, I have lived everywhere! I’ve lived all over the United States – seven different states. I’ve lived in France, and traveled as a child throughout Europe as a sightseer, then back to the United States, onto Japan, and finally returning back to the USA.

Ms. Miller (nine months old) with her grandfather at his farm in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller (nine months old) with her grandfather at his farm in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

The military put my dad through school; he got his bachelor’s and his master’s degree in meteorology. When I was in tenth grade, we were stationed in Oklahoma so Dad could go to the University of Oklahoma in Norman. At that time, I wanted to be a Spanish interpreter at the U.N. We knew his next assignment would be for overseas duty, so Dad put in for Spain so I could go to the University of Madrid. Believing he would be stationed in Span, that summer I took summer classes so I could skip my junior year and be a senior the next year. My goal was that once we went overseas, I could go straight to college. Well, the military and life are noted for (laughs) not doing what you planned, so they sent us to Japan instead. And I was really upset at the time. So that’s the story of how we wound up in Japan; it’s because my dad was in the service.

Unfortunately I didn’t even get to go to my high school graduation because the military had us on a plane to Japan the day of my graduation. So Mom and I had to get from Oklahoma to San Francisco to catch the plane to come to Japan. I have no brothers or sisters; it’s always been just me, myself, and I!

BH: Talking a little bit more about your father and his military service, what was his name? Talk about his military service and what he did in Japan.

LM: His name was Merle D. Miller. He was stationed at Tachikawa and then at Fuchu Air Force Base. He was a weatherman. It was during the Vietnam War, so he was involved in weather forecasting and weather patterns for the Far East. In fact, they sent him to the Philippines to specifically study tropical weather patterns, like typhoons and things like that. Any- and everything to do with weather.

Ms. Miller (five years old) poses with her father. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller (five years old) poses with her father. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Going back to your childhood, what hobbies did you have? I know you mentioned (wanting to be an) interpreter, but what possible aspirations did you have? Please let us know about your childhood and what was going on during that time.

LM: That’s a very interesting question! (laughs) At one time, I was interested in journalism. I was always interested in a lot of different things. I was a cheerleader in school, and I played great basketball. I was really short; I’ve always been short, but I played guard, and for some reason I just did that really well. I was an active kid, and I’ve always been a pretty happy kid, too.

I was one of those girls that did not dream of growing up, getting married, and having children – as that being my goal. I always dreamed in terms of, “When I grow up, I’m going to do this or be that.” There was a fleeting moment I thought acting would be a fun thing to do, but I never really pursued it.

In 9th grade I discovered languages, especially Spanish. I found out I have an aptitude for languages. So that’s pretty much what I was focused on at the time, was languages.

BH: What schools did you attend? What subjects particularly interested you – I suppose aside from languages and so forth?

LM: Well, I only went to school 11 years because I skipped a grade so I could go to Madrid University! (laughs) In 11 years I went to seven different schools throughout the United States and the world. I was in Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, France, Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma. I never was anywhere longer than about two and a half years. (That) was pretty much my duration of wherever I lived. So I went to a lot of different schools. I also loved math, and I loved history – those two in addition to Spanish.

Linda at home with her mother and father in 1965. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller at home with her mother and father in 1965. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Please talk a little bit more about the move to Japan and what the transition was like, adjusting to life there.

LM: (laughs) Well, when I first was told we were going to Japan instead of Spain, I had a bad attitude. I was so disappointed. But my experience throughout childhood was to adapt – because we moved so much, and I had no choice but to adapt. I used to play a game with myself when I knew we were leaving one place and moving to another. I would substitute the sadness of leaving and begin to imagine the new adventure I was going to experience.  It helped me to adapt better.

Unfortunately I didn’t really feel too excited about going to Japan. When I got on the plane to go I was not happy. I was thinking, “We should be going to Spain!” I remember the flight was very crowded, and it was long and not very comfortable because it was a military flight, which are normally crowded.

However, when we get off the plane and were taken by bus to Tachikawa (I think), much to my amazement, I had a real sense of familiarity. It felt very comfortable immediately. I don’t want to say I felt like I was coming home, but it was akin to, “I kind of belong here.” Everything about Japan was completely different than what I had experienced in my life, yet I felt so at peace. My transition was really easy, and completely opposite of what I thought it would be.

We got there in June of ’65, and it rained almost every single day that month. (laughs) I wasn’t used to that. I found it interesting that my clothes always felt like they were kind of damp, and I remember potato chips were soggy. (laughs) “How do these people eat potato chips here?!”  The weather was something that kind of threw me… and the humidity – I wasn’t used to the humidity.

A cover of Josei Seven magazine, featuring Ms. Miller and another model. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

A cover of Josei Seven magazine, featuring Ms. Miller and another model. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

We had just been here a few days, and my dad told me that a family we used to live next door to when I was a little girl in France was stationed there at the same time, too. They had a girl my age, and she was graduating and having a graduation party, and she invited me. I didn’t get to have my graduation party because I had to leave, so I went to her party. It was just kind of surreal to have somebody from your past just pop up into your present. When you’re a military kid you don’t have people from your past in your current life. There’s always just now and tomorrow when it comes to friends.

At the party, I met a girl who was a little shorter than I was. I’m only 5’1, so by American standards I am short. She was kind of bragging about how she was earning school money and clothes money by modeling, and how she was doing this assignment and that assignment. I just looked at her, and in my spirit I just said, “Gosh, if she can do it, I can do it.” I had this sense that I could do it. She told me she was going to Patricia Charm modeling school, and I pursued it immediately. I don’t know if she’s still around, but Patricia (Salmon) had a modeling school in Harajuku for foreign talent.

So I went there to take charm lessons, learn how to put on makeup, walk, and all that kind of stuff. Almost immediately I started to work. I got jobs – lots of jobs. I never finished the modeling course because I was working. And it was wonderful. Japanese people treated me so great. When I look back on it now, I was somewhat of a novelty. I wasn’t six-foot-tall, blond, and blue-eyed where I’d stick out like a sore thumb. But I was Japanese height. I had brown eyes and light brown hair. I was still American-looking, but I wasn’t so different that it was shocking. I just worked all the time. I did magazines, fashion lay-outs, and magazine covers – all kinds of newspapers ads for products, from appliances and toothpaste.  Once I even did the cover of a magazine for accordion lovers! I was the Noritake China “girl” for the Far East and appeared in magazines all over Asia.

During the 1960s, Ms. Miller worked as a model for Noritake China in Japan. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

During the 1960s, Ms. Miller worked as a model for Noritake China in Japan. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

One of my favorites was a contract with a magazine called Josei Seven. I don’t know if it’s still around; it’s a girls’ magazine or a young women’s magazine with fashion and gossip and all sorts of articles. Every week I was on the cover of the magazine, and those are some of my favorite photos. I also did some TV commercials and radio. So I worked a lot. All of my contemporaries were either in high school or going to college. Even though I tried to go to college in the beginning (I went to Sophia University for a couple of semesters), I was just too busy working. At Sophia I studied Spanish and Japanese, but the Japanese I learned basically came by working with the Japanese people. I had interpreters each time I went on a modeling assignment, and then eventually I didn’t need an interpreter. I mean, I wasn’t fluent, but I could hold my own.

Everybody treated me nice – the photographers, hair dressers, make-up people, the crew.  I was protected; I was never exposed to anything sleazy or anything uncomfortable. I was just really protected and well taken care of, and that’s why I have such a warm spot in my heart for that time, because it was fantastic! (laughs) It was just great. It was like you woke up one day, and you felt like you were a princess. That’s kind of how it felt for me.

BH: At Sophia University, what did you study? Was it simply the case that you were working too much and decided not to graduate?

LM: I was studying Japanese and Spanish because those are the two languages I gravitate towards. I can’t remember what other classes I took. I just remember those two because I made a couple of friends. Like I say, it was just a couple of semesters, and I would miss class because I was on assignments. My interest just kind of went away because I was working so much, and I did not have time really for school.

BH: How about acting? How did you get started with that?

LM: I had no plans for acting. I was busy doing my modeling and TV commercials and some radio, and then one day I got a call. I don’t remember the specifics, but I wound up meeting with a man, Arthur Rankin, who said he had seen my picture on a magazine or had seen my commercials in Japan. He traveled back and forth between Tokyo and New York quite a bit. He said he had been trying to find me because “I think you would be great in this movie I’m producing.” I was quite surprised. I said, “I have never acted a day in my life.” He didn’t care. It wasn’t a big-budget movie; we weren’t going for Oscars. I just happened to look like what he envisioned for this particular role of Susan Watson.

Linda Miller clowns with Osman Yusuf on the set of King Kong Escapes. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Miller clowns with Osman Yusuf on the set of King Kong Escapes. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

So I met with him, and we talked, and … boom! I was in a movie! It was all very fast and unplanned, and it just happened.

BH: What were your initial impressions of Arthur Rankin when you met him? What was going through your mind as he was proposing all this to you?

LM: I was a little intimidated by him. At the time I was 18, I think, and Arthur appeared very sophisticated and worldly, and I was not. So there was a part of me that was being very cautious about who this man is. But he was always very nice to me. He was always very decent.

But at first I was concerned: Here’s this guy coming in from Hollywood, New York, in the big bad world, and I’m just this 18-year-old, inexperienced girl, and what does he really want? That was what was in my mind. But when I met him, he took me to a fancy restaurant. I’d never been to a fancy restaurant before. So it was all pretty heady stuff, but he was very nice, and he was businesslike. So I got the feeling that he was legit. He had – I don’t know if it was a friend or girlfriend or what her role was – but he had, I think, a Eurasian model-friend of his that was no longer modeling, but she was really beautiful, who took me under her wing. He wanted me to be blond, so she took me to her beauty parlor, and they bleached my hair blond, which I was never happy with. (laughs) It just didn’t look like me.  So she kind of took me under her wing for that purpose, because Arthur was always flying in and out of town.

I got the script, and I just had no idea what I was doing. I was very nervous, especially when I met Rhodes (Reason) and (Akira) Takarada-san, because they were both really tall and very imposing. I mean, they were colorful men, and I was in awe of just the two of them, because they were experienced, they were seasoned, they looked great, they had a presence and an aura about them. I used to think, “What am I doing here?!” (laughs) “Why me?!” I know now it was because I was probably one of the very few people available that lived in Japan and could do the part. It wasn’t any special thing that I was so great; it was just the opportunity – right time, right place. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a door of opportunity to open up for you.

Linda Miller mugs for the audience while a man in a gorilla suit menaces her during a skit for a King Kong Escapes party at the Hilton. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Miller mugs for the audience while a man in a gorilla suit menaces her during a skit for a King Kong Escapes party at the Hilton. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: When it came to payment – I don’t know if this is something you would rather not discuss, and if not, that’s okay – but what were the negotiations like? Did he just make an offer to you for a certain amount, and you accepted?

LM: I don’t want to talk about the amount. I did not negotiate. I am not – at least at that time I was not – a negotiator. My mother negotiated. She scared me to death. They made the offer, and she said, “No, no, that’s not enough.” And I said, “Mom!” I don’t know how many times, but there were several offers that went back and forth, to the point where she said, “No, she’s not going to do it unless you give me this amount. There’s no more negotiation.” My mom’s very tough! She’s the youngest of eight children, so she’s negotiated all her life! (laughs)

So she did the negotiation, and I got what she asked for. I would have been happy with whatever they gave me just to do a movie, and Mom knew that, so she stepped in and took over that.

BH: Do you remember around what time all this was going on? Was it early 1967? What was the timeframe?

LM: Yes, it was early 1967, because we started the film, I think, in May or June of ‘67. It was either late spring or early summer, because I met (Yosuke) Natsuki during that time, so I believe that’s about what it was – maybe April.

BH: What do you remember about preproduction, such as getting fitted for your costume and meeting with (Ishiro) Honda-san, the director, and that sort of thing?

LM: I remember makeup and hair more than anything. I know there were a couple of dresses – in fact, I think I had only one or two dresses in the whole movie – that I was fitted for. But I remember the makeup and the hair more than anything. Suzuki-san was the makeup guy because Rhodes used to always yell, “Suzuki-san!” (laughs) The way he said it was just hysterical. I can’t remember the woman’s name that did my hair. So that’s what I remember: going in for testing for hair styles and the clothing, but not a lot of it.

I remember meeting the director, Honda-san, but then there was a guy named Henry Okawa. He was a trip! He was the interpreter, and he was hysterical. Gosh, back then, he must have been in his 60s. But I just adored him. I don’t remember any of the stories he told; I just remember that he was a lot of fun to listen to, and he helped me a lot. He really did, because I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t understand what Honda-san was asking for. He bridged the gap a lot, because I guess he’d been in the (United) States or something. His English was great. He was quite a character.

BH: Please talk about Honda-san a little bit more. How would he direct you in a scene? How would you describe his directing style?

An unidentified Toho executive poses with Linda Miller, Mie Hama, and Arthur Rankin at a dinner. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

An unidentified Toho executive poses with Linda Miller, Mie Hama, and Arthur Rankin at a dinner. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

LM: He was very gentle. Even when I felt I disappointed him, I could tell it’s not what he wanted – of course it’s somewhat the Japanese way – but he was very gentle and not threatening. I almost felt like he understood I was out of my comfort zone because I didn’t know what I was doing. So he was quiet, and he was gentle – at least with me. I got closer to Henry than I did to Honda-san because of the language. I felt safer with Henry because Honda-san was the director. But he was really, really a nice man.

BH: It’s been said by many others that Honda-san would essentially let the actors do what they wanted, and he would mostly approve and sometimes say, “Do it this way.” Is that your experience? Would he just basically let you do what you wanted?

LM: Yes. Henry and I would talk about it, and he’d let me do what I thought he wanted me to do. There wasn’t a lot of correction. He didn’t say, “Oh, man, you missed it. You need to do it this way.” There wasn’t a lot of correction. You’re right. That’s an accurate assessment of him.

BH: Well, let’s talk about some of your costars. What do you remember throughout the production of Rhodes Reason?

LM: Rhodes was hysterical! (laughs) He was tall, he was handsome, he was like a movie star. So I was in awe when I met him, and I was intimidated. But then as I got to know him, he was a little bit goofy. (laughs) He had a goofy sense of humor. I used to love to watch him and Takarada-san banter back and forth. They would try to one-up one another – in a friendly way. These were two macho movie stars.

Rhodes was very helpful to me. Because I had no experience, I had nothing to draw on. I was thrown in a river to swim or drown. He helped me a lot with things I didn’t know how to do. He kind of coached me. So he was very generous that way. I wasn’t a threat, but he didn’t view me as a threat, like I was going to take time away from him. He was very generous and very nice. He was nice to my family. He became a family friend, and when we came back to the States, we got in touch with him again, and he became part of our extended family.

He has this famous line, which makes me chuckle. When he’s getting ready to leave, he’ll say in his most professional actor’s voice, “It’s always a pleasure to say goodbye to you.” (laughs)

BH: (laughs)

LM: Every once in a while I’ll look at my mom and say, “It’s always a pleasure to say goodbye to you!” (laughs) In fact, his son is a cameraman, and I’ve seen him on a lot of the different shows. When the credits come on, we’ll see Brian’s name on there. But Rhodes was fun; he had stories. I just really enjoyed working with him.

Clinging to a tree -- just another day at the office in Japan! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Clinging to a tree — just another day at the office in Japan! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Excellent! How about Takarada-san? What do you remember about him?

LM: Very tall. He was also very handsome and a very strong personality. He was very sweet to me, too. I just got the impression that he really knew what he was doing. I did with Rhodes, too, but I could tell because he was speaking Japanese with the rest of the Japanese. He was very commanding. I just knew that this man knew what he was doing. You knew you were in the presence of a movie star.

He also was very nice to me, and we had several scenes together. We would talk in between takes. He just seemed sweet. Everybody was so sweet to me! I enjoyed working with him. I had no interaction after the film because I wasn’t around long after the film came out, but while we were together, he was helpful and was a lot of fun.

BH: How about the female costar, Mie Hama?

LM: She was kind of aloof. I didn’t get warm and fuzzy feelings from her. She was decent to me. But we had no real interaction.  We had a couple of scenes together, but we really didn’t interact that much together. I really don’t have much to say – other than she’s really beautiful and a good actress.

 BH: Understood. Well, I’ve heard some interesting stories about the next person, Hideyo Amamoto, who played Dr. Who. Some people have said he’s a really strange individual. Is that something that you found on the set?

LM: Yeah! (laughs) He looked the part! (laughs) He was very strange in a really endearing way. Take into account my Japanese was good,  but it wasn’t that good that I could understand all the nuances  of what people were saying, and a lot of things went over my head. There were several in his crew that kind of followed him around, because he was Dr. Who, and (they were) all his little soldiers. They were like a whole little group to themselves, and he looked like the mad scientist, and the way he smiled that crooked smile that he had. And his wild hair. (laughs) In fact, after the filming was over, he was in a play, The Fantasticks, and he invited me to come see him. He was quite a sight in his tights. I thought, “Oh, my God, his legs are so skinny!” (laughs) So my mom and I went and saw him in the play; I think that really pleased him.

Yeah, he was a little odd, but it worked well for the part, and he was an interesting character and a very endearing person.

BH: Do you have any other stories or recollections about any of the other cast members, whether they were American or Japanese? Do any names stand out?

LM: Yes. During that time, it must have been in June, because it was the Six-Day War, and we had a bunch of Israelis on the set. Their talent agent was some foreigner who was from the Middle East, I think, and they were with him. So I remember them being on the set, and being a pretty jovial bunch of guys. There was maybe five or six of them. The Six-Day War ended, and I didn’t even know there was a war at the time. I was so wrapped up in what I was doing. (I remember) how elated they were and how just so happy for their country. I remember that about them.

After the production, one of the crew members – and I can see his face; I don’t know his name – he drowned when he was swimming. I think it was before we had the premiere of the movie in Tokyo that he drowned. That always made me feel really sad because I can see his face in the photograph. I have a picture of him somewhere.

BH: Did he drown at Toho or just on his own time?

LM: On his own time. He went to the ocean on vacation and drowned in the ocean.

BH: Please talk about some of the locations. I know you shot in Oshima Island…

LM: That was my favorite. I loved Oshima Island. However, I didn’t enjoy the boat ride over there. I’m not real good on the sea, and I got a little queasy. The hotel room was all Japanese  –  tatami in our rooms, sleeping on the futon. It was the real Japanese deal. One of the highlights was, at night, when we’d all get together for dinner in the room, we had tempura. It was the best tempura I’ve ever had because it was all fresh. Everything was fresh from the island. So I remember the food more than anything on that set!

I guess we did a lot of outside locations there. I can’t remember. But I remember going there, but I don’t remember what we did, other than all getting together and eating dinner.

BH: Do you have any memories of the crowd scenes, such as the U.N. or near Tokyo Tower, when you were surrounded by all the crowds?

Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

LM: I remember Tokyo Tower. That was towards the end of filming, and I was just beginning to feel a little bit more comfortable doing what I was doing. There were lots of people there, and it was, like, 3:00 a.m. It was really early in the morning.

(laughs) This is so silly. In the scene, I’m supposed to be upset, and I actually cried. I remember Rhodes telling me how proud he was of me that I cried on cue! (laughs). That whole scene was hard because it was late at night, there’s a lot of sitting around, and then you do a couple of minutes, and then you sit around, and you do a couple of minutes. And lots and lots of people around.

Let me digress here a moment. Before I did the film, when I first got to Japan, within a month, a friend approached me and said, “I’m doing a TV show. I can’t do it anymore. Can you go and audition?” So I went in and auditioned. It was called Hyakuman-Nin no Eigo (English for Millions). It was James Harris. It was an English program that was televised into the schools. So, when I would go out, and there’d be a bunch of school kids, they would recognize me, and I’d have to sign autographs. So I got somewhat accustomed to my face being recognized – not everybody, but from time to time.

So, when we were there at Tokyo Tower, I got a sense of that, of being recognized. That’s about all I can really remember about that.

Another time that was really hard – we weren’t on the ocean, but we were on shore, and there was a body of water; I don’t know where it was. It was outside, and they used the reflector to light you, and that was awful because it just killed my eyes. I couldn’t look where I was supposed to look because I had very sensitive eyes. That was a hard time. I remember getting really upset because we were outside, and I did not want to get a tan because I by then had been convinced, I guess, and agreed that you shouldn’t expose your skin to the sun a lot; it’s not good for your skin. So I remember being outside and thinking, “I need to get out; it’s too much sun! I’m going to get a tan!” (laughs)

BH: One of the things that happens throughout the movie is, you are in a big prop hand, whether it’s King Kong’s hand or Mechanikong’s hand. So please talk about being on that big prop.

LM: (laughs) Oh, that was so much fun! Before the film, I was trying to imagine, “How are they going to do this? How am I going to be sitting in King Kong’s hand?” I could not, for the life of me, figure it out. So, when I got to the set and saw this big hand, it just made me chuckle inside.

It was a little uncomfortable because I had to sit in his hand, and I was somewhat elevated off the floor, and behind was a blue screen or green screen, something like that. I had to pretend that I was in his hand, and I was talking to him. That was kind of hard to do! (laughs) I had to really use my imagination. So Rhodes helped me a lot there. He gave me some hints on what to do. I spent a lot of time sitting in his hand. It just felt kind of strange at the time. And then, when I saw it in the movie, I went, “Oh, that’s how they did it.” It was quite a revelation. I was up there all by myself. There were a number of scenes where I was by myself, and those were the scariest. I’m afraid of heights, and they had a scaffold in the studio, and I was supposed to be climbing Tokyo Tower. So I had to get up on that scaffold, and I was frightened because I’m afraid of heights. So I was hanging on for dear life.

When I was in Mechanikong’s hand, I was up high, too. It was a little frightening because, like I say, I have a problem with heights.

BH: Some people have had a little fun with some of the lines you had in the film, such as when you’re talking to Kong, and you’re saying, “Don’t … shake … the … ship,” and things like that. Obviously you were doing what the script called for, but what was the approach to things like that? Was that something that Rhodes helped you with?

LM: He helped me, but it is so obvious I don’t know how to act when you look at that scene in particular. At least at the time I did not know how to act. I just did the best that I could possibly do. He helped me, so it would have been worse if he hadn’t helped me. I remember that one and one other one where I was mortified. When I see the film, I go, “Oh, my God.” In the beginning, when I’m supposed to walk through the ship, saying “Good morning” or “Hello” to everybody, I was like a robot. They kept trying to get me to loosen up, and I was doing my very best.  But, holy cow, that was bad.

Modeling for Honda at the Tokyo Auto Show. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Modeling for Honda at the Tokyo Auto Show. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

That was one of the first scenes that they shot. Prior to that, I was model. It was, “Stand here,” “Look here,” “Do that,” “Don’t move.” So I wasn’t used to using my body in movement. I came back to my dressing room after that opening scene, and I said to my mom, “They’re going to fire me.” (laughs) I said, “I did such a terrible job, and it’s not like I wish I could do it again because I don’t have a clue what I would do differently.” I was mortified; I was embarrassed. I knew I did terrible, and I didn’t know what to do about it. That was, I think, one of the first scenes, and then Rhodes kind of took me under his wing to try and help me because I was very stiff. As an actress, you have to believe what you’re doing. Now I could put myself in that situation, and pull it off, but then I couldn’t because I just didn’t know what I was doing.

BH: For your scenes, were there any changes or ad libs on the set, whether to accommodate your acting ability at the time? Were there any changes from the script that were going on for your scenes?

LM: Not that I recall for me. However, there was a line in the script. They were talking about the ship and saying something about “the water-sucking valve” wasn’t operating. All the English-speaking people, we were careful not to laugh, but we were just, “The water-sucking valve?!” I think Rhodes changed that line because it wasn’t “the water-sucking valve” anymore. But I don’t think really there was a whole lot of adlibbing going on because you have the Japanese actors speaking Japanese, you have the English-speaking actors speaking English. It’s all going to be dubbed in later, so we had to be pretty true so that the Japanese are reacting to what they think we’re saying. So I don’t think it allowed for much adlibbing or rewriting or anything like that. If there was rewriting going on, I wasn’t aware of it, or I don’t remember it.

BH: There were also other sets, such as the hovercraft set, the submarine set, of course, and you talked about the Tokyo Tower set, as well. What do you remember from the other sets, the hovercraft, the submarine, and so forth?

LM: What I remember from the submarine is, Takarada-san and I standing up in the tower, just chit-chatting about his family and everything. I remember that. It wasn’t, obviously, a real submarine, but there was a little tower that we were both in and talking, and I guess we must have had some scenes in it – yeah, we did. I just remember him and I having a conversation about life and his family, and my family and my background. That was one of the times we actually were able to talk one-on-one as friends.

In the hovercraft, I remember it. I don’t remember anything specific about it, except that both of the guys were there. I always liked it when they were both there. I don’t know why, but I always felt really comfortable when they were both there because I knew I was safe in the sense that if I was making a fool of myself, they would help me.  So it was always great when the three of us had scenes together. I enjoyed that.

I remember the prison scene. It was cold. They had made it cold, or it was supposed to be cold – I can’t remember which. I just remember it being really dark and feeling like I was in prison. All of that was towards the end of the film when I was starting to understand better what I was doing.

BH: Yes, that was the scene where they were trying to freeze you and Takarada-san to death. Did they actually (refrigerate the set)?

LM: I don’t recall. In my mind, they did. But I don’t know if that’s because it looked that way, and we had to act that way, or if it’s because it really was. I don’t remember that. He might remember; I don’t specifically remember.

BH: What were the typical hours? When would you go to the studio, and when would you go home? How many days a week were you filming?

LM: I remember having to be there early, like six or seven, for makeup and hair. We did a full day – until 5:00 or 6:00, something like that. There weren’t very many night shoots. I don’t recall times when we were there all day and all night. But it was a full schedule. I don’t remember if it was five days or six days, but to me my memory is that it was a full schedule, and we went to work every morning really early, especially Rhodes, Takarada-san, and I were always doing something almost every day. In fact, one weekend, one Sunday night – I used to go to bed at eight o’clock because I had to get up at five, and then get a taxi, and go to the studio – so one night I stayed out late with my friends. I think it was a Sunday night. I was really tired the next day, and I said, “I will never do that again!” So I think we pretty much had a full schedule.

BH: Do you remember how long filming lasted?

LM: I think it was probably about a month. Maybe it was two months. My mom might remember more. But I don’t believe it was over two months. It was so long ago I can’t recall for certain.

BH: How long was your commute to the studio?

LM: I think, at that time in the morning, it was only about an hour. I was living in Grant Heights in Narimasu. So I think it was maybe 45 minutes or an hour. At one point, my mom, before filming started, we actually went to the area around the studio to see about renting a place, so I wouldn’t have as long a commute. Then we just decided we would just take a taxi every day, and I could sleep in my own bed and get rest. So it wasn’t that bad. Of course, in Japan, everything takes time because of the traffic.

BH: Off the set, what did you do during filming? Did you socialize with Rhodes very much or just your circle of friends?

LM: We went out to dinner with Rhodes sometimes. Most of the time, though, during filming, I went home from the studio and stayed with my family and went to bed and got up and repeated it. At that particular time, I did not have very many American friends. I had one American friend because, from almost the time I arrived, I was always working downtown in Tokyo, Osaka, and places like that. So I wasn’t around American kids my age. I only had one real friend. I had a couple of Japanese friends, but again I was working so much I didn’t socialize a lot until filming was over and then things changed for me. I really didn’t do a lot because I was so busy.

BH: Did you watch any of the special effects scenes being shot?

LM: Yes, I did! The guy in the Kong outfit, and I watched as the little miniature helicopters went flying over the miniature jungle. It was really kind of cool! (laughs) I was fascinated in how the miniatures were so intricate and so true to life. It was low-budget, but I think they did an awesome job.

It was a real experience. I just loved the whole thing. I just thought making a movie was like a dream come true. It was just so interesting and fascinating, and everything was different. What I loved about making that movie was, every day was different. I would go to work, and every scene was different, every situation was different. In fact, this made it really hard for me, once I came back to the States and got in the real world, to have a job where you had to be there every day, and pretty much your day was the same. I had a real hard time adjusting to that. And that’s what I loved about acting and modeling and that whole creative process – every day was different. It wasn’t like work; it was like play. Even though, when I was making the film, I was intimidated at the beginning, and I was scared, I knew I wasn’t good. So that was embarrassing. Even though, it was a wonderful experience, and I just enjoyed the heck out of it.

Ms. Miller writes in English for her weekly radio program. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller writes in English for her weekly radio program. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: What were your memories, in general, of Toho Studios when you went there?

LM: I thought, “It’s so small,” because I’m thinking Hollywood. “It’s so small!” But everything seemed to fit and work exactly the way it was supposed to. I loved coming through the gates. It made me feel really special. (laughs) Going through the gates, “Oh, I get to make a movie!” Everybody had a purpose, and there were so many people that were required to make this film and any film come together.

Oh, and the commissary! One day, I was sitting there, and (Toshiro) Mifune walked in. I knew who he was.  He walked in, and he looked like a god. He looked as powerful in person as he did on film. I just looked and just marveled. It was one of the highlights of being there, being able to see him in person. I saw other actors that I recognized, but he was an international star. Everybody knew him all over the world. You felt it when he walked in the room; that’s how strong he was.

I remember going into the commissary in the beginning by myself. I’m an only child, so everywhere I was by myself. So it didn’t seem unusual to me. So I go into the commissary, and the first couple of times people are looking around like, “What is she doing here?” I could tell they were watching me, but as an American in Japan you’re somewhat familiar with that stare. I just went about my business. After a while, nobody paid me any attention when I was in the commissary. The novelty had worn off, I guess.

BH: When you were making the movie, what were your impressions of the film in general and how it was progressing at the time? So what were you thinking when it was all going on?

LM: That’s a really good question. I didn’t know that they shot things out of sequence. I thought we were going to start at the beginning, and then we were going to end. So that was a revelation when we started sometimes in the middle, and then we did the beginning, and then we did the end. So I wasn’t quite sure how everything was going to flow together. That was a surprise to me when it was not being shot in sequence, which is normal. I know that now, but I didn’t at the time. What Rhodes and I talked about was how to adapt: when you just shot the end of something, how to go back and shoot the beginning, keeping the end in mind of what you were doing, say, in that particular situation. So that was interesting. I just trusted Honda-san, I trusted everybody there that I knew that they knew what they were doing. I just trusted that it would be the movie that they wanted to make. I don’t think I really thought more than that about it.

BH: Was there a premiere of the film? What did you think of the film when you saw it?

LM: There was a premiere in Tokyo. I don’t know if Rhodes was here or not. I can’t remember. I remember my mom and I went. My mom went with me everywhere. I was her little girl. After the film was made, all the English-speaking actors were dubbed into Japanese. I was looking at the movie, and at parts I wanted to crawl under the chair because I knew how bad I had done. When I heard myself speaking Japanese with somebody else’s voice, I always thought, “They picked a really good person for my voice.” I felt they picked someone appropriate. But it couldn’t sound like my voice coming out of that person on the screen. It was embarrassing, it was exciting; I was proud and embarrassed at the same time. I really loved it. I really loved it. I thought it was great.

BH: What are your thoughts on the dubbed version in America where, obviously, another actress does your voice?

LM: Completely opposite. They picked someone, I don’t know who she was, but it was not the right person. As bad at acting as I (was) with my voice, she just accentuated it. I was very not happy. I thought I was going to be dubbing it because Rhodes was back in the States, dubbing his voice. I thought I was, too, but I did not have a Screen Actors Guild contract. So they didn’t have to use me. Probably I wouldn’t have acted that much better than what I did originally, but I was very disappointed in the voice that they picked. I thought it made it really cheesy, my part. I was very much unhappy with it.

I wasn’t happy with Arthur about that. I’ve never seen or talked to Arthur since then, but I was not happy with what he did (with) that. I would have done it for free. He could have flown me back to the States and just flown me back to Japan. But it’s all water under the bridge.

BH: I think that does it for King Kong Escapes. So let’s move on to a movie in which you had a much smaller role, The Green Slime. How did you get cast in The Green Slime?

LM: I had an agent at the time, a Japanese lady. I can’t remember her name. She said that they had asked for me, but she did not want me to do it because it was too small of a part. I guess it wasn’t the wisest move. If I had planned on a career, a long-term career, I would not have done it. But I said, “Oh, I want to work!” So I did it, anyway, because I just wanted to work and be on a movie set. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t the lead or even the fifth lead! (laughs) I was background. I just enjoyed being on the set.

Linda Miller takes singing lessons on the advice of a radio program who tried to turn her into a pop star. The singing coach, however, wasn't impressed! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Linda Miller takes singing lessons on the advice of a radio program who tried to turn her into a pop star. The singing coach, however, wasn’t impressed! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Harry the Arab, I think, was the name of the agent (from earlier in the discussion). Something the Arab! He had a lot of foreign talent that did bit parts and stuff like that.

Anyway, that’s how I got it. Somebody contacted my agent or my agent knew somebody.

BH: Do you have any memories of the director, Kinji Fukasaku?

LM: Not at all, to be honest with you. The memories I have is that the female lead and the male lead – I can’t remember their names – she’s an Italian, and he used to play in Westerns.

BH: Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Horton.

LM: Exactly. I remember them.

BH: How about Richard Jaeckel?

LM: Oh, yeah, I remember him! I thought he was nice. I thought he was more interesting. The others were more standoffish, but he was approachable. I don’t recall any specific conversations, but I just remember him being kind of a regular guy, and the other two being more unapproachable. I don’t know if it’s because I was background – I don’t know why. But he was approachable, and I wasn’t there but just a couple of days, and he just seemed like he was soaking in everything and enjoying his time that he was there.

BH: So he looked like he was actually having a good time, making the film.

LM: Yeah, I got the impression he was having a good time. I didn’t get that so much from the other two. But I was only there for a couple of days, and I had just finished filming with Rhodes who totally enjoyed his time in Japan. He was just having a great time, and I didn’t get the joy from those two that I did from Rhodes and from Richard.

BH: How was Toei Studios? What do you remember about being on the sets there?

LM: I remember thinking I like Toho better. Toei was closer to my house; it was not that far. To me, once you’re inside a set, they all look alike. I don’t remember walking to the set, I don’t remember what the studio grounds were like; I don’t remember any of that. But I remember being inside, and they all look alike. Even in Toho, they all look alike. But I do recall feeling like Toho was the Cadillac of the studios. They had more prestige, I think, than the others.

BH: Do you recall any of the other background actors, the other nurses, or anyone like that?

LM: Not specifically. Sorry. I was only there for a couple of days.

BH: Certainly. I understand. How about any of the alien creatures that were walking around?

LM: (laughs) Oh, yeah, I recall those! (laughs) I just thought they were not very believable. That’s what I thought.

BH: I’ve heard conflicting stories. I don’t know if you would remember. I heard that they actually hired children to play in the costumes, and I heard others say that that was not the case. Do you remember who was actually in the costumes – was it children or adults, maybe?

LM: You know, I don’t specifically remember. But, when you said “children,” that rang a bell. But I don’t know why. I can’t say either way.

BH: What was the timeframe of the shoot on The Green Slime? Every day how much time were you required to be on the set?

LM: I think I was there three to five days, is all. I don’t think they were full days. But I had to be there in the morning, if I remember correctly.

BH: What did you think of The Green Slime? Was there any sort of premiere for it, or did you just happen to see it later?

LM: I saw it on TV for the first time when I was back in the States.  I was not involved in or knew about any premiere. The first time I saw it was on late-night TV.

On the set of English for Millions with James Harris, a weekly broadcast on NHK. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

On the set of English for Millions with James Harris, a weekly broadcast on NHK. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Next I’d like to ask you about your relationship with Yosuke Natsuki.

LM: I was still making King Kong Escapes, and I saw him in the commissary. I thought, “Wow! Who’s that?” Then somebody told me he wanted to talk to me. I was smitten almost immediately. Then, once I got to know him, we went out on a date. I remember he had a little green MG. Of course, I never drove in Tokyo. I would not even consider driving in Tokyo. But he would drive all over the place, go all over downtown and stuff. I don’t remember where our first date was, but I remember I really had a good time. I liked him; he was fun to be with. He just was down-to-earth and very fun to be with. With my Japanese and his English, we communicated pretty good. There wasn’t a major language gap. I just fell in love! (laughs) I thought and still do think he’s the best of the best. We did a lot of things together. It was really, really hard to leave.

He took me to the first fancy restaurant I’ve ever been to where you had finger bowls to wash your hands. I didn’t know what they were! (laughs) He taught me. I remember at that place – it was really fancy – they served me bread instead of rice. I so much wanted the rice instead of the bread.

He met my mom. My mom adored him. My mom thought he was really great. He treated her with a lot of respect. He treated me with a lot of respect. I’m serious, he was the best of the best.

Before I left, there were talks of me doing some kind of a TV show that I could stay in Japan. Nothing was firmed up; it was just talking. I didn’t pursue it because I was 20 years old, and I knew I was too young to stay in Japan without my parents and no other family, just to be there on my own. I wasn’t mature enough. So I came back to the States, and he and I continued to communicate. In fact, I went to meet with his friend in L.A. who used to be married to the guy who wrote The Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller). Natsuki somehow got the two of us together, and I met her at a hotel, I think. So my connection with him was strong the whole time. I was back in the States for about, maybe, four to six months, and we wrote, and we called. I missed him terribly.

Toho star Yosuke Natsuki. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Toho star Yosuke Natsuki. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

In July, I told him I was coming back to Tokyo. I thought I was coming back to get married. I don’t think he knew I was coming back to get married! (laughs) We spent about two weeks together, and then he said, “I can’t marry you.” Boy, that was really rough. I understand now that it probably was a good thing he didn’t. I was way too young to get married in the first place, and then he had his career. This is just my opinion – I don’t know this for a fact – but I’ve often wondered if him marrying a foreigner, how it would affect his career. He was at the height of his career at the time. Even though he was great, and we got along, he still was very Japanese. I wasn’t very American, but I was American enough that there would have been some clashes, I think. So, anyway, that’s all philosophical stuff; I don’t even know if it’s true.

I remember him saying to me, “You need to go back to the States, and you need to marry a Texan.” I thought, “Where’d that come from?!” (laughs) “A Texan?!” So I came back to the States. It took me a long, long time to get over him. I remember, I think in ’71 or ’72, out of the blue he sent me a letter. He asked me to meet him in Hawaii. I wanted to go with all my heart, and I never answered his letter. I never went. I wish I would have answered it now; I feel really bad now I didn’t answer it. But at the time I didn’t answer it because I was hurting so bad that I didn’t want to have to go see him and then part again. I just didn’t think I could deal with it emotionally. Instead of writing him and telling him that, I just didn’t answer. Then, years later, I lost his phone number, I lost his address, I didn’t know how to reach him. I’ve always just wanted to tell him what a great experience it was being with him and how much he meant to me. I just think when somebody is so highly thought of, they need to be told. And I wanted to tell him that. The memory is very precious, and I just wanted him to know that he really was something special to someone in this world.

My family left (Japan) and returned to the States probably about eight months after I met him.   Everything that I had experienced in Japan in the business was not what I experienced when I came back. I went to acting school. I did a couple of TV shows, but it wasn’t the same experience. Number one, I wasn’t a novelty. I was like everybody else. But the business didn’t have the heart that it did for me in Japan. I don’t think I so much wanted to be an actress here in the States as I wanted to have that experience that I had in Japan. So I left acting. I didn’t have any regrets. I knew that I was not mature enough to deal with the sleazy side that’s definitely prevalent. I was not mature enough to deal with that, know how to cope with that, and I knew that for my spiritual well-being I needed to close that door. So I closed that door on acting, but I still, when I have an opportunity to do something in church or somewhere else, I’ll take the opportunity because it’s fun, and I love it.

BH: What TV shows did you act in, in the States?

LM: I did one My Three Sons (“The Other Woman,” Season 9, Episode 20). It was the guest-starring role, and I played “the other woman.” It was all a misunderstanding; it was not the other woman. Anyway, I did one My Three Sons at CBS. Then I did a couple of Bill Cosby specials. I did some skits on that. Right when I left to go see Natsuki, I was up for a pilot, but I left to be with him. Of course, I didn’t get the pilot; I don’t know if I would have, even if I had stayed. But I was up for a pilot. So it was just, maybe, about a two- to three-year period where I was studying, and I was pursuing it. But I was not committed. I like acting; I did not like the business of acting. So I didn’t pursue it.

Linda Miller and King Kong became fast friends. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Miller and King Kong became fast friends on the Toho lot. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: Well, after acting, what career did you find yourself in?

LM: I was always one heck of a typist, from the fourth grade. My mom went to typing school, and after school, we would go to her class together. I would sit in the background, and I learned how to type. So, in school, I won all kinds of typing awards. So I thought, “Well, I’ll be a secretary.” And that’s when I discovered how I didn’t like nine-to-five and every day being the same! So that was a hard adjustment. I worked for a big CPA firm. One of the partners was Japanese, and all of his clients were Japanese, so that’s why I was hired, because I knew enough Japanese to be cute. (laughs) Then, when I left him, I went to work for the president of one of the Japanese banks. I was bored out of my mind; I had nothing to do. I was there, I think, as a novelty. He has an American girl who speaks Japanese as his secretary. So I left that, and then I got back into the entertainment business. I worked at A&M Records in the international division, doing advertising. Then I worked for Billy Jack Productions in the promotion department. But now I was on the other side of the business.

Then my mom got sick. While she was recuperating, I quit my job at A&M Records and went to run her business. Then I got into the business side of life. Shortly thereafter, I went to work for DirecTV, and then I got involved in mortgages. I became a mortgage broker, and I was broker in California from ’77 to ’94. I had my own company, had loan offices, and did really well. Then, in ’92, I got divorced, and then I got restless. I just wanted to move; I’d been in California for 26 years, and I just wanted to move. A friend of mine had a house in Oklahoma and said, “Just go live there for a year until you figure out what you want to do.” So my mom and I moved to Oklahoma, and I hated it. Luckily in 1995 I got a job opportunity to do mortgages in Virginia, so I moved to Virginia to see how I liked it, and then my mom moved about a year later. I did mortgages until 2000.

After I left the mortgage business I went into the home-building business.  I have a partner, and he does the hard part; I do the fun part. I’m in the model center, and I design the houses, draw up the plans, help the customers pick out all the pretty things, and do all the ordering. So I do that part, and he does the physical part of it. In 2008, when the economy here really started to tank, our business went way down. We still have it open, but we’re not doing the volume we used to do. In the meantime, someone approached me who needed someone to run their business.  So I worked out a deal where I could stay where I’m at right now (home-building model center). So I have two businesses: one I own and one I run. I’m really busy! (laughs)

BH: In closing, what would you like to tell the readers of this interview?

LM:  Very rarely, maybe never, does someone have the opportunity to revisit and relive the best experiences in their lives. I am very grateful that I have been given this gift. I loved Japan and a part of my heart will always remain there – partly because of Natsuki but mostly because of the Japanese people themselves.  It says in Jeremiah 29:11 that God has a plan for each of us – a plan to give us hope and a future. I’m still alive, so I know I still have a plan waiting to unfold for me.  I’m looking forward with expectation to what’s in store for me now. Thank you again, Brett.

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9 thoughts on “SUSAN WATSON SPEAKS! Actress Linda Miller Remembers King Kong Escapes!

  1. Oh Linda that was great. Seems like I never really knew you. You did so much and so many exciting things.
    Is there any way I can purchase a copy of King Kong Returns? I would love for the family to see it.

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  2. Hey Barbara, Linda played Susan Watson in King Kong Escapes. I don’t think there is a movie by the name of King Kong Returns. There’s a 2-DVD box set out for King Kong vs Godzilla & King Kong Escapes. Usual online sites like Amazon, Ebay, and such have them.

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  3. Sitting here watching Svenghouli and watching King Kong Escapes, and had to see what became of Linda Miller. What a fascinating story! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this! And the movie is campy fun! Glad to know Linda is doing well as of this writing…

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  4. Great interview. It’s always nice to hear about people who keep their wits about them and don’t let the entertainment industry undermine their basic values. Good for you, Ms. Miller!

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  5. I have been a big fan of Linda Miller and like to know how to contact her.I saw king kong escapes a long time ago and it brought back memories.

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  6. Great to learn about Kong’s least known love interest (not to be confused with the actress of the same name, Jackie Gleason’s daughter). Is she looking forward to “Kong: Skull Island” And “Godzilla Versus King Kong”? Maybe someone will try to bring back Mechanikong?

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  7. I just watched King Kong Escapes last night and needed to know more about Lt. Susan Watson, -and found this interview! Thank you so much for this. Ms. Miller’s screen presence is magnetic. I can see why Kong fell in love with her!

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