POWHATAN — Linda Miller has fond memories of sitting in the oversized hand of one of the most well-known cinematic monsters of all time: King Kong.
Miller, of Powhatan County, has an unusual past — she was one of the stars of the 1967 Japanese film “King Kong Escapes.”
Now a cult classic for monster movie fans, the film features Miller as Lt. Susan Watson, the petite blonde (she dyed her hair for the film) trying to help save the world while not getting killed amid raging monster battles.
It was an extraordinary time in Miller’s life, but one that mostly was buried in the decades since, she said.
“Nobody knew about it. I wasn’t one to pull out my pictures and reminisce,” said Miller, a partner in Country Living Homes in Powhatan.
That all changed when Miller got a call out of the blue from writer Brett Homenick. He had been looking for her for years and wanted to write an article about her experiences with the film.
The story ran in the summer 2014 edition of G-Fan, a fan magazine of the Godzilla Society of North America.
The movie has a bigger following in the United States than in Japan and is mostly popular with fans of the Godzilla series because the team that made “King Kong Escapes” also made the original Godzilla movies at Toho Studios, said Homenick, who lives in Tokyo and answered questions via email.
Unbeknownst to Miller, she was at the center of a great mystery among fans of the film who wanted to know more about her for several decades, Homenick said. Several writers had been searching for Miller since at least the early 1990s, he added.
“I started looking for her around 2005. At one point, I found contact information for a person I felt confident was Linda’s brother, so you could imagine how I felt when Linda later told me she was an only child,” Homenick said.
Miller had just finished high school when she and her mother, Marta Miller, moved to Tokyo to join her father, Merle Duane Miller, who was in the Air Force.
Her father had put in a request for duty in Spain, and she originally planned to become a Spanish interpreter for the United Nations.
In Japan, the 17-year-old Miller found herself in the limelight, starting work almost immediately as a model.
“I was treated very well. I was always treated like I was special,” she said.
Miller’s acting career began when she was spotted on a magazine cover and cast in “King Kong Escapes,” she said.
“I couldn’t believe it because I had never acted in my life. I knew I wasn’t going to be that good. It just seemed surreal,” Miller said.
During the 1960s, several Americans living in Japan were chosen to appear in various movies, sometimes to give the film an international flavor and other times to appear as one of the lead actors, Homenick said.
Miller remembers the lead male American actor, Rhodes Reason, giving her advice to help her performance. In scenes where she was supposed to be in King Kong’s hand, she was actually on a giant hand with a blue screen behind her.
“He gave me tips on how to visualize things to be more believable,” she said.
The only thing she didn’t like about the experience was that the entire film was dubbed to make a Japanese and English version using different voices, she said.
“It was awful. The only place my voice is in the movie is whenever there is a scream,” she said.
Miller filmed one other movie in Japan, “The Green Slime,” in 1968, before her family returned to the United States.
Miller briefly pursued an acting career in Los Angeles but had a difficult transition back to life stateside. On top of dealing with her parents’ divorce and a broken love affair with well-known Japanese actor Yosuke Natsuki, she didn’t adjust well to the Los Angeles movie scene, Miller said.
She landed a guest role on “My Three Sons” under the name Leslie Michaels, which she was assigned because another woman named Linda Miller already had a card with the Screen Actors Guild.
“I got out of acting because I wasn’t emotionally ready for the business of acting in the United States. You had to do a lot of compromising,” she said.
Instead, she “floated” for a few years before becoming a mortgage broker, a career that eventually brought her to Powhatan. She started working at Country Living Homes in 2001 and moved to the county in 2003.
When Miller made “King Kong Escapes,” she thought of it as another monster movie without much weight, which explains a great deal of her surprise when she found out people had been looking for her.
With the American “Godzilla” movie hitting theaters earlier this year and many of the original Japanese movies coming out on DVD and Blu-ray, more people are becoming aware of the genre and its history, Homenick said. “Linda Miller is a part of that history.”
For years, Homenick had no luck in finding Miller. Then, in August 2013, he had a meeting with Natsuki, and the actor mentioned Miller.
“Suffice it to say, my jaw hit the floor. He was able to give me some information that led me to find Linda,” Homenick said.
When Homenick dropped Natsuki’s name during his introduction, the door was wide open for him, Miller said with a laugh. Even though she hadn’t spoken to the actor since they broke up, he always held a special place in her heart, she said.
Homenick said he was surprised by how friendly Miller was and how much of her experience during the film she could remember.
“It was one of the smoothest interview experiences I’ve ever had, along with being one of the most rewarding,” he said.
The same goes double for Miller, who said it wasn’t just an interview; it was about getting back a part of herself she thought was lost.
The headline to Homenick’s article reads “Linda Miller Rediscovered!” In reality, Miller said, she was the one who truly rediscovered herself.
“What has happened through all of this is it has woken up the creative side of me. Since Japan, I have been very involved in business and the creative side of me has been dormant,” Miller said.
The experience inspired Miller to write a Christmas play that she wants to put on at her church, Family Worship Center in Powhatan, and film.
“What has happened to me is a full circle. It is so satisfying and touches your heart so much,” she said.