Obituary: Sigmund Miller

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SIGMUND MILLER was an entertainment writer who moved into scientific reference literature at an age when most people are retiring. A writer for radio and screen for many years, he was able to change his ambitions and talents as necessity required.

Miller lived in London for most of the Fifties, during which time his play One Bright Day was successfully performed in the West End with a cast that included Renee Asherson, Mary Hunter, Clive Brooks and Naunton Wayne. At the premiere Harold Hobson, the theatre critic of the Sunday Times, introduced him to the habitual first-nighter Sir Louis Sterling, who mistook him for Arthur Miller and praised the latter's most recent London successes. Nobody put him right and two years later Sterling, then regularly inviting Miller to his parties, had still not straightened out the confusion. It was typical of Sigi Miller, the soul of tact, that, wanting to be all things to all people, he never corrected gaffes and welcomed every occasion that would increase his social acquaintance.

Miller was born in New York in 1910, and educated in Brooklyn. He studied for a medical career at Brooklyn College, but had to leave when his father died, leaving him in charge of the family as its main means of support. There followed a successful career in radio. He wrote over a hundred radio plays for such ongoing series as The Inner Sanctum and You Are There, models of their kind in the pre-war and wartime golden age of American radio.

His play One Bright Day had a run on Broadway in 1952, and was recast for London a year later. Its story was a medical one: a man working for a pharmaceutical company discovers that it is manufacturing a potentially dangerous drug and is in a dilemma as to whether he should recall the drug - which would lead to bankruptcy - or trust to luck that no one becomes seriously ill. In the end he does the decent thing and goes public with what he knows. Walter Matthau was among the cast in the Broadway production, of what was described as a "contrived (but often compelling) problem play". His play Masquerade (1959), a psychological study of a frigid wife, played by Cloris Leachman, fared less well, and closed after the first night.

During his years in London, then awash with actors, directors, writers and refugees from Senator Joe McCarthy's witch-hunt of Hollywood and New York, all trying to start new careers in British studios or on the stage, Miller was a ubiquitous presence. He brought people together to co-operate, and got to know London arts circles. His friends ranged from the entertainment industry to many on the aristocratic fringes of the smart Bohemian world, including fashionable photographers of the day such as Baron and Anthony Beauchamp, up-and-coming writers like Doris Lessing, and the current glitterati. No one ever saw him without a beaming smile on his face.

He also worked in the film world, writing original scripts which included, for British studios, Wicked as They Come (1956) and Jet Storm (1959), but also developing a separate talent as a script doctor, which meant bringing the scripts of others up to the expectations of directors.

When he returned to New York in the early Sixties, his two sons then being of school age, he re-entered the world of commercial film- making, but found things much harder.

He had always been an advocate of healthy exercise and had had medical ambitions in earlier days. His own regime included swimming, running, skiing and the consumption of half a grapefruit for breakfast every day of his life. He decided to investigate the causes of illness and in particular the American obsession with symptoms, real or imagined, that in a society without a health service caused anxiety to millions.

The result was a large reference book, Symptoms: the complete home medical encyclopedia (1979), that helped its buyers pin down what was wrong with them and what to do about it. It became a bestseller, went through many editions and updates, and provided Miller with a steady income. He continued to write fiction (he had already published a number of crime novels), but without much success. He developed a relationship with the World Health Organisation, deepened his knowledge of everyday medicine, and continued to write for a public avid to know more about how our bodies function.

His joie de vivre did not diminish and he could often be seen at four or five different parties on the same night. He was married for 60 years to Phyllis Golden, who developed a late career of her own in commercial journalism, working for the Village Voice, a weekly opinion journal covering politics and the arts. Their two sons, Julian and Donald, both became writers, the latter a screenwriter. In a world where sleaze is commonplace, Sigmund Miller never lost his integrity or sense of values, and was a loyal friend to many.

John Calder

Sigmund Stephen Miller, writer: born near Vienna, Austria 10 August 1910; married 1938 Phyllis Golden (two sons); died New York 5 August 1998.