Born and raised in Boston, Earl Miller was enrolled in medical school when he got a taste for the arts. He switched his sights to acting, relocated to New York, and attended the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse conservatory. Soon, he landed roles off-Broadway and on TV. But when the lighting director of a play he was in suddenly quit and Miller stepped in to do the job, he discovered he liked working behind the scenes. So began the journey that led to his true calling: photography. In 1967, he used his tax refund to buy a camera, and before long his career as a lensman took off.
Miller shot commercial campaigns, took celebrity headshots, and even toured with Sonny and Cher as their personal photographer. But it wasn’t until he picked up a 1972 issue of this magazine that he knew he wanted to photograph beautiful women. He submitted some of his work, and Guccione bought it. The two men went on to develop a creative partnership, and the Miller images Guccione published would burn themselves into the brains of countless Penthouse readers.
“[Guccione] told me that he firmly believed the magazine was a richer experience for the reader if it presented a wider range of visual artistry,” Miller told Adult Video News in 2010. “Rather than force his creative people to shoot in a particular style, he encouraged photographers to find their own vision and reach their own level of artistry.”
Here, we celebrate the decades-long collaboration between Earl Miller and Bob Guccione by sharing some of Miller’s work, and getting the photographer’s memories as he recounts one unforgettable shoot.
Miller recalls his shoot with 1980 Penthouse Pet of the Year, Cheryl Rixon:
“It was the winter of 1980. Bob Guccione had sent me to Tempe, Arizona, to shoot a special layout for the July 1980 issue of Penthouse featuring Pet of the Year, Cheryl Rixon. Cheryl was riding high and had just played her first mainstream film role in Columbia Pictures’ comedy Used Cars, starring Kurt Russell and Jack Warden. A PR guy at Columbia was also my production manager, so he was able to arrange whatever film location I wanted to use for Cheryl’s spread. My favorite location was way out in the desert where I knew we would have total privacy. This particular spot was the derelict fuselage of a DC-3 airplane, which was used as Kurt Russell’s office in Used Cars. It was freezing cold that day. I have a vivid memory of my crew and I bundled in heavy winter gear. Meanwhile, Cheryl had to lay her perfect naked body on that frigid metal plane.
“Cheryl got an unexpected audience that day on set. My PR friend forgot to mention that several truckloads of Tempe Teamsters [hired by Columbia Pictures] would be showing up to strike the props. As luck would have it they all rolled up right after Cheryl got completely naked on top of the plane. Oh crap, there goes my privacy, I thought, assuming that Cheryl would want to halt production until they left. Man, I sure was wrong. Cheryl just loved the extra attention. She performed like a star for those guys as they trudged props back and forth to their trucks. With an audience of men gawking at her, Cheryl forgot all about the freezing weather and strutted her stuff like no one else. Plus, the Teamsters got a bonus that day they never forgot.”
Bottom line, it seems good to be Earl. Cheryl Rixon, btw…