Editor’s Note: This is part one in a series about local people connected to the early days of television.
While meeting with this publication last week to share details about an art show that he would be taking part in with two other artists, Carmichael area resident Bob Miller explained that his involvement in art extends beyond the strokes of brushes on canvas.
Bob, 83, noted that his background in art even included working for television stations during the 1950s.
In speaking about his longtime interest in art, Bob said, “My first memory was drawing cartoons from coloring books, doing pictures of Disney characters and so on. I was always one of the best (at drawing) in class.”
Long before becoming a television pioneer, Bob was raised in the town of Hughson, about 10 miles east of Modesto by his parents, Pierce and Mae Miller, who he mentioned were much older than himself.
“My father was born in 1886 and my mother was born in 1896,” Bob said. “My mother, I think, was in her late 30s when I was born and my father was in his 40s. They were both Pennsylvania Dutch, German, and as a matter of fact, the first language for both my mother and father was German.”
Bob, who was the fourth of five children in his family, said that his father grew up as an orphan, came West when he was in his 20s and for a short time homesteaded in Arizona.
Bob described the events that led to his parents’ marriage and the early part of their life together, as he said, “My father had apparently worked as a farmhand for my mother’s father and he had remembered my mother and went back to Pennsylvania and asked permission to marry her from her father. My mother just barely knew him, and they were married and he brought her to California. Instead of going back to Los Angeles, they settled in (Hughson).”
Despite dropping out of school when he was about 10 years old, Pierce proved to be very successful working in a variety of jobs during his life. His jobs in Hughson included working in a livery stable and operating a notable peach farm of about 40 acres.
The Millers eventually moved to the town of Empire – about five miles east of Modesto – where Bob attended Empire Grammar School (the predecessor to today’s Empire Elementary School) through the eighth grade.
In 1944, Bob began attending Modesto High School, where he was active in the art club, was student body president in 1947 and graduated a year later.
During that time, Bob, who was influenced by two art teachers, Ida Gross and Jean Ariey, was the sports cartoonist for the school newspaper.
In commenting about that experience, Bob said, “(Working as a sports cartoonist as a career) was sort of what I wanted to do. Well, that sort of thing sort of fell by the wayside.”
In 1948, Bob began attending San Jose State College (today’s San Jose State University), where he majored in commercial art, minored in history and was editor of the school’s magazine, Lyke.
During his sophomore year at San Jose State, Bob married his high school sweetheart, Anita Richardson.
While still attending that institution, Bob obtained part-time work as a sign painter.
And with his college days finally behind him, Bob was hired to work full time as a silkscreener for a Sunnyvale, Calif. firm called R and A Signs.
His employment with that company lasted about three months, at which time Bob moved to Sacramento with his family, which then included his wife and two children.
With that move, Anita was able to live closer to her parents, Raymond and Ardis Richardson, who then resided in Carmichael, near the intersection of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Marconi Avenue.
Bob’s first employment in the capital city was at The Dosch Co. at 200 V St., where he worked on silkscreen jobs and other projects.
In describing his uninviting working environment at that company, Bob said, “My silkscreen shop was an old chicken coop and it had tar paper on the roof. During the summer, it was like 120 (degrees) and during the winter, it was like 50 (degrees). There was no air conditioning, no heating, no anything like that. So, I cut stencils and old man (F. Elwood) Dosch would give me like five X-Acto blades a week and a wet stone to sharpen (the blades). It was just ridiculous.”
Although Bob is many years removed from that job, he spoke about various irritations of that workplace as if they occurred the previous day.
Among those irritations were his daily interactions with the business’s guard dogs, which were tied to a post about 10 feet from where he worked.
“One of my major jobs was there were dogs, Dobermans, that (Dosch) used at night and turned loose in the yard as guard dogs,” Bob said. “The dogs were chained to a post and it was my job to clean up their (droppings) and to feed them. Well, they hated me. All day, they would sit there and growl at me while I was cutting my stencils.”
Bob was undoubtedly thrilled to finally change jobs about a year later.
In recalling the moment that led to his new employment, Bob said, “I was home one night (in 1954) and we flipped on the television and Channel 36 in Stockton had just gone on the air. It was KTVU, and I looked at their artwork. Their artwork was absolutely miserable, so I threw my portfolio in my Studebaker and I drove down to Stockton. I was interviewed by a guy named Dave Hume, and Dick Block. Dave ultimately became the news director at Channel 3 (in Sacramento). In any event, I was interviewed by them. They really liked my portfolio, but it also meant that I was to be a floor man on television shows. Everything was live in those days. Dave said, ‘You know, I really like his (art) work, but I think he’s too short to reach the mic booms.’ And here I am, I’m going to be a floor man, I had to reach the mic booms. So, we went down in the studio, and I got down on my tippy toes and I managed to operate the mic boom and he said, ‘Okay, that’s okay.’ So, they hired me.”