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Gloria McMillan, who played the sweet schoolgirl and principal’s daughter Harriet Conklin opposite Eve Arden in the comedy Our Miss Brooks on the radio, television and big screen, has died. She was 88.
McMillan died peacefully Wednesday at her home in Huntington Beach, California, after being diagnosed in November with a cancerous tumor in her bile duct, her husband of 35 years, Ron Cocking, told The Hollywood Reporter. “She was, indeed, a beautiful, talented and loving person,” he said.
McMillan had acted on the radio in live dramas for The Lux Radio Theatre and on Mayor of the Town with Agnes Moorehead, Lionel Barrymore and Conrad Bain before she was hired at age 13 for CBS Radio’s Our Miss Brooks, a big hit right out of the gate.
As the daughter of Gale Gordon’s pompous Osgood Conklin, she portrayed Madison High student Harriet from 1948-57 on the radio; on the CBS TV adaptation from 1952-55; and in the 1956 Warner Bros. film version.
Her character also had an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Richard Crenna’s Walter Denton. “I really did have a crush on him [in real life], it was really bad,” she said in a 2007 interview.
Talking about Arden, who played high school English teacher Constance Brooks on the show, McMillan said: “She was my mentor, teacher and surrogate mother for so many years, taught me how to not use any [salty] language, not to back-talk her, just to become a professional actress. She even took me to a play. She was very, very good to me.”
McMillan was born in Portland, Oregon, on March 13, 1933. Her mother, Hazel, served as her agent. (As perhaps the first female talent agent in Hollywood, Hazel also repped Dennis the Menace star Jay North and the kids from Father Knows Best.)
McMillan began her career as a child singer and tap dancer on the radio before she and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was about 7. Soon after, her mom wrote a letter to famed actor Edward G. Robinson about how wonderful her daughter was, and he hired her for a Christmas radio program.
When McMillan married her first husband, USC student Gil Allen, in a Beverly Hills church ceremony in 1954, Gordon, her TV dad, walked her down the aisle.
After Our Miss Brooks, McMillan appeared on a 1966 episode of NBC’s Dr. Kildare; as a judge in the Barbara Feldon beauty-pageant satire Smile (1975); in the 1978-79 NBC miniseries Centennial, based on the James A. Michener novel; and on a 1990 installment of ABC’s Perfect Strangers, her final credit.
From 1974 to 2018, McMillan taught acting and tap dancing to kids at The Looking Glass Studio of Performing Arts in San Bernardino, California.
At its peak, the studio had 12 other professional-level teachers and more than 600 students enrolled in acting, ballet, tap, jazz, vocal, musical theater and “kinder-theater.” Its in-house Hazel McMillan Studio Theatre had seating for 70 as well as five studios for dance classes.
In addition to her husband — they were a couple for 49 years — survivors include their children, Janet, Jonathan, Christopher (a producer of live stage events and theatrical productions), Kelly and Barbara; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
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