In Memoriam: Russell (Rusty) Miller, May 30, 1942 – Dec. 29, 2020

Jude Acers (Part XV: The Price is Austin of “The Road,” originally published in the Berkeley Barb, Sep 20-26 & Sep 27-Oct 3, 1974):

It will be Miller who will watch in absolute awe as you move from $50 an appearance to a $1,000 per shot attraction. He is a most curious friend, a most curious opposite of a professional chess player. And he is, stated simply, a genius.


Like US senior chessmaster Kenneth R. Smith, Russell Miller cannot spell. He quit school early, voted for Richard Nixon and until recently was quite proud of it. He lives in Yakima, Washington (apple country) and is the Mr. Wizard traffic controller for Valley Evaporating Company, a job passed on to him by his father. Miller thinks very little of his personality, has very little confidence in his promotional ideas, so he tries a lot of them. He plays chess and has won a few small tournaments in Washington. He finds it difficult to believe that anybody really notices him. Organization is not the source of fame in business or chess. Novelty is. Winning is. Slowly, slowly, Miller is becoming famous, noticed.


One person who has noticed is John Grefe, one of the very strongest professional chess players in the world. He sits on my sofa, incredulous at Russell W. Miller. “How did you find him, this person? I am sure you realize I cannot find a person to represent me, answer mail for me, as is required if you’re going to do chess touring.” I only smile, saying nothing. I found Miller, baby. He is an exclusive booking agent. Nobody, but nobody, gets Miller now.


We are taught, that appearances mean nothing. Miller proves it. He wears clothes that the Lion’s Club of Yakima finds acceptable, down to the undershirt beneath the white shirt. He sounds corpse-coffin dead on the telephone. He is Mr. Plastic. All he does is everything. White socks. Plumpish build, crew cut that would make George Wallace proud. He honestly believes that the people inside prisons are bad guys, while the people outside prisons are good guys. When he heard that Jude Acers was starting a chess tour, he carefully called people in the tour cities to check out exactly how long Jude Acers’ hair really was, you know. Scratch John Braley, Washington chess champion. Hair too long. That’s what mattered. That’s what everyone saw that Russell Miller cared about. And so several United States chess masters made a significant mistake in the sixties. They encountered toothy, awkwardly worded, thick-rimmed glasses Russell W. Miller and spit upon him, ignored him. It cost them several hundred thousand dollars. I mean honestly, that anybody that Miller promoted as a lifetime project would have to make that much in professional appearances worldwide. Miller is that good.


The first hint for most people in Washington was Russell W. Miller’s chess-to-the-people program. It was right out of grass roots Lenin and Che Guevara ideology, although super square Miller did not even dream of this. He patiently sent letters to banks, schools and amateur chess players throughout the state, urging them to hold a one-day chess tournament, a “county championship” of their area. The idea was to have a chess tourney in every county in the state on the same day. He worked hundreds of hours on his chess-to-the-people program for the blast, to do it to ya. No such project has ever happened in North or South America before Miller. True, many of the mini-tournaments had only four or five players in them. But it was a genuine triumph, which Miller regards as a total failure to this day.


In his early thirties, Miller lives in his own plastic house with his wife, Kathy, and daughter, Ielleen. Half the appliances don’t work. He does not mow the lawn. Housework piles up. . . .


It would not be possible to pick a human being more opposite in all respects from Jude Acers than Russell Miller. That Miller booked 40 chess exhibitions in 15 states virtually overnight (and saved the 1969-1970 Acers tour from collapse and ridicule) only goes to prove that life, like the SLA, like Patricia Hearst, like the Beatles, is far stranger than all fiction. Neither can explain how they work together or even stand each other. Very strange, folks. Ready for Looney Tunes. And, of course, Miller and Acers rode the Fischer-Spassky tidal wave of chess publicity like the Lone Ranger rode Silver. It was an absolute dream. You had to see us to believe us in 1972. We were-a-really-smokin’. Thanks B and B.


As the bus is leaving I remember that, “Gone with the Wind” was the movie I saw at the Arkansas Theater before leaving Little Rock in 1968. Russell Miller was waiting for me with rolled-up white shirtsleeves and a tape recorder at Marysville, Washington’s Strawberry Open chess tournament, just 20 days later, you know. Come here, boy, I’m gonna make you a star. Rockin’-and-a-rolling soon.

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