After New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent an apparently unnecessary 85 days in prison to protect her source in the CIA leak investigation, many wondered what had fueled her stubborn crusade. Some speculated that her silence was prompted by political motivations. Others saluted her journalistic integrity. But more than a few of her family’s old acquaintances are speculating that the tight-lipped Times reporter learned the value of omerta from an early age.
Her father, Bill Miller, was a nightclub impresario known as “Mr. Entertainment,” who, we hear, had a number of close cosa nostra associates. His first successful venue, Bill Miller’s Riviera, in Fort Lee, N.J., was a swank affair with an illegal casino upstairs that served as a launching pad for the careers of Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and other marquee acts of the Rat Pack era. According to law enforcement sources, the club was also a favored hangout of some of the tri-state area’s most hard-bitten gangsters.
“Everyone knew Bill Miller’s Riviera was all mobbed up,” says retired NYPD Lt. Joseph Coffey, the former head of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. “Most nights the wiseguys held court at the ringside tables. Back then, performers couldn’t get work in any of the nightclubs unless they were connected to a mob guy, and the Riviera was a mecca for the mob. Wiseguys from all over the country would go to the joint. They ran it.”
It was, perhaps, in this smoke-filled underworld that the young Miller–whose career at the Times has been marked by close relationships with the likes of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and Iraqi deputy prime minister Ahmed Chalabi–first gained her fascination with danger and powerful men who play by their own rules.
“Judy was a child when her dad owned the Riviera,” remembers 80-something Lou Gallow, a former waiter at the club. “Her mother would bring her to the club sometimes in the afternoons when the chorus girls were rehearsing. She was a beautiful little girl. I recall she had curls. She had curly hair. Now it’s straight.” If there was any mob action at the club, however, Gallow claims he didn’t see it. “It was all first-class people who came in,” he says.
In 1952, the ambitious Bill Miller shuttered the Riviera and flew off to Vegas to become entertainment director of the famed Sahara nightclub and casino–another favorite among the pinky-ring crowd–where his daughter presumably gleaned her knack for playing the odds.
Credited with inventing the “lounge act,” in later years he would book shows at the Dunes (where he owned a 10 percent stake), the Flamingo and the International Hotel, including the Sin City debuts of Elvis Pressley and Mae West.
West was 61 at the time and hadn’t been onscreen in 11 years. Ever the showman, Miller hired a throng of bathing-suit clad muscle boys to pose and strut onstage as West sang and inspected their pecs. “I wrote her a song for the very finish,” Miller told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a 1999 profile naming him one of the 100 people “who shaped Southern Nevada.” “It went, ‘I’ve got something for the girls: boys, boys, boys.’”
A true Vegas icon, Bill Miller died in 2002 at the age of 98.
Times spokesman Toby Usnik said he did not know how to reach Judith Miller for comment.
Previously: The Devil And Judy Miller