I first met Helen Miller when Neil Sedaka brought me up to Screen
Gems in 1967 here on Fifth Avenue in New York City. He pointed her
out and when she passed by, I asked if she was Helen Miller. She
replied in her gruff tone, "Who wants to know?" I told
her I was a fan and she kind of smiled and said thanks. I got off
easy, as foul language was not an uncommon occurrence with Helen.
I never signed with Screen Gems, but I was with Metromedia Music
in the early '70s and got to meet her again. There was now mutual
respect. Helen wasn't an egomaniac . . . far from it. She really
didn't believe she had a fan (or fans). I told her how much I loved
Helen actually started out in the late '40s writing with a fellow
female songwriter named Fay Manus. They had a few songs recorded
and were doing pretty well until Helen left the business to raise
her kids. It wasn't until the early 60s that she tried again as
a woman in her 40s. She met with Don Kirshner and became the oldest
of the group of Aldon songwriters.
The surprise was she had hits . . . one after another! She wrote
mostly with Howard Greenfield and achieved gold with songs like
"Charms" (Bobby Vee) and "Foolish Little Girl"
(the Shirelles). She and Howie also wrote and produced "It
Hurts To Be In Love", which was actually intended for and first
recorded by Neil Sedaka. RCA, however, insisted he re-record the
song in their own studios. Unfortunately, it didn't have the magic
that the original track had, which was given to Gene Pitney and
hit #7. She also had hits with lyricist Roger Atkins on songs such
as "Make Me Your Baby" (Barbara Lewis) and "Princess
In Rags" (Gene Pitney).
Helen had a passion for R&B and worked a lot with artists like
Freddie Scott. At Metromedia she collaborated with Estelle Levitt
on the passionate "Don't Say You Don't Remember" (Beverly
Bremers), which she also produced. She made it to Broadway in 1971
with "Inner City" written with the poet Eve Merriam.
By the '80s Helen had retired and moved to Florida with her husband
Irving. I last spoke with her a few years back when I was doing
a salute to Sedaka that included some songs Helen wrote with Neil
and Howie. She almost made it to the show. I wish she had.
(Brian Gari, March 2006, New York City)