Bill Miller is one of today's most popular shipboard lecturers. The
author of some 80 books on ocean liners and cruise ships as well as
numerous articles about ocean travel, he has appeared in several
television documentaries. Not surprisingly, Mr. Miller's lectures on
ocean liner history typically draw large crowds regardless of which
ship or cruise line he is sailing on.
History is not everyone's favorite subject so why do so many
people want to hear about the history of passenger ships? "I think one
of the reasons why people identify with ships is that ships seem to have
more of a soul. There is a spirit or embodiment within the steel, a kind
of chemistry that, with all do respect, I don't think a commuter bus can
give you. They have individual personalities. Even the Queen Mary
and the old Queen Elizabeth had individual personalities. They were
not the same. Consequently, I think that people feel that chemistry,
that engulfing sense of warmth, personality, magic, care, even love."
Miller's lectures are not a dry recital of facts and dates but rather
reflect a deep passion for the subject. "I was very lucky in that I was
born in a place called Hoboken, New Jersey, on the banks of the
Hudson River where I saw the great liners over 50 years ago sailing
back and forth to Europe. And a passion developed. My brother was
a year younger and he liked fire engines and Little League baseball; he
didn't even look at the river. Why we are drawn, we do not know but
thank heavens for me, it happened. It became my little kitchen table
hobby with toy boats. It eventually led to me writing articles and then
books. 35 years ago, I offered my services to a cruise line - - P&O - -
to give my first shipboard lecture and I have been on ships ever since -
- over 75 different liners, 415 voyages."
His speaking style is engaging, conversational but with an element
of showmanship. "My style of speaking sort of came naturally. I
never took public speaking at school. I don't know where that came
from - - the ability to get up in front of a group. It just seems as
natural talking to 800 as sitting at a table and talking to someone. And
I think - - this is going to sound a little bit fairy tale-like - - but the
spirit of the ships propels me to do what I do on the stage and do it
well because I am keeping them alive. So there is some kind of
energy that is coming around in a circle and that is what makes it work."
"I was a teacher for 32 years. I taught 11 year-olds in sixth grade
in Hoboken. I think you have to be entertaining to kids. You can't
keep the momentum up from nine to three, that is impossible, but in
each class you have to have, we'll call it magic or electricity, going on.
I had, in later years, a lot of inner-city kids who had difficulties and
problems at home so you had to work a little harder to keep them
occupied, to keep them attentive. So I definitely think that was a
training ground. However, that being said, I think an audience of 11
year olds and an audience on the Queen Mary 2 are different worlds
A Unique Author
Not many authors have written 80 books. What makes this
accomplishment even more impressive is that for much of his career,
Mr. Miller was not writing full time but was also teaching and lecturing
"When I was still teaching, I would come home in the afternoons at
three or four o'clock, make myself a little light supper, and then I
would write for a couple of hours. I wouldn't say that I would do that
five days a week but three out of five. It was a wonderful alternative
to teaching where you could be quiet but at the same time creative. I
found that to be fascinating and I like the idea of creating something - -
developing something like a garden with the photographs, the anecdotes
and building it up. I like that sense of creativity."
"In the summers, I would have time to write and on school
vacations as well. Now that I am retired, I can do it more on my own.
In the age of the laptop, I can do it onboard the ship. I can do writing
right here. There is a lot of time here not used for the supermarket,
getting the car washed or whatever. You have the freedom, the time,
to do a lot more."
At the same time, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to
obtain source material. In writing his books, Miller often relies upon
interviews with people who were on the historic ships. The anecdotes
that he is able to relate add a personal element to his books as well as
to his lectures.
"It is becoming more difficult to find anecdotes about the old liners
because the number of people who go back to that period - - the 1930s,
even World War II and the 50s - - is getting fewer and fewer.
Fortunately, I still do have one great [resource] and that is the ships
themselves. You meet people on the ships that actually served on the
old liners or who sailed upon them. Because I am a lecturer, they ferret
me out or I ferret them out For example, when I was on the Rotterdam,
there were 400 retired employees from Holland America onboard. So I
had a field day chatting with them."
"On the Queen Mary 2, I had a man who came up to me who had
been on the St. Louis in June 1939. It was loaded with 900 Jewish
passengers [fleeing the Nazis] and it was rejected by Cuba and sent
back as a propaganda event - - the voyage of the damned. What are
the chances of still meeting anyone who was on a voyage in June
1939? He was there and he gave me a wonderful one hour interview.
So my big advantage these days is that I meet people on ships who
worked on ships or sailed on them."
As noted earlier, because of his expertise, Mr. Miller has appeared
in several documentaries about ocean liners. In addition, it led
filmmaker Robert Neal Marshall to make a documentary about Mr.
Miller entitled "Mr. Ocean Liner."
"Just recently, I hosted the Ocean Liner Film Festival at Lincoln
Center - - five days of films, 25 movies, sponsored by Cunard. The
opening night was devoted to 'Mr. Ocean Liner'. A great thrill for me
was to see the glass case marques in front of Lincoln Center that
advertised the ballet, the opera, the symphony and 'Mr. Ocean Liner.'
So I have played Lincoln Center," Miller says with a smile
Ocean liner and cruise ship historian Bill Miller
|Its all about ships
Cruise interview - - Bill Miller - - "Inspired By Ships"
INSPIRED BY SHIPS
A conversation with ocean liner historian,
author and lecturer, Bill Miller
by Richard H. Wagner
In part 2 of this interview, Mr. Miller
gives some thoughts about today's cruise
industry and the future of cruise ships.
CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART 2