Dates: 1863-1976; Bulk Date Span: 1961-1976
Novelist; writer for Talent Associates television series and interviewer of Harry S. Truman; author of Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (1974)
The papers of Merle Miller at the Harry S. Truman Library concern his “oral biography” of Harry S. Truman, Plain Speaking, and include manuscripts and manuscript fragments, interview transcripts, research notes, correspondence, printed reviews of the book, and other printed materials.
Size: About 6.8 linear feet (approximately 13,600 pages).
Copyright: Merle Miller donated his copyright interest in his papers and tape recordings to the government of the United States. Documents created by U.S. government officials in the course of their duties are in the public domain. Other copyright interests are presumed to belong to the creators of documents or their heirs.
Processed by: Raymond H. Geselbracht, Carol Briley, Randy Sowell, Daphne Shelton, Michelle Loveall, and Mary Sue Luff (1993-2001); Randy Sowell (2023).
|1919 (May 17)||Born, Montour, Iowa|
|1935-40||Student, University of Iowa and London School of Economics|
|1942-45||Served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as an editor of Yank magazine|
|c. 1945-49||Editor, Time and Harper's magazines|
|1948||That Winter (first published novel)|
|1949||The Sure Thing|
|1961-62||Interviewed Harry S. Truman as writer for television series on Truman, to be produced by David Susskind's company, Talent Associates|
|1964||Only You, Dick Daring! (with Evan Rhodes)|
|1974||Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman|
|1980||Lyndon: An Oral Biography|
|1986 (June 10)||Died, Danbury, Connecticut|
The papers of Merle Miller at the Harry S. Truman Library mostly relate to his book, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (1974). Published shortly after Mr. Truman’s death and in the midst of the Watergate scandal, Plain Speaking became a best-seller and contributed to a wave of retrospective public enthusiasm for President Truman as a man of simple integrity and forthright honesty.
Merle Miller was a novelist and magazine editor who was employed in 1961-62 as writer and "general organizer" of a documentary television series on the life and Presidency of Harry S. Truman. Produced by David Susskind and his company, Talent Associates, the proposed series enjoyed the full cooperation of Mr. Truman. The series was to consist of extensive interviews with the former President and others, along with film of the historic events they were discussing. In conducting research for the series, Miller spent hours talking with Mr. Truman, usually in the former President’s office at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, and usually in the company of Truman’s friends and literary associates, David Noyes and William Hillman. About seven hours and forty minutes of these conversations were recorded on audiotape. (For more information about the sound recordings, see the "Merle Miller Sound Recordings" section of the finding aid, immediately following this section.)
When the television networks displayed little interest in a series on Truman’s life, Susskind abandoned the project after completing only two films (one on Truman’s life and career, and the other on the Korean War). This ended Miller’s association with the former President. Subsequently, Screen Gems took over the television project and completed the series under the title Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman (1964). Still later, relying in part on the tape recordings of his conversations with Truman, Miller prepared an "oral biography" of the ex-President. At various times entitled "The Last Roman," or "Voices," it was ultimately published as Plain Speaking in early 1974. (Advance excerpts from the book were published in late 1973.) It consisted mostly of an extended dialogue between Miller and Truman, filled with the former President’s colorful and sometimes profane comments on his life and times, and interspersed with snatches of narrative describing the circumstances surrounding the interviews and comments from other persons whom Miller had interviewed for the television project.
The Merle Miller Papers are comprised of six series: the Manuscript File; the Research Interview File; the Research Subject File; the Research Notecard File: the Correspondence File; and the Review Article File. The Manuscript File includes two nearly complete typewritten manuscripts of Plain Speaking (one of them entitled "Voices"), along with manuscript fragments, outlines of programs for the Talent Associates television series, an introduction written by Miller for a book of Truman quotations, and the manuscript of an article dealing with Miller’s novel, The Sure Thing (1949).
The Research Interview File consists mostly of transcripts and summaries of interviews conducted by Miller in preparation for the planned television series. Included are transcripts of some of Miller’s recorded interviews with the former President, as well as transcripts and summaries of interviews with other persons, ranging from such prominent figures as Dean Acheson and Omar Bradley to Mr. Truman’s relatives and friends in Independence.
The Research Subject File contains research notes, manuscript fragments, interview transcripts, newspaper clippings, printed materials, and other items relating to a variety of topics connected with Truman’s life and Presidency. Also included in this series are two charts listing various Truman-related topics. Apparently, Miller used these charts during the writing of Plain Speaking to organize his notes and subject matter.
The Research Notecard File consists mostly of typed research notes for the book, derived from published sources or from the interviews with Truman.
The Correspondence File includes many letters to Miller from friends and readers expressing their admiration for Plain Speaking and congratulating him on the book’s success, along with a few negative letters, and copies of a few of Miller’s replies to this mail from the public. The series also includes correspondence regarding public appearances by Miller to promote the book, as well as brochures and other promotional materials prepared for the hardcover and paperback editions of Plain Speaking.
The Review Article File consists mostly of newspaper clippings and other printed materials featuring reviews of Plain Speaking; articles about Miller; best-seller lists on which Plain Speaking appeared; reviews of a television adaptation of Plain Speaking that appeared on the Public Broadcasting System in 1976; and German-language reviews of the book’s German edition.
Miller originally donated this collection of papers to the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, along with research materials relating to his book about President Johnson, Lyndon: An Oral Biography. The papers relating to Truman and Plain Speaking were transferred to the Truman Library in 2023.
More information about Merle Miller and his association with Mr. Truman can be found in the Secretary’s Office File and the Television File of Truman’s Post-Presidential Papers, and in the Truman Library’s Vertical File. The Library’s audiovisual collection includes the Decision series of television films that Screen Gems completed after Talent Associates abandoned the project, as well as outtakes from the films.
The Merle Miller Sound Recordings consist of seven hours and forty minutes of recorded conversations between Mr. Truman, Merle Miller, William Hillman, David Noyes, and others who cannot be identified. The recordings of these conversations have been transferred to the Truman Library’s audiovisual collection and have been open to researchers since 1993.
The conversations occurred between the summer of 1961 and the winter of 1962. According to Miller’s account in the preface of Plain Speaking, "Mr. Truman and I had days, sometimes weeks, of conversations, interviews if you insist, many of them on tape, many not." For those conversations that were taped, the two recording venues that can be identified with some confidence from evidence in the recordings are Mr. Truman’s office at the Truman Library and some location in New York City. The conversations suggest that all the participants understood that what they said was being recorded. David Noyes, who speaks in a strong, deep, confident voice, occasionally explicates (sometimes at length) things that Truman has said. William Hillman, who speaks in a softer, gravelly voice, enters the conversation infrequently, usually to clarify some factual detail.
The recordings have a haphazard quality to them and seem to begin and end without much technical finesse. The sound quality is not very good. Some of the recordings are at three-and-three-quarter inches per second, others at seven-and-one-half inches per second; one recording changes in mid-course from one speed to the other. The eleven individual tapes carry, with one exception, letter designations: A, 2A, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, and K. It is not clear what these letters meant to Miller, other than that they gave identities to the tapes. They do not seem to establish any meaningful order among the tapes. The interview that Miller identifies in Plain Speaking as being his first with Truman, for example, is re