Remembering legendary filmmaker and Hermosa Beach resident Warren Miller

A natural-born entrepreneur.

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  • Written by
    Kat Monk

When most people think of Warren Miller, they think of winter, snow and skiing. But many in the South Bay remember him as a waterman, businessman and community advocate.

Born in Los Angeles in 1924, Warren was raised in Topanga. He learned how to ski at 12 when his Boy Scout troop went on a trip to San Bernardino. A couple years later, while in middle school, Warren made a surfboard out of wood and taught himself how to surf with the help of a Topanga local.

After World War II, when Warren was in his 20s, he became a passionate skier. He and a buddy traveled to Idaho and lived in a “canned ham” trailer in a Sun Valley parking lot and hunted rabbits and ducks for sustenance. In order to become better skiers, they started filming each other to improve their technique.

“When my parents got married [Warren] already had a tour arranged, so he needed to get 26 people booked so that my mom could travel free too.”

Filming soon became a way of life. Warren started making major ski films and rented auditoriums and theatres to sold-out crowds. A charismatic man, he loved to narrate his films and found it to be a fantastic way to tell stories to a captive audience. He enjoyed the personal touch it gave to his films.

Ski enthusiasts welcomed a new Warren Miller film each year, signifying the beginning of each new ski season. Little did Warren know at the time that this was setting the seed for a 50-year career.

Warren was a natural-born entrepreneur. He directed and produced at least 55 feature films, 300 marketing films and 13 episodes of a television series.

In order to fund his quest for making ski films, he started a side business of booking European tours. If he could book 12 people on a tour, he could travel for free wherever he wanted to film.

“When my parents got married [Warren] already had a tour arranged, so he needed to get 26 people booked so that my mom could travel free too,” says daughter Chris Miller. The Millers’ honeymoon photo has an additional 26 people in it, but they were able to travel for free and get the footage they needed to work on more films.

Warren bought a home on The Strand in Hermosa Beach at 34th Street, became an avid surfer and loved to sail too. Passionate about his community and the beach, Warren had a vision for Hermosa and became a community advocate.

One issue he took up was the bike path in Hermosa Beach. He argued that the city of Hermosa should not pave a bike path on the sand, losing beach to pavement. Warren drew up bike path plans himself, took them to the City Council to propose that the city not replicate what happened in neighboring cities. The fact that the bike path runs along Hermosa Avenue—behind the houses in Hermosa—is due to Warren Miller’s vision.

A second issue Warren fought for was to move the telephone poles underground, but they couldn’t reach a consensus. Forty years later, telephone poles are still a highly debated topic in the Beach Cities.

Warren also was one of the first businessmen to advocate working locally without a commute. He owned a couple businesses, including 200 Pier Avenue, where Warren Miller Productions remained and operated for 40 years. Warren wanted all of his employees to have the choice to not commute.

Each day he had a runner run into Hollywood with their film. He chose Hermosa because it was close enough but not too close to LAX and offered the ocean.

At one time he tried to buy the Biltmore Hotel. His idea was to conduct business as the hotel on the first couple floors, and the upper floors would be offices. He couldn’t find someone to partner, so he bought the 200 Pier building instead. 200 Pier was an incubator where you could get a small office and a storefront for relatively cheap. He kept the rents low so as not to jeopardize their businesses.

He was really proud of Hermosa Beach. He would end every film with Warren Miller Productions–Hermosa Beach. It ensured a strong awareness of this wonderful place.

Warren Miller passed away on January 24, 2018 of natural causes.