Jan Miner was born October 15, 1917 in Boston.
She studied at the Vesper George School of Art before leaving to study acting with Lee Strasberg.
Then in 1945, Jan made her stage debut in a Boston production of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene.
Jan Miner played feature roles in the 1948-1950 dramatic anthology series Radio City Playhouse (“Soundless”, “Portrait of Lenore,” et al.).
It was her appearance in the premiere broadcast of the series that “created a minor sensation in the play Long Distance”; the episode proved so popular that she repeated her performance later in the season.
Jan then became a well-established radio performer, working on multiple series simultaneously through the 1950’s.
Among these performances was her role as Mary Wesley on Boston Blackie, girlfriend Ann Williams on Casey, Crime Photographer, and one of three sequential actresses who voiced secretary Della Street on Perry Mason.
Jan eventually starred as Julie Erickson, head of an orphanage, in the revival of the radio soap opera Hilltop House. The series was sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive for which she would later appear in a famous long running series of television commercials.
As radio drama began to fade with the popularity of television, Jan made her New York City theater debut in the 1958 melodrama Obbligato at Theatre Marquee, adapted by Jane Hinton Gates from the novel Une Ombre by Paul Vialar; Miner starred as a spinster in romantic competition with her younger sister, played by Carol Vandermeir.
Her Broadway debut came two years later, in the very short-lived (April 6–7, 1960) advertising-world comedy Viva Madison Avenue!, by George Panetta, at the Longacre Theatre.
Following her 1960 Broadway debut, Miner appeared on Broadway in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1963) and Butterflies Are Free (1972) (in each as an understudy); the 1973 revival of The Women; the 1976 revival of The Heiress with Jane Alexander; the 1980 revival of Watch on the Rhine, by Lillian Hellman; the 1983-1984 Circle in the Square Theatre revival of Heartbreak House, with Rex Harrison, Philip Bosco, Rosemary Harris, Amy Irving, Dana Ivey, and Stephen McHattie; and the Franco Zeffirelli productions of Terrence McNally’s adaptation of The Lady of the Camellias (1963) and Eduardo De Filippo’s Saturday Sunday Monday (1974). Her Shakespeare roles on Broadway included Emilia in the American National Theatre and Academy production of Othello (1970), starring Moses Gunn; and as Juliet’s nurse in director Theodore Mann’s Circle in the Square production of Romeo and Juliet (1977).
In 1986, Jan Miner appeared at the Off Broadway Lucille Lortel Theatre as Gertrude Stein in the play Gertrude Stein and a Companion, by Win Wells, with Marian Seldes as Alice B. Toklas. Miner and Seldes reprized the roles in a June 1987 television version for the cable network Bravo. Miner also appeared for six seasons in repertory roles at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.
Miner played Lenny Bruce’s mother, Sally, in the Bob Fosse film Lenny alongside Dustin Hoffman (Lenny Bruce) and Valerie Perrine (Honey Bruce). She also appeared as the Mother Superior in Mermaids. Her latter-day work in television included an episode of the police procedural series Law & Order.
Jan Miner appeared on television in, among other shows, Boston Blackie and Crime Photographer, in roles she originated on radio. But she became an icon to TV viewers as Madge, the wisecracking manicurist in commercials for Palmolive dish-washing detergent.
In an advertising campaign created by the agency Ted Bates Advertising, Jan played Madge, who worked at the Salon East Beauty Parlor and soaked her customer’s fingernails in Palmolive (“Palmolive softens hands while you do the dishes”). The campaign ran from 1966 to 1992.
Jan Miner’s Palmolive commercials would appear in France, (where Madge was “Francoise”), Germany, Switzerland, and Austria (in all three as “Tilly”), Finland (as “Marissa”), Denmark, and Italy. (in Australia and New Zealand, her counterpart Madge was played by Robina Beard)
Her trademark line became one of the most famous and parodied television commercial quotes:
“You’re soaking in it.”
Jan Miner was also a regular on the 1974 CBS situation comedy Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers in which she played the mother of the character portrayed by Paul Sand.
Jan Miner was married to actor and writer Richard Merrell for 35 years until his death from heart failure at age 75, on September 13, 1998. The two often appeared together onstage, including in The Gin Game at the Missouri Repertory Theater, prior to its renaming as the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in 2004, as well as in Night Must Fall, High Spirits, and what Miner called their favorite play together, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Byrdcliffe Theater in Woodstock, New York.
A resident of Southbury, Connecticut in her later years, she died February 15, 2004, at the Bethel Health Care Facility in Bethel, Connecticut, after having been in failing health for several years.
Now WE know em