Culture Vulture: Larry H. Miller's cultural dilemmas

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Much has been made, justifiably, of the impact Larry H. Miller made on Utah.

As an auto magnate, entrepreneur, business leader, owner of the Utah Jazz, sports enthusiast and family man, Miller -- who died Feb. 20 at 64 -- has left a legacy few can rival.

What was less noted in the tributes to Miller's sports interests, his family loyalty and his love for Utah was the amount Miller has done for the state's culture.

If you went out on a date this weekend, there was a good chance you put some money into Miller's empire -- checking out a Jazz game (in person or via KJZZ-TV), seeing a movie at a Megaplex Theatre, or hearing Celine Dion at EnergySolutions Arena.

Movies were not a big part of Miller's portfolio. The Megaplex Theatres, now numbering 70 screens in Utah, accounted for only about 0.2 percent of his revenue, Miller told me in 2006.

But his movie theaters and other cultural holdings sometimes provided Miller with his biggest headaches.

» On Oct. 18, 1994, managers of the Delta Center (now EnergySolutions Arena) barred the goth-rock act Marilyn Manson from performing as the opening act for Nine Inch Nails, citing Manson's use of satanic imagery and sexual toys as stage props. NIN's Trent Reznor brought Manson onto the stage anyway, where Manson tried (and failed) to rile up the crowd by tearing pages from a copy of The Book of Mormon .

» In 2001, Miller's KJZZ dropped its affiliation with UPN (now part of The CW), after station management complained that the network had increased its "urban/ethnic programming" to more than two hours per week -- though, as "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart remarked, UPN showed "two hours of urban/ethnic programming in an hour."

» Most infamously, in January 2006, Miller personally ordered his Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons to cancel a booking of "Brokeback Mountain," the acclaimed drama about two gay Wyoming sheepherders.

The "Brokeback Mountain" incident revealed that Miller's efforts to be a good Mormon and a good businessman didn't always mix. Miller was accused of hypocrisy when he canceled "Brokeback Mountain" the same day "Hostel," a horror-thriller that defined the genre "torture porn," opened in his theaters.

To his credit, Miller later met with gays and lesbians, and said the meeting helped him understand the prejudices they faced.

Miller's unease with pop culture -- including his stint as a movie financier, with the "Work and the Glory" series -- came because art doesn't work the way his other businesses do. You sell out a quality car or field a successful sports team, you're guaranteed to make money. But even the best art often is rejected by the marketplace.

Sean P. Means writes the Culture Vulture in daily blog form at