Sylvia Miles

Active - 1960 - 2020  |   Born - Sep 9, 1932 in New York, New York, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American actress Sylvia Miles was one of several performers of the 1960s to parlay a vulgar, sex-obsessed screen personality into a successful career. Miles started out at the Actors Studio, then moved on to Broadway, playing fairly conservative roles. The first foretaste of things to come was Miles's role as The Thief in the off-Broadway production of The Balcony, in which she allowed a man dressed as a judge to whip her -- but only after she forced him to lick her foot! Though this kind of material is kid's stuff today, it packed quite a wallop in 1960, and established Miles as, at best, a "peculiar" personality. In 1969 Miles was nominated for an Oscar for her brief role in Midnight Cowboy, in which she outhustles would-be hustler Jon Voight following an athletic and sometimes amusing sex scene. Her second Oscar nomination was for Farewell My Lovely (1975), in which she played a boozer with something to hide from detective Phillip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum). The story most often told about Miles concerns the time she responded to a bad review from critic John Simon by dumping a greasy plate of food on his head. Less often told is the story of how Miles came awfully close to being a regular on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In the 1959 Van Dyke pilot, then titled Head of the Family, Miles played comedy writer Sally Rogers -- the role ultimately played by another outspoken actress, Rose Marie.

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  • Made her off-Broadway debut in a 1954 production of A Stone for Danny Fisher.
  • Dumped a plate of food on top of theater critic John Simon's head at a party in 1973 after he made snide remarks about her in his review of Nellie Toole and Co.
  • Earned her two Oscar nominations for a total of 14 minutes of screen time.
  • Wrote and starred in a one-woman show, It's Me, Sylvia!, which ran at New York's Playhouse Theatre in 1981.
  • Is a successful competitive chess player.