Sylvia Miles was an American actress, born and raised in Greenwich Village, New York City. She was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, without ever winning the Award.
Miles was born under the name “Sylvia Scheinwald”. Her parents were furniture maker Reuben Scheinwald and his wife Belle Feldman. Miles attended Washington Irving High School, located in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan. She received her acting education at the Actors Studio, located the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan.
Miles made her theatrical debut in 1947, at the age of 23. She started appearing on television in 1954. Her film debut was the gangster film “Murder, Inc.” (1960), dramatizing the career of an organized crime group active from c. 1930 to 1940. The real-life group were enforcers for the National Crime Syndicate, a loose confederation of American crime organizations.
Subsequent film appearances for Miles included the generation-gap themed drama “Parrish” (1961), the serial-killed themed horror film “Violent Midnight” (1963), and the child-labor themed drama “Pie in the Sky” (1964), Meanwhile, Miles lost a chance at television fame, when playing the character of comedy writer Sally Rogers in the 1960 pilot episode “Head of the Family”. The pilot was the basis of the popular television show “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-1966), and Sally Rogers was part of the main cast. But in the regular series, Miles was replaced by fellow actress Rose Marie (1923-2017).
Miles had a scene-stealing performance in her next film project, “Midnight Cowboy” (1969). She played Cass, an aging kept woman, who invites Joe Buck (played by Jon Voight) to her apartment for sex. The role allowed Miles to Show off her “voluptuous figure” and overall sex-appeal. For this role, she received her first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The award was instead won by rival actress Goldie Hawn (1945-).
Miles subsequent films included the meta-fictional drama “The Last Movie” (1971), the mystery film “Who Killed Mary What’s ‘Er Name?” (1971), and the seduction-themed comedy-drama “Heat” (1972). Her most notable role at the time was that of Jessie Halstead Florian in the crime thriller “Farewell, My Lovely”. The film was the second film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel, and depicted private detective Philip Marlowe working in a missing-person case. For her role in the film Miles received her second nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The award was instead won by rival actress Lee Grant (c. 1925-).
Miles subsequent films films included the rivalry-themed drama “92 in the Shade” (1975), the period comedy “The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday” (1976), the supernatural horror film “The Sentinel” (1977), the repossession-themed comedy “Zero to Sixty” (1978), and the heist film “Shalimar”.
The 1980s opened with Miles playing murdered prostitute Madame Zena in the horror film “The Funhouse” (1981), with the murder setting off the film’s main plot. She next played theatrical producer Myra Gardener in the mystery film “Evil Under the Sun” (1982). The film was an adaptation of the 1941 novel by Agatha Christie, and featured Myra as one on the film’s murder suspects.
Miles’ next few films included hospital-themed comedy “Critical Condition” (1987), the fairy-tale themed fantasy film “Sleeping Beauty” (1987), the romantic comedy “Crossing Delancey” (1988), the mafia-themed comedy-drama “Spike of Bensonhurst” (1988), and the revenge-themed black comedy “She-Devil” (1989). Her most notable role in this period was that of Dolores the Realtor in the corporate-raider themed drama “Wall Street” (1987), a box office hit of the time.
Miles’ career slowed down in the 1990s, in part due to her increasingly poor health. She was suffering from anemia and respiratory issues. Her next few films included the friendship-themed comedy “Denise Calls Up” (1995), the marijuana-themed comedy “High Times’ Potluck” (2002), and the strip-club themed comedy “Go Go Tales” (2007).
Miles returned to the role Dolores the Realtor in the sequel film “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (2010). It was her last notable film role. She spend the last months of her life in a nursing home, and died during her transportation to a hospital in 2019. She was 94-years-old, one of the oldest living actresses at the time.
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