Known as much for her appearances "on the town" as for her stage and film roles, Sylvia Miles is often connected to brassy, vulgar types, as well as roles that seem eccentric--at least after she's tackled them. She is recalled for dumping a plate of spaghetti on critic John Simon's head in 1973 after he gave her a less than stellar review, as well as for her Oscar-nominated roles in "Midnight Cowboy" (1969) and "Farewell My Lovely," (1975) and her turns in "Wall Street" (1987) and "Crossing Delancey" (1988).
Miles was born and raised in New York City, and married for the first time when she was 16. She dabbled in revue comedy and made her first TV appearance on a Bob Hope NBC show in 1950. In 1952, she married Gerald Price, an actor, and became more exposed to the theater. By 1954, Miles had made her Off-Broadway debut in "A Stone for Danny Fisher" and supporting roles began to follow with regularity, such as Margie in the now-legendary 1956 Circle in the Square production of "The Iceman Cometh", starring Jason Robards. Miles finally made her Broadway debut in "The Riot Act" in 1963 and appeared again in "Matty, and the Moron and Madonna" at the Orpheum Theatre in 1965. She wrote the book and lyrics for her own one-person show, "It's Me, Sylvia!" which ran at the Playhouse Theatre in 1981.
While her style and New York twang has limited Miles' TV appearances, she may be best recalled--at least by trivia nuts--for a role she did NOT play. In 1960, Miles was hired by Carl Reiner to play a marriage-hungry comedy writer named Sally Rogers in a pilot he had written for himself called "Head of the Family". When the show aired as part of CBS' "Comedy Spot", the network decided it should be recast. It evolved into "The Dick Van Dyke Show" with Rose Marie as Sally. Since then, Miles has made occasional appearances on the small screen, usually in episodic guest appearances. In the 80s, she had a brief recurring role on the ABC daytime drama "All My Children". Miles also has appeared on virtually every major talk show proving to be a rather amusing, if perhaps eccentric, raconteur.
Most audiences know Miles for her work in feature films. She made her debut as a moll in Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg's gritty, realistic "Murder, Inc." (1960). But, it was not until "Midnight Cowboy" that she really won notice, as Cass, the blowzy, loudmouthed woman who becomes Jon Voight's first "trick" in New York. It was a very small role--if a more established actress had been cast, it might have been called a "cameo"--but Miles' turn was so delicious, she won an Academy Award nomination. Miles, however, was so specific a "type" that scripts did not pour her way, although she made the most of her chances. Playing the drunken widow of a nightclub owner--and subsequent murder victim--in "Farewell, My Lovely" (1975), she again turned limited screen time into an Academy Award nomination. She was the realtor to Charlie Sheen's rising broker in "Wall Street" and played a Lower East Side matchmaker who could talk and stuff food in her mouth at the same time in "Crossing Delancey". That same year, she was on screen as a crooked congresswoman in "Spike of Bensonhurst". Meryl Streep had to put up with Miles as an annoying mother in "She-Devil" (1989), in which Miles was so made-up, one might not have known it was she until one heard her distinctive voice.