Film Bitch History
Oscar History

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Sylvia Miles (1924-2019)

by Nathaniel R

Two time Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee and party fixture Sylvia Miles died yesterday, three months shy of her 95th birthday. The NYC native rose to fame as a cult figure, a pioneer of Off Broadway plays, part of the Studio 54 scene, and a rather daring actress. She was often seen with Andy Warhol (eventually starring for him in Heat, his randy 1972 picture, with Joe Dallesandro) never quite going mainstream. Both of her Oscar nominations, for example, came from very brief gritty performances, at least in Oscar terms...

in Midnight Cowboy (1969)Andy Warhol's Heat (1972) with Joe DallessandroFarewell My Lovely (1975) with Robert Mitchum

As a matchmaker in Crossing Delancey (1988) starring Amy Irving

As Meryl Streep's mother in She-Devil (1989)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) her last completed picture

That said, Midnight Cowboy (which we just discussed!) was mainstream enough in its success to pick up the Best Picture prize in Oscar's most daring decade. It was the first and only X rated movie to do so; In today's terms it's just an "R" picture, but back then it must have been at least a small shock to the system. Her second Oscar nomination came from a cameo in the crime drama Farewell My Lovely (which you can stream on Amazon Prime) as an alcoholic trading info for bourbon. 

You can stream both of Sylvia's Oscar-nominated performances on Amazon Prime right now: Midnight Cowboy and Farewell, My Lovely.

Highly recommended reading:
Michael Musto's Tribute is funny and filled with great anecdotes since they were friends in real life. We didn't actually know that she was the target of thestill famous now more generically applied celebrity-insult 'she'd go to the opening of an envelope' was first uttered.

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Reader Comments (17)

Had an unpleasant encounter with her when I worked for an off-Broadway theater in the late 90's. The shrewish harridans she often played? As far as I was concerned that was typecasting.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Has anyone else received 2 Nominations with such limited screen time.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I knew her best from my beloved soap One Life To Live. It's no wonder both Oscar noms were from small roles--she made an instant impression. Be at peace, Roxie's mom.

PS--Joe Dellasandro OMG!

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I remember her in a small role(she must be "the star of big screen small roles" in a movie that scared my childhood and teen years - and still does - called The Funhouse, directed by Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the first Poltergeist, and starring Elizabeth Berridge from Amadeus. Not fun at all. And of course in Midnight Cowboy, Farewell My Lovely and She-Devil.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

markgordonuk -

Maybe Thelma Ritter's last 2 nominations? I remember being surprised how small her parts in Pillow Talk and Birdman of Alcatraz were.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

Ken s: Ritter's role in All About Eve is also pretty small, and she disappears after the start of the infamous party scene.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Rob -

You're right! But at least she gets to utter the immortal line "Everything but the hound dogs snappin' at her rear end"

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

ken s:

I know, isn't she just great? But it's her way of talkin'.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Honestly, her nomination for Midnight Cowboy is one of my all time favourites in the category. Such a bizarre, hilarious, interesting choice and one of the best scenes in the movie.

Also everyone should watch Heat (1972) if you haven’t already! It’s a blast!

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Such an iconoclast, and the very definition of a "broad" she was. Miles was kind of soft-core porning, too, before that was ever really a thing. I'd say dim the lights in all of the porno theaters in Times Square, but they're no longer there and the lights were dim already. #RIP

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

@ markgordonuk -- I thought immediately of Jackie Weaver. Her screen time in Animal Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook can't add up to very much. She has a bit more to do than Miles, at least, but she's certainly comparable.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick T

Absolutely adored her! I'm tempted to give her the win in '69...

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

I haven'ty seen her nominated performance in Farewell, My Lovely but she's so vivid in Midnight Cowboy, she leaps off the screen. R.I.P.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

So charismatic. I love when short performances get nominated. That's the whole point of the category.

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue -- say it again, Peggy sue, for the dimwits at the Academy!

June 13, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Love when people are nominated for truly, wonderful, surprising Supporting roles and not category fraud. RIP in movie heaven!

June 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

I remember her relaxing with James Mason in "Evil Under the Sun". Rest in Peace.

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

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