Vera J. Ralston (Vera Miles)
Born in Oklahoma, Vera Miles (born
Vera Ralston, she had to change her name, as Republic Pictures'
resident leading lady Vera Ralston got to Hollywood first)
attended school in Pratt and Wichita, Kansas. Entering the
beauty pageant circuit, she became "Miss Kansas" in 1948, won
3rd place at Miss America.
A warm, reliable and likable
lead of features and TV beginning in the 1950s, Vera Miles got a
prominent start but rarely seemed to get the roles her talent
merited. An attractive, composed woman who worked as a model
after placing third in the 1948 Miss America contest, she broke
into films in 1951. Although her first leads were in modest
films, her earnest, outdoorsy heroines suited her well for "The
Rose Bowl Story" (1952) and Jacques Tourneur's stylish "Wichita"
(1955). She also kept busy in TV anthologies, where she first
worked with the directors who helmed her most important films.
John Ford directed Miles in "Rookie of the Year" (1955), an
episode of "Screen Directors Playhouse" which led him to cast
her as an outspoken frontierswoman in his classic "The
Searchers" (1956). Hitchcock, meanwhile, liked her work in
"Revenge" (1955) on his "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" so much that
he put her under personal contract.
Hitchcock obviously saw in Miles a gift for quietly expressing
maturity coping with great tension, beautifully registered in
his "The Wrong Man" (1957). As a wife who slowly cracks under
the strain as her innocent husband (Henry Fonda) is imprisoned
for armed robbery, Miles gave the film's finest performance, and
her stardom seemed set. She occasionally played second lead to a
bigger star (Joan Crawford in "Autumn Leaves" 1956, Susan
Hayward in "Back Street" 1961), but she more than held her own
opposite imposing male stars Van Johnson ("23 Paces to Baker
Street" 1956) and James Stewart ("The FBI Story" 1959).
Attempting to mold Miles to his classic icy blonde prototype,
Hitchcock then cast her in "Vertigo" (1958), but she became
pregnant and lost the choice role to Kim Novak. She did later
star as the woman who initiates the search for her missing
sister (Janet Leigh) in Hitchcock's landmark "Psycho" (1960). It
gradually became clear, though, that Miles, whose persona seemed
practical rather than glamorous, energetic rather than
sparkling, was a fine, low-key actor perhaps more than she was a
flashy movie star ready to be molded by a Svengali.
Though she acted less often and in smaller films, Miles
continued playing leads into the 80s, a standout being Ford's
"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962). Beginning with "A
Tiger Walks" and "Those Calloways" (both 1964), Miles made six
films for Disney Studios over the next eight years, typically as
helpful wives ("Follow Me, Boys!" 1966) or self-sufficient
widows ("The Castaway Cowboy" 1974). Leads ("Run for the Roses"
1978) then alternated with key supporting roles, the best being
her reprisal of her Lila, now considerably embittered, for the
remarkably good sequel, "Psycho II" (1983). TV on the whole did
better by Miles, from her steely would-be murderess in the
experimental "The Forms of Things Unknown" (1964), a famous
installment of "The Outer Limits"; to her gritty roles in the
TV-movies "And I Alone Survived" (1978) and "Helen Keller--The
Miracle Continues" (1984). Divorced from Tarzan actor Gordon
Scott and actor/director Keith Larsen.