Ann (Annie) Miles (1940–2021)
Ann (Annie) Miles was an actress, stuntwoman, Playboy bunny, Broadway hairstylist, and model from Malvern (Hot Spring County). Miles began her career as a stuntwoman riding the famous diving horses on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier. Among other stunts on television and film, she performed the “spiderwalk” in director William Friedkin’s 1973 film The Exorcist, a scene that was cut from the film’s original release and for which she was initially uncredited. Miles also worked as a hair and wig stylist on and off Broadway in Manhattan, where she spent the bulk of her career.
Lorena Ann Miles was born in Malvern on February 10, 1940. Her father, Hubert Eastham, later became executive vice president at Pine Bluff National Bank. Miles had a talent for acrobatics as a child. When she was fourteen, she learned to ride horses and a Brahman bull from a local man named Vance. Miles rode in benefit shows and rodeos around Arkansas, where she learned how to use a rope and whip from a man named Peg. She graduated from high school in Star City (Lincoln County). In 1957, Miles was awarded a gymnastics scholarship to Florida State University in Tallahassee. In the summer of 1958, Miles began working for Lorena Carver in Atlantic City, New Jersey, riding the World-Famous High Diving Horses. Miles performed high dives on horseback from a forty-foot tower into a tank on the deck that was fifteen to twenty feet in diameter and just nine feet deep. Miles was the only horse diver on the Steel Pier from 1958 to 1966 and was called in to replace other divers in the summers of 1967 and 1968. During her time at the Steel Pier, Miles met show business icons of the era such as Fabian, Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong, Conway Twitty, Chubby Checker, and Ricky Nelson.
While with the Steel Pier shows, Miles went to New York City to do publicity for George Hamid Jr., owner of the New Jersey State Fair and the Hamid-Morton Circus. She appeared on What’s My Line? and To Tell the Truth, as well as Who Do You Trust? with Johnny Carson. After leaving the Steel Pier, Miles found a job at the perfume counter at Macy’s in Manhattan. Miles married a man from Florida State, but she returned to Arkansas and filed for divorce a year later. In the mid-1960s, Miles applied for a job as a Playboy Bunny at the New Orleans Playboy Club. She worked there before transferring to the Playboy Club in Manhattan to work as a hostess.
While at the Manhattan Playboy Club, Miles auditioned for acting and dancing jobs. She got a job as a dancer on the national tour of the musical Carnival. She received her Actors’ Equity Association card and toured the country performing on the Spanish Web, a rope used in the circus from which acrobats hang by a foot loop or hand loop as a “web sitter” spins the rope from below. Two years later, Miles appeared in Carnival with Liza Minnelli. After landing a Dentyne chewing gum commercial, she joined the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
While living in Manhattan in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Miles performed stunts on the hidden-camera series Candid Camera and some episodes of McCloud. She also took classes at both the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Strasberg Institute, after which she studied acting for three years under Bobby Lewis, a founder of the Actors Studio. To make ends meet, Miles worked as a model in print magazines and took roles in commercials. In 1969, Miles was hired to perform a stunt in the Walter Matheau and Elaine May film A New Leaf. As May’s stunt double, her big stunt for the film involved going over a waterfall in a canoe on location in Maine in October. As was tradition then, Miles was not credited for the scene. In 1972, Miles appeared in Rivals.
In 1973, Miles landed roles in a TV movie called Deadly Visitor and in director William Friedkin’s film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s book The Exorcist. After receiving a call from a casting office, Miles auditioned for Friedkin and his secretary in his suite in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in Manhattan. A few days later, Miles was told to report to Fox Studios on 54th Street, where the movie’s interiors were shot. Miles performed the famous spiderwalk stunt, in which she walked on all fours while doing a backbend down a flight of stairs wearing a wig and costume to look like Regan, the demonically possessed girl played by Linda Blair. The stunt was done without wires or safety belts. Miles was given a dye capsule to bite down on, which simulated blood pouring from her mouth.
Friedkin deleted Miles’s spiderwalk scene from the film just before it was released. However, the scene was included in the 2000 director’s cut of the film. After The Exorcist was released, rumors began to float about the film, its effects, and its deleted scenes. The movie’s special-effects expert, Marcel Vercoutere, claimed online that Linda R. Hager performed the spiderwalk and that the stunt utilized a harness and flying wires. Vercoutere died in 2013, and his website was pulled by Warner Bros. Hager was given credit for the stunt until Miles went to John McGuire and Leif Larson at SAG-AFTRA. In 2015, Hager signed a notarized statement confirming that she in fact did not perform the spiderwalk stunt in The Exorcist. Miles has said that her requests for credit on DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the film were denied.
After The Exorcist, Miles became a hairstylist, attending the Wilfred Academy, from which she graduated with a cosmetology license. Subsequently, she apprenticed with four New York City barbers. Miles worked as a barber for a year before seeking work as a theatrical hairstylist. She worked in wig making and styling for Bob Kelly Wig Creations, the premier wig factory in New York City. Miles worked there for a year. In 1978, Miles worked as a hairstylist on the short film Wings of Ash: A Dramatization of the Life of Antonin Artaud.
In 1980, Miles was credited as a hairstylist on a film called Union City. In 1989, Miles worked in the hair department on “Our Town,” an episode of the Great Performances television series on PBS. Miles’s Broadway credits include Beatlemania, Nicholas Nickleby, Barnum, Cats, Steel Pier, Sideshow, Annie Get Your Gun, and Beauty and the Beast.
In 2005, after a long career in show business, Miles retired to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) to be near her family and to write. Her autobiography, Spiderwalk: The High Life and Daring Stunts of a Small-town Girl from Arkansas, was published by CALS Butler Center Books in 2018. She died in Pine Bluff on July 8, 2021.
For additional information:
“Ann Miles.” Internet Movie Database. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0587050/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 (accessed February 8, 2022).
Horn, Deborah. “Arkansas Native Reflects on Storied Career as a Stuntwoman, Model, Actress, Wig Stylist, and Playboy Bunny.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 8, 2018, pp. 1D, 6D.
Martin, Philip. “Miles from Famous.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 11, 2015, pp. 1E, 3E.
Miles, Ann “Annie.” Spiderwalk: The High Life and Daring Stunts of a Small-town Girl from Arkansas. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2018.
PB Woman Reflects on Movie Stunt Career.” Pine Bluff Commercial, June 13, 2015. Online at http://www.pbcommercial.com/article/20150613/LIFESTYLE/306139966 (accessed May 23, 2019).
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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