(From Old Corral collection)
Above is a lobby card from THE LAW RIDES AGAIN (Monogram, 1943, the second film in Monogram's Trail Blazers series. From left to right are Betty Miles, Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard.
(From Old Corral collection)
Above - Betty with Bob Steele during their work at Monogram in the Trail Blazers trio series.
(Courtesy of Gene Blottner)
Above is a Senior year photo of Betty when she was the Debate Team Captain at USC.
|Special thanks to author and western film historian Gene Blottner for the following biography on Betty Miles. Gene's commentary was originally published many years ago in Ron and Linda Downey's Under Western Skies. Ye Old Corral webmaster updated the biography in July, 2017 with additional info gleaned from marriage records, census, etc.|
A new cowgirl burst on the movie screens in the early forties. Attractive, talented, this heroine was an excellent horsewoman, who had the athletic ability to perform dangerous Stunts. The cowgirl's name was BETTY MILES.
For years, Betty Miles remained an enigma to western film historians. Buck Rainey, in his book Sweethearts of the Sage (McFarland, 1992), made this statement: "The author has found no biographical data on her. Apparently she found better things to do than eat dust on the Monogram Ranch for low pay, little fame, and meager prospects for advancement to greater things."
Betty was born to George Henry T. and Harriet Henninger of Santa Monica, California on January 11, 1910. She was christened Elizabeth Harriet. From Monogram press books, it was mentioned that Betty learned to ride at the age of two and her father was a cattleman.
Nothing else is known about Betty until the Fall of 1927 when she enrolled at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles). Betty was quite active in college activities. She was a member of the debate team, becoming first the manager and in her senior year, the team captain. Other activities included being a member of the Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, Touchstone Drama Shop, El Rodeo (the college yearbook) staff, Daily Trojan staff, Press club and she was the chairwoman of the Junior Prom Committee. By Betty's senior year, she was considered the most experienced debater of the Debate Squad. Betty proved her worth in extemporaneous Speaking by winning three cups, one of which was the Bowen trophy and second the Phi Gamma Delta cup.
Tragedy came to Betty during her senior Year. As she prepared to represent USC on a two-week debate tour against other Pacific Coast colleges, Betty's mother passed away suddenly. Even though the tour was postponed for a week, another team member had to take her place in the debate against the University of Arizona. Some of the topics the debaters had to grapple with were "Resolved, that Russian Sovietism is applicable to Western civilization" and "Resolved, that nations should adopt a policy of free trade."
In 1931, Betty graduated from the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She earned a major in Speech and minors in Monoeconomics and Polyscience.
Upon graduation, Betty landed a job at the Pasadena Community Playhouse in Santa Monica. She participated in little theater work until 1936. In 1937, Betty made a screen appearance in David O. Selznick's black comedy, NOTHING SACRED (United Artists), which starred Carole Lombard and Frederic March. Betty had a small part as the last horsewoman shown in a night club sequence.
For the next few years, Betty wrote and produced programs for radio stations KNX and KFL in Los Angeles. Again, a Monogram press book states that Betty had been a radio writer and director and for 79 weeks produced a series of American historical dramas on KNX.
Then Betty changed direction again and became a dramatic coach to young players at Columbia, 20th Century-Fox, Universal and Monogram Studios. Betty would play down her acting career in Hollywood. However, at Fox, Betty did double Linda Darnell in the circus melodrama CHAD HANNA (1940). The story on how Betty was signed for a Hollywood acting career sounds like something out of a press book. In fact, it did come from a Monogram press book. The story went like this. In 1941, Betty was on horseback, watching a western heroine having trouble guiding her horse through an action scene. After a number of retakes, Betty volunteered to do the scene and was successful on her first try. This led the producer to sign Betty to a contract. If this is a true story then the producer was probably Robert Tansey, who would later use Betty in eight of his films at Monogram. Tansey worked on a number of the Monogram Tex Ritter westerns, so again if the story happened, it probably was on a Ritter set.
In her years at Monogram, Betty was known to be living by herself with only her two dogs as companions. Those dogs went with her almost everywhere. Betty would drive her car and her dogs would sit in her lap. Not much else is known about Betty's private life. She did have good friends in Gene Alsace (AKA Buck Coburn and Rocky Camron) and another actor that she helped to attain small roles in some of the Monogram westerns.
Recent information indicate that Betty married Hugh McDowell Miles on August 10, 1934 in Los Angeles and son Lynn Rees Miles was born March 8, 1942. Their marriage license has Betty's occupation as "Radio Drama" and his as a "Publisher". She and Hugh met while attending the University of Southern California.
Frances Kavanaugh, screenwriter for a number of Betty's films, described her "as a very friendly and sweet person". Kavanaugh added, "She was very professional, very talented, and she loved horses and loved to do her stunts. (She was) a great athlete and a lovely person to work with. She was on time. She knew her lines and knew her stunts. She was very ambitious and loved to work."
In some of the Monogram press books, Betty was touted as the champion cowgirl of California by attaining the highest number of points in an all-around performance at the Saugus Rodeo just prior to the time she started her movie career. Some of the events were riding, roping, pony express racing. Inquiries to various Rodeo associations have failed to substantiate this claim.
The studio used some of Betty's horses and in most of her films, Betty used her pinto, Sonny. Sonny received on screen billing in LONE STAR LAW MAN (Monogram, 1941), as did cowboy star Tom Keene's horse, Rusty, and co-star Sugar Dawn's pony, Chiquita.
Betty's first role as a heroine was in Tex Ritter's RIDIN' THE CHEROKEE TRAIL (Monogram, 1941). She followed this with RETURN OF DANIEL BOONE (Columbia, 1941) with Bill Elliott.
Then Betty received the feminine interest role in four of the first five films in Tom Keene's Monogram western series in 1941. There had to be special considerations for Betty's unique athletic talents. Kavanaugh observed that Betty was "an action person and could ride the horses as well as any man in the picture. Therefore the scripts had to be designed to fit her more, to show her abilities, to get on horses, to ride with the men or whatever she did that required (her) to show good horsemanship."
After she finished one of the Keene westerns, Betty called producer Robert Tansey and informed him that she was pregnant. Both Tansey and Frances Kavanaugh were very upset because Betty could have lost the baby doing the stunts in the picture. Betty said that to hide her pregnancy, she would corset herself in so she would look slender in her wardrobe. Kavanaugh commented, "She wanted to do those stunts so badly. She was driven to do her own stunts."
Betty was off the screen until Monogram beckoned again and Betty returned to be featured in four of the Trail Blazers western series. Only in WESTWARD BOUND (Monogram, 1944), was Betty's part written as the "standard" heroine in which she had no scenes that would show off her athleticism or riding ability. In this series though, Betty was able to work with Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, Bob Baker, Bob Steele, Chief Thundercloud and her friend, Rocky Camron.
Betty also found work at PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) and Republic. She was the heroine for the Lone Rider series entry, LAW OF THE SADDLE (PRC, 1943) with Bob Livingston. Betty landed a job doubling Louise Currie in the Republic serial, THE MASKED MARVEL (Republic, 1943). Currie, the feminine lead in the serial, has no real memories of Betty except she was a nice lady. She added, "I was routinely on another part of the set whenever Betty came 'to do her thing' ".
Betty's last western feature found her cast as the second femme lead to Patti McCarty in the Texas Rangers western saga, GANGSTERS OF THE FRONTIER (PRC, 1944) with Tex Ritter and Dave O'Brien. In this film, Betty was character actor Harry Harvey's wife/widow. An action scene near the end of the film in which Ritter, O'Brien and Betty ride hell-bent-for-leather into town leading the territorial Rangers to battle the bad guys would later be used in a montage sequence in the Red Ryder television pilot, Whiplash (Flying A Production, 1950). In this story, the narrator, Jim Bannon as Red Ryder, describes the riders as "rip roarin' cowboys who sometime get ornery".
With this, Betty left Hollywood and turned to the sawdust trails of the circus. Betty first worked with the S. L. Cronin Circus in 1944 where fellow western actress and good friend, Evelyn Finley, joined her. Betty had a couple of spots working with her horse, Sonny, and was featured in Mark Smith's all-girl bareback riding act. Evelyn Finley, Tina Harrington and Skeeter Knudson were featured in straight roles. Betty was allowed to handle the comedy routines.
Circus historians remember that the Cronin Circus folded quickly. In any event, she next signed on with Al Dean's Circus. Again, Betty had a spot with her horse, Sonny. In addition, she assisted Slim Wiseman in an act with his elephant, Bunny.
By August, 1945, Betty was working with C. R. Montgomery's Wild Animal Circus. Betty was featured in a riding act assisted by Pete Smith. Betty did the riding with Smith standing by to assist her.
(Courtesy of Gene Blottner)
Wearing Indian dress are Evelyn Finley (left) and Betty Miles (right) during their brief time working on the S. L. Cronin Circus circa 1944.
(Courtesy of Gene Blottner)
Mrs. Betty Miles, Dean of Girls, Turlock High School, Turlock California, around 1967.
Acknowledgements: First to Sherman Pippen, a good friend, who gave me the impetus to start my journey to find Betty Miles. Then to Larry Floyd, a close friend, and Janet McCord, Turlock School System, who illuminated the path when it started to grow dim. And finally to Frances Kavanaugh, screenwriter, who gave me much needed information to finish my journey and write my story. Also, without the help and patience of the following this article could not have been completed: Cheryl Adams, Commissioner, Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce; Kimberly Balcom, Librarian, Autry Museum of Western Heritage; Jack Bennett, Oklahoma Library Service; Chuck Burnes, Periwinkle Productions; Lee Diebold, Stuntman and actor; Linda and Ron Downey, Editors and Publishers, Under Western Skies; Louise Currie Good, actress; Dave Hawkes, Clerk, Turlock Library; Will "Sugarfoot" Hutchins, Actor; Bill Jackson, Archivist, Circus World Museum; Kristine Krueger, Librarian, Margaret Herrick Library; Boyd Magers, Editor and Publisher, Western Clippings; Jack Mathis, Author and Publisher; K. Roberts, Modesto Bee; Danielle R. Routhier, Museum Researcher, National Cowgirl Hall of Fame; Charles K. Stumpf, Radio and Nostalgia Historian; Jay H. Wardell, Vice-President, National Cattleman's Beef Association; Mitch Weisberg, Radio Historian; Claude Zachary, Archivist, University of Southern California.
On the trail of Betty Miles.
The Family Search website, California Death Index and Social Security Death Index (SSDI) provide more on Betty Miles and family. In most records - and family trees on Ancestry.com - Betty is listed as "Elizabeth Harriet Henninger". One anomaly is her 1934 marriage license in which she is "Harriet Elizabeth Henninger".
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Betty Miles: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0587062/
Stunt work and ridin' the range.
RIDIN' THE CHEROKEE TRAIL (Monogram, 1941) with Tex Ritter
A few highlights:
Around the 40 minute mark in Tom Keene's RIDING THE SUNSET TRAIL (Monogram, 1941), Betty (on Sonny) begins a lengthy chase sequence, evading a trio of no goods (Kenne Duncan, Sherry Tansey, and Earl Douglas). She takes cover in a barn, the owlhoots follow, and she escapes via a rope from the second floor.
(Courtesy of Gene Blottner)
Betty's trusty steed "Sonny".
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
From L-to-R are Hoot Gibson riding Rusty, the Wonder Horse, Betty Miles atop her steed Sonny, and Ken Maynard on Tarzan II from one of the early entries in Monogram's Trail Blazers series (prior to Bob Steele joining the group).
The story goes that Betty acquired Sonny from Wild Bill Elliott who used a variety of paint horses in his Columbia oaters and his first season at Republic. Betty's horse was easy to spot - had two long white socks on the right side, two short white socks on the left, and a small white spot on the forehead.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Betty Miles is riding her horse Sonny in the bottom right corner of this pressbook cover from Tom Keene's LONE STAR LAW MEN (Monogram, 1941).