|Special thanks to author and western film historian Gene Blottner for the biography on Betty Miles. Gene's commentary was originally published many years ago in Ron and Linda Downey's Under Western Skies.|
A few years ago, ye Old Corral webmaster updated the biography with additional info from marriage records, census, newspaper reports, etc. Also did another update in 2023 with details on the 1954 death of her husband Hugh Miles in a snow storm in New Mexico.
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 chairwoman of the Junior Prom Committee. By Betty's senior year, she was considered the most experienced debater on 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. A Monogram Pictures 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.
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 was "Publisher". She and Hugh met while attending the University of Southern California.
Then Betty changed direction again and became a dramatic coach to young players at Columbia, 20th Century-Fox, Universal and Monogram. 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 true, the producer was probably Robert Emmett 'Bob' 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 if this story happened, it probably was on a Ritter film.
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 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 starting her movie career. Some of the events were riding, roping, and pony express racing. Newspapers had coverage of the 1941 annual Newhall-Saugus Rodeo and "Betty Miles of Van Nuys was named best California Cowgirl." The following year, Betty was queen of the 1942 Van Nuys, California Athletic Carnival (Roy Rogers was the parade marshal). In summary, Betty appeared at many events in the early to mid 1940s - she even rode in the January 1, 1941 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.
The studio used some of Betty's horses and in most of her films, Betty rode 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."
She 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 Gene Alsace who was using the screen name of '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. And she doubled Louise Currie in the Republic serial, THE MASKED MARVEL (Republic, 1943). Currie, the feminine lead in the serial, had 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 GANGSTERS OF THE FRONTIER (PRC, 1944) which starred Tex Ritter and Dave O'Brien. In this, she was character actor Harry Harvey's wife/widow. There's an action scene near the end of the film in which Ritter, O'Brien and Betty rode hell-bent-for-leather into town leading the territorial Rangers to battle the bad guys. That 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 sometimes get ornery".
During her Monogram years, Betty had two dogs which accompanied her and would sit in her lap when she drove. She was also friends with actor Gene Alsace (AKA Buck Coburn and Rocky Camron). In addition to movie roles, he was a horse trainer, breeder, and also managed stables.
Betty left Hollywood and movies and turned to the sawdust trails of the circus. She 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 with C. R. Montgomery's Wild Animal Circus. She was featured in a riding act assisted by Pete Smith. Betty did the riding with Smith standing by to assist her.
(From Old Corral collection)
Above - Tom Keene is wrestling a Winchester away from Gene Alsace / Rocky Camron and Betty is shown on the right side of this lobby card from RIDING THE SUNSET TRAIL (Monogram, 1941). Betty and Alsace became friends. In addition to movie roles, he was a horse trainer, breeder, and also managed stables which included the Rancho Alamo stable in Van Nuys, California.
(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. Left to right are Betty Miles, Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard.
(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)
Senior year photo of Betty when she was the Debate Team Captain at USC.
| |(Courtesy of Gene Blottner)
Mrs. Betty Miles, Dean of Girls, Turlock High School, Turlock California, circa 1967.
Some radio historians list a Betty Miles in the role of Mildred (Millie) Anderson on 1946 episodes of Dennis Day's radio show, "A Day in the Life of Dennis Day". The show aired on Wednesday evenings on the NBC radio network. Can not substantiate that. A few knowledgeable radio buffs have tried to assist me and all the currently available 1946 tapes of the show have Sharon Douglas in that role.
At this point Betty Miles' show business career ended and she changed to a career in teaching and school administration. In 1946, she became a substitute teacher in the Fresno City School system. From 1947 to 1964, she performed various responsibilities in the California school system - she was a seventh and eighth grade teacher; she undertook double duty as both teacher and principal; and then she taught Social Studies at the eighth grade level. The 1950 census has Betty, hubby Hugh, and son Lynn living on a ranch / farm in Fresno, California and she was a school teacher at the Sierra Union grammar school in Fresno.
From 1965 through 1967 Betty was Dean of Girls with the Simi Valley schools. In September, 1967, she became Dean of Girls at Turlock High School (Turlock, California). In Betty's resume for the Turlock position, her date of birth became 1914. After one year at Turlock High School, Betty accepted a position with the Los Angeles County School System.
After being involved with in education and teaching for about thirty years, Betty retired around 1976. Circa 1966, she lived in Hughson, California, and in her later years, she resided with her son, Lynn Miles, also of Hughson.
In late December, 1954, Betty lost her husband Hugh Miles who was working in the Gallup, New Mexico area. He was driving and became stranded in a snow storm and died from exposure.
Betty passed on June 9, 1992 at the age of 82 at Memorial Hospital, Ceres, California. Survivors were son Lynn and two grandchildren.
It is a major disappointment that Betty could not have been located prior to her death. How wonderful it would have been to have Betty and her friend Evelyn Finley appear at film festivals together during the eighties!
In a different time and a different age, Betty, with her acting and athletic abilities in addition to being very attractive, could have been featured as the lead in her own western series. In films like RIDING THE SUNSET TRAIL (Monogram, 1941), THE DRIFTIN' KID (Monogram, 1941) and SONORA STAGECOACH (Monogram, 1944), her stunting ability was very much in evidence. Her grittiness was apparent in LONE STAR LAW MEN (Monogram, 1941). Tom Keene wants Betty and child actress Sugar Dawn to go up on a hill out of harm's way. As he begins to make this suggestion, Betty levers a shell in her rifle, ending all doubts of whether or not she'll join in the fight with the men. Truly, Betty was a woman of whom any of her male costars could say: "She'll do to ride the river with."
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.