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SO IS SYLVIA MILES A PARTY GIRL OR WHAT?

Whether playing the "Midnight Cowboy's" urban cowgirl or the off-screen role of a trashed diva who ceremoniously dumps a plate of food on a critic's head, Sylvia Miles has always brought a lot to the party. And I had a ball doing this 1977 interview with her for The New York Times. --Guy Flatley

"I play a mad-crazed-dead-German-lesbian-ballet dancer," confided Sylvia Miles with semi-breathless enthusiasm. The voluptuous, seldom-silent actress was bubbling about Michael Winner’s "The Sentinel," due to open Feb. 11 at the Baronet. It is a slice-of-death film focusing on a house-full of infuriatingly fleshy ghosts, a film in which Miss Miles has obviously been cast against type. "I hope this doesn’t start a rash of lesbian roles for me. It could ruin my reputation as a nymphomaniac.

"I speak with a heavy German accent in the movie," said Miss Miles, "and one of my most challenging lines is, ‘It’s wather wude to eat and wun.’ "

Miss Miles does not strenuously object to the label of sex symbol, nor does she throw a tantrum when flash bulbs pop off in her immediate vicinity. "Why should I mind? I think it’s pretty damned good for someone who’s been around for as long as I have, don’t you? I mean, it can’t hurt."

Just now, Miss Miles is enjoying a success in the Circle-in-the-Square’s revival of Tennessee Williams’s "Night of the Iguana," playing Maxine, the lusty proprietress of a rundown resort hotel, a character whom she describes as "a kind of healthy vulgarian, a female Stanley Kowalski."

Although the role is more substantial than most of those she has delineated on screen – including the brassy hooker in "Midnight Cowboy" and the broken-down alcoholic in "Farewell, My Lovely," each of which won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress – it still falls under the heading of tarnished woman. Miss Miles has yet to play a nun or a nurse or a librarian or a dutiful wife.

"It’s true that my roles are usually brief and that I have suffered from typecasting because producers are not as imaginative as they should be. However, I did play a mother in Andy Warhol’s ‘Heat’ (pictured above, at a pajamaless party with Warhol superstud Joe Dallesandro). My daughter was a lesbian in that one. There really isn’t any reason why I couldn’t play a loving wife; as a matter of fact, I think I’d make a terrific Lady Macbeth. But, let’s face it, we all have a certain kind of physicality. If a producer wants a size 10, he’s not going to hire Orson Welles, and if he wants someone who’s flat-chested, he’s not going to hire me."

One roadblock on the highway to superstardom is the penchant of the press to portray Miss Miles as a perpetual party girl. "The publicity has grown like a monster, lurking around every corner, so that I’m afraid to go to the grocery store because I know the man behind the counter is going to say, ‘Sylvia, you’re everywhere!’ But I’ve got to buy groceries, just like everyone else. They’re driving me crazy with this party girl stuff. Look at Tammy Grimes – she goes to parties all the time, yet nobody says a word about that. It hurts to be called a party girl by some journalist who never heard of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

"I ask you, how could I have survived all these years if I weren’t a hardworking girl trying to make a buck at my art? I’ve been working in the theater for 22 years, killing myself. I did 26 Off Broadway plays before I got that role in ‘Midnight Cowboy.’ And I’m the one actress who won’t give up New York for the big money of Hollywood.

"On the other hand," Miss Miles concedes, "it has been said that I make it out to the airport to greet everyone who comes in."