(From Old Corral image 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.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Betty is riding Sonny as shown in the bottom right corner of this pressbook cover from Tom Keene's LONE STAR LAW MAN (Monogram, 1941).
Real name: Elizabeth Harriet Henninger
1910 - 1992
|Special thanks to author and western film historian Gene Blottner for the following biography on Betty Miles. Gene's commentary was originally published in Ron & Linda Downey's Under Western Skies.|
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.
Until recently, 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, ultimately 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 0. 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 in later years said that she 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.
Sometime over the years Betty was no longer known as Henninger but Miles. 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.
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 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 (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.