Vera Miles is definitely one of those people I was astonished to discover was still alive. It isn’t just that she’s ninety, though goodness knows that’s part of it—I’ve got a lot of people on the schedule for the coming months where I’m hoping like crazy that they live at least long enough to remain eligible. It’s that somehow, I had gotten the impression that most of Hitchcock’s actresses were dead, and more of them turn out to be alive than I realized. And while no one thinks of Vera Miles as starring in Psycho, I’m pretty sure she’s in the movie longer than Janet Leigh.
Though I didn’t see Psycho until adulthood and my mom’s favourite live-action Disney movie is Follow Me, Boys!, so that is just where I think of her first. It’s actually got a heck of a cast—Fred MacMurray, Kurt Russell, Lillian Gish, Charles Ruggles (his last movie), and a very young John Laroquette (his first). She’s quietly competent in it, which means she kind of slips into the background despite being part of the focus of the beginning of the movie. She’s nowhere near as quirky as anyone else in the picture, and that means she doesn’t stand out.
But my, she’s good. She’s good in most of the things I’ve seen her in, even if she’s not the first person you notice—who thinks of her first, or even second, in Psycho? She’s third-billed in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but she’s probably not the third person you think of. She’s a talented woman, but a lot of her career seems to have been “the woman who doesn’t really get your attention but who’s important to the story.” Because literally none of the movies I’ve seen her in would have the plot they do without her character, but that doesn’t mean you notice her.
She started out in beauty pageants, then had a long, steady TV and movie career. The last movie she did was 1995’s Separate Lives, which I don’t remember ever having heard of before—it stars Jim Belushi and Linda Hamilton, if that makes it familiar to anyone. And, yeah, she’s still alive even though she hasn’t acted in longer than any number of my readers (and no few of this site’s writers, I believe) have been alive. 117 TV credits (four episodes of Lux Video Theatre) and 42 movie credits. And honestly, even if people can’t place her, I suspect most movie buffs will at least think her name sounds familiar.
The movie of hers I haven’t seen and most desperately want to—it is, alas, out of print—is 1952’s The Rose Bowl Story. She plays a Rose Princess (not a Rose Bowl Princess, IMDb), and the cast is amazing. Natalie Wood, Ann Doran, Jim Backus—and football player Tom Harmon, whose son Mark would go on to both play football and act himself. I don’t think it’s likely to be good, but I am fascinated and saddened, because even all the Patreon and Ko-fi support in the world wouldn’t get me access to it.