For the original 1973 film The Exorcist, the demon-possessed child Regan's scary, upside-down, head-first attack down a staircase was left on the cutting-room floor. But when the footage was resurrected for the movie's 2000 re-release, the name of someone other than stuntwoman Ann "Annie" Miles appeared in the credits.
Today, Miles is credited with her work by the authoritative IMDb website, but she believes the misidentification in The Exorcist (The Version You've Never Seen) was intentional. It weakened the credibility of her resume, costing her jobs.
As she looks back over a long career as a stunt double in Hollywood and on Broadway, though, she holds little animosity.
"At first I was angry," but instead of getting even, she says, "I wrote a book."
This year, Butler Center Books published her Spiderwalk: The High Life and Daring Stunts of a Small-Town Girl From Arkansas.
It's more than a tell-all, according to Rod Lorenzen, Butler Center Books manager. It's a charming coming-of-age account by an Arkansas woman who broke free of midcentury constraints and soared among the stars. When Miles was young, women's job prospects were mostly limited to nursing, the office or the classroom, so her career was unusual.
"Spiderwalk is an amazing story," Lorenzen says.
Although Miles got her start in showbiz riding horses as they plunged from a 40-foot-high platform into a pool of water, she was no one-trick pony. She was also a rodeo stunt rider, gymnast, actress, stylist and Playboy Bunny. She modeled in commercials for major accounts like Benson-Hedges cigarettes and Coca-Cola, and performed stunts for television, movies and on Broadway. And she styled hair, makeup and wigs for big shows on Broadway.
But as a stuntwoman, she's now best known for her work in The Exorcist. During filming of the original movie, Miles spent at least two weeks rehearsing the tricky stunt -- running downstairs upside down, head first -- until it became second nature.
Her limbs unnaturally contorted, she scrambled down the stairs with ease as cameras rolled.
She says her only surprise then was the amount of fake blood in the squib that burst in her mouth during the stunt, but that didn't deter her from completing it. Then 33 years old, Miles nailed the scene on the first take.
Lorenzen, who worked with Miles on the book, says he has viewed the stunt online: "To watch her run down those stairs backwards is incredible."
But her feat was misattributed. Marcel Vercoutere, special effects director, credited lighting stand-in Linda R. Hager with Miles' stunt.
It was deliberate and not a mistake, Miles asserts adamantly. Later, Vercoutere developed dementia, and he died in 2013. So why he did it remains a mystery, Miles says.
Eventually with the help of the Screen Actors Guild, Warner Bros. gave Miles the credit she deserved for her part in the classic horror film.
ON THE BOARDWALK
A Malvern girl, Miles performed bareback tricks in rodeos around the state in the early 1950s. Sure, lots of teenagers competed in events, but few dangled from a horse by a foot or hand, secured only by a loop.
At 16, she earned a gymnastic scholarship to Florida State University. Even then, she says, "I liked performing better than gymnastic competitions."
For one summer job in 1958, she tried out and earned a place on the World Famous High Diving Horses, working for Lorena Carver at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, N.J. Her book has a lot to say about how she got the job and her admiration for Carver.
Miles says, "I wasn't nervous on the first jump, but the second time, the horse hesitated and I looked down and it was a little scary. But you have to trust the horse ... It's a leap of faith."
In hindsight, she says, "It probably was one of my most dangerous stunts, but when you're young you think you can do anything."
She worked summer seasons as a horse diver for Carver through 1968.
BOARDWALK TO BROADWAY
At 78, Miles recalls that most people she met, including a few dates, "said I was too pretty to be a stuntwoman." However, that wasn't a deterrent and neither was working in a male-dominated profession nor her parents' objections.
While employed in New Jersey, she traveled to Broadway looking for work and found it -- behind the perfume counter at Macy's department store. Her book describes an unhappy, lonely residence in a seedy part of town leading to an impulsive marriage followed by divorce.
She worked as a Playboy Bunny in New Orleans and then returned to New York, where she found work doing stunts with the Carnival touring company. She also worked as a model and on TV commercials.
In the 1960s, Miles had little female stunt competition and was "always busy." As the decade progressed, Hollywood called.
Film changed dramatically in the 1970s. The characters were grittier, the fights more realistic, directors were attempting more complicated tricks, and many women morphed into on-screen action figures. Miles says, "There were lots of car chases."
While she only drove in a few scenes, she was often a female or young male passenger. Despite the wild rides, Miles says the stunts were well planned, rehearsed and for the most part, safe. But even a good stunt can quickly go bad.
Derrick Sims, formerly of Kingsland and a Hollywood-based director of photography whose long list of credits include Kill Bill, Pirates of the Caribbean and his own two films, has worked with "dozens of [stunt] coordinators and performers over the years," he says, "They take the director's notes on what he or she is looking for, and then they spend lots of time working out how to execute it efficiently and safely. Safety is always their key concern."
Nonetheless, Russell Hoffman of Hot Springs, who parlayed his kickboxing title into a career in stunt work, says that despite the best preparations, "professionals do die."
Miles worked on a number of fire stunts, including one that called for her to be set ablaze in the 1972 movie Rivals, and she stood in for Susan Lucci's character Erica Kane on the soap opera All My Children.
Miles was in the canoe that went over the waterfall in the 1971 movie A New Leaf starring Walter Matthau and Elaine May.
Water is unpredictable, too, Hoffman says.
"I was lucky and never seriously smashed up," Miles says, but she sustained bruises, pulled muscles and, once, dislocated her shoulder.
Miles worked on movies like What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, The Wiz and Raging Bull, along with a number of others including The Exorcist, while her TV work included Saturday Night Live, N.Y.P.D., Candid Camera and myriad popular soap operas.
As a bonus, she met "tons of stars" such as Cary Grant, Louis Armstrong, Conway Twitty, the Three Stooges and Michael Jackson. She met Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner when working as a Bunny, and dated TV star and musician Ricky Nelson for a few years.
"Besides being a dreamboat, he was a really, really nice guy, sweet and funny," she remembers.
Starting in the early 1970s, she stepped into the limelight, starring in commercials and modeling for companies like Fifth Avenue Candy Bars, Prell Shampoo, L'eggs Pantyhose, Coca-Cola and more.
Miles admits, "I got more attention for my commercials and modeling" and, as with her stunt work, she was in demand and earned "good money."
In her book, she describes approaching 40, with offers for stunt work declining and her credibility being doubted because her resume contradicted official Exorcist publicity, which she was unaware of at the time. She decided to go back to school to study theatrical hairdressing, get the requisite license and serve a three-year apprenticeship to work on Broadway and TV. It wasn't easy to get jobs, so she also apprenticed in wig making and styling.
The experience paid off in a long stint as a wig stylist with the Broadway hit Cats. With her union card, she worked on wig and hair design crews for a string of other Broadway shows, including Steel Pier, Sideshow and Annie Get Your Gun.
Since moving to Pine Bluff about a decade ago to be near family, Miles spends her time traveling and entertaining out-of-town friends. It was also during this period that she penned her autobiography.
Throughout her career, she says, "No matter what I was doing, I dedicated myself to my work and it was fun and exciting. ... No regrets. I did what I set out to do."
Style on 10/08/2018
Print Headline: Arkansas native reflects on a storied career as stuntwoman, model, actress and Playboy Bunny