Sylvia Miles: Outside of the Safe Societies

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

I think Sylvia Miles is a person everyone should be lucky enough to know--but I'm also glad that only a handful of us can call her a [true, close] friend, because I don't want what's good for me to be spread around, you know?

But if life were perfect, and if everyone could know her, or someone like her, here's what you'd get: a never-ending cornucopia of energy, intelligence, understanding, humor, and talent. If I were to make up a list of wonderful things I could say about Sylvia, I would have to say:

1. She has never bored me.

2. She has never done anything half-assed.

3. She has never, to my knowledge, judged anybody with more ferocity than she judges herself.

4. She has always been an attentive ear, a strong shoulder, and a wise mouth when I've needed one or all of the above.

5. She has never told a funny story that didn't work.

6. She has never done on a stage (or at a party) what you thought she was going to do.

7. She has never become bitter, despite the fact that she isn't hailed as one of our greatest actresses, and she should be.

8. She has never displayed prejudice in my presence.

9. She is never cruel

I am attracted to people who do well and contribute so much without having to adapt to what society has condoned as normal. People who live outside of the safe societies; who take risks and can watch as big rewards come to them. Sylvia has that attraction for me. I feel a close kinship with her because she understands a great deal of what I've gone through in my life, or at the very least she empathizes with my circumstances. I have never sensed her looking at me with any condescension, and God knows she's aware of what a wreck I am. She is also very gifted at taking a script and getting to the essence of a part without all that prefab, artificial gilding you find with people like [Judith] Anderson and [Katharine] Cornell: she simply becomes what the part requires and I don't ever recall her tooting her own horn about that. I would be yelling into phones at agents and producers, but she just shows up for her jobs and lets them have it, and they just get blown away.

Although she's been married,  known success,  been friends with some of the most interesting people of her time, [and has] a first-class mind, I've still felt that Sylvia is something of an outsider, that she's felt apart from most of what's going on. And I've always found that a strong force in my loyalty to Sylvia. She's an attractive woman, but I look at her and I see myself, or a very accessible--no, I see a soul mate. I feel we could finish each other's sentences, if only the silences we shared weren't so seductive. I can be silent with Sylvia. And I feel that whatever she has to say to you will be of great help in realizing whatever it is you want to do.

© 2014  James Grissom


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