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John Mills Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (38) | Personal Quotes (8)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 22 February 1908The Watts Naval Training College, North Elmham, Norfolk, England, UK
Date of Death 23 April 2005Denham, Buckinghamshire, England, UK  (chest infection)
Birth NameLewis Ernest Watts Mills
Nickname Johnny
Height 5' 8" (1.73 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Sir John Mills, one of the most popular and beloved English actors, was born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills on February 22, 1908, at the Watts Naval Training College in North Elmham, Norfolk, England. The young Mills grew up in Felixstowe, Suffolk, where his father was a mathematics teacher and his mother was a theater box-office manager. The Oscar-winner appeared in more than 120 films and TV movies in a career stretching over eight decades, from his debut in 1932 in Midshipmaid Gob (1932) through Bright Young Things (2003) and The Snow Prince (2009).

After graduating from the Norwich Grammar School for Boys, Mills rejected his father's academic career for the performing arts. After brief employment as a clerk in a grain merchant's office, he moved to London and enrolled at Zelia Raye's Dancing School. Convinced from the age of six that performing was his destiny, Mills said, "I never considered anything else."

After training as a dancer, he started his professional career in the music hall, appearing as a chorus boy at the princely sum of four pounds sterling a week in "The Five O'Clock Revue" at the London Hippodrome, in 1929. The short, wiry song-and-dance man was scouted by Noel Coward and began to appear regularly on the London stage in revues, musicals and legitimate plays throughout the 1930s. He appeared in a score of films before the war, "quota quickies" made under a system regulating the import of American films designed to boost local production. He was a juvenile lead in The Ghost Camera (1933), appeared in the musical Car of Dreams (1935), and then played lead roles in Born for Glory (1935), Nine Days a Queen (1936) and The Green Cockatoo (1937). His Hollywood debut was in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) with Robert Donat, but he refused the American studios' entreaties to sign a contract and returned to England.

Mills relished acting in films, finding it a challenge rather than the necessary economic evil that many English actors at the time, such as Laurence Olivier, felt it was, and it was the cinema that would make him an internationally renowned star. He anchored his film career in military roles, such as those in his early pictures Born for Glory (1935) (a.k.a. "Forever England") and Raoul Walsh's You're in the Army Now (1937). He appeared in the classic In Which We Serve (1942), where he worked with his mentor Coward and with Coward's co-director David Lean, who would go on to direct Mills in some of his most memorable performances.

Throughout his film career Mills played a wide variety of military characters, portraying the quintessential English hero. He later tackled more complex characterizations, such as the emotionally troubled commander in Tunes of Glory (1960). He also played Field Marshal Haig in the satire Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) that mocked the entire genre. However, it was in his World War II films, which included We Dive at Dawn (1943), Waterloo Road (1945) and Johnny in the Clouds (1945), that Mills established himself as an innovative English film star.

With his ordinary appearance and everyman manner, Mills seemed "the boy-next-door," but the Mills hero was decent, loyal and brave, as well as tough and reliable under stress. In his military roles, he managed throughout his career to include enough subtle variations on the Mills heroic type to avoid appearing typed. He could play such straight heroes as Scott of the Antarctic (1948) as well as deconstruct the type in Ice Cold in Alex (1958) and "Tunes of Glory." The latter film features one of his finest film roles, that of the brittle Col. Basil Barrow, the new commander of a Scots battalion. Mills superbly played an emotionally troubled martinet in a role originally slated for Alec Guinness, his Great Expectations (1946) co-star, who decided to take the flashier role of the colonel's tormentor. It was one of Mills' favorite characters.

No male star of English cinema enjoyed such a long and rewarding career as a star while appearing predominantly in English films. As an actor, Mills chose his roles on the basis of the quality of the script rather than its propriety as a "star" turn. Because of this, he played roles that were more akin to character parts, such as shoemaker Willy Mossop in Hobson's Choice (1954). As he aged, his proclivity for well-written roles enabled him to make a seamless transition from a lead to character lead to character actor from the 1950s to the 1960s.

Almost 40 years after his film debut, Mills won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for playing the mute village idiot in Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970), an uncharacteristic part. In addition to "In Which We Serve" and "Ryan's Daughter," Lean had also directed Mills in memorable performances in This Happy Breed (1944) and "Hobson's Choice". He gave one of his finest turns as Pip in Lean's masterpiece "Great Expectations", in which Mills' performance was central to the success of the picture.

Other significant films in which Mills appeared include The Rocking Horse Winner (1949), King Vidor's War and Peace (1956), The Chalk Garden (1964), King Rat (1965), The Wrong Box (1966), Lady Caroline Lamb (1972), Young Winston (1972) and Stanley Kramer's Oklahoma Crude (1973). He also appeared with his daughter Hayley Mills in Tiger Bay (1959) and The Family Way (1966) and had a cameo in her Disney hit The Parent Trap (1961). Mills appeared in a Disney hit of his own, Swiss Family Robinson (1960), as the paterfamilias. He had one of the better cameo parts in producer Michael Todd's epic Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), playing a carriage driver, and appeared in a non-speaking part as Old Norway in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996).

In 1967 he appeared in the short-lived American TV series Dundee and the Culhane (1967) on CBS. In the hour-long series Mills played an English lawyer named Dundee who roamed the Wild West with a young American lawyer named Culhane, who was also a fast draw with a six-gun. The network was disappointed with the quality of the show's writing and cancelled it after 13 episodes. One of the series' directors was Ida Lupino, who played Mills' sister in "The Ghost Camera" over 30 years before (Lupino also directed Hayley in The Trouble with Angels (1966)). Mills' most famous television role was probably the title character in ITV's Quatermass (1979).

He appeared on Broadway during the 1961-62 season as the lead character in Terence Rattigan's "Ross," a fictionalization of the life of T.E. Lawrence, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Tony Award. His only other Broadway appearance was in the 1987 revival of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," in which he played Alfred Doolittle. The play was nominated for a Tony for Best Revival, and Amanda Plummer, playing his character's daughter, Eliza, also received a Tony nomination.

After divorcing Aileen Raymond, whom he had married at the age of 19, Mills married playwright Mary Hayley Bell on January 16, 1941. Since he was serving in the army, they could not have a church service, and they renewed their vows at St. Mary's Church, next to their home, Hills House, in Denham, England, in 2001.

Mills has worked as both producer and director: in 1966, he directed daughter Hayley in Gypsy Girl (1965) (a.k.a. "Gypsy Girl), from a script written by his wife. He produced "The Rocking Horse Winner" and The History of Mr. Polly (1949), the latter film featuring his older daughter Juliet Mills as a child. Whistle Down the Wind (1961) in which Hayley's character mistakes a runaway convict played by Alan Bates for Jesus Christ, was based on a novel written by Mary.

Living in Hollywood during the 1960s where his daughter Hayley enjoyed her own Oscar-winning career as a child star, Mills and his wife became very popular with members of the movie colony. After Hayley grew out of her child actress roles, Mills returned to England, where he continued his film work. He became a council member of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and a life patron of the Variety Club.

Mills was appointed a Commander of the British Empire in 1960 and was knighted in 1976. Although he suffered from deafness and failing eyesight and went almost completely blind in 1990, he continued to act, playing both blind and sighted characters with his customary joie de vivre and panache. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts honored him with a Special Tribute Award in 1987 and a Fellowship, its highest award, in 2002. He was honored with a British Film Institute Fellowship in 1995 and was named a Disney Legend by The Walt Disney Co.

After a brief illness, Sir John Mills died at the age of 97 on April 23, 2005, in Denham, Buckinghamshire, England. He was survived by his widow (who survived him by eight months), his son Jonathan, his daughters Juliet and Hayley, and his grandson Crispian Mills, the lead singer of the hit pop music group Kula Shaker. He was the author of an autobiography, "Up in the Clouds, Gentleman Please," published in 1981.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (2)

Mary Hayley Bell (16 January 1941 - 23 April 2005) (his death) (3 children)
Aileen Raymond (1927 - 1941) (divorced)

Trivia (38)

Although his eyesight failed almost completely in 1990, he continued to act, playing both blind and seeing characters.
Ranked #88 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]
Father of actresses Juliet Mills, Hayley Mills and writer/producer Jonathan Mills.
Grandfather of Crispian Mills, lead singer of Kula Shaker and Melissa Caulfield.
Supported the Labour Party during the 2001 General Election campaign.
At age 92, he and wife Mary, age 89, renewed their marriage vows at St. Mary's Church, next to their home, Hills House, in Denham, England. When they had wed 60 years earlier, he was denied a church service because he was serving in the Army during World War II. [January 2001]
He was voted ninth in the 2001 Orange Film Survey of greatest British actors.
He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1960 and awarded Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire in 1976 for his services to drama.
A council member of RADA, he was also a life patron of the Variety Club.
When he won the 1971 Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, Mills was the only winner present at the ceremony to accept his acting award. The other three winners of Academy Awards for acting that year, George C. Scott, Glenda Jackson, and Helen Hayes, didn't attend the awards. ceremony.
Younger brother of Annette Mills.
His first wife, Aileen Raymond, survived him by five days and she was the mother of the actor Ian Ogilvy.
He was educated at Norwich Grammar School for Boys.
Was nominated for Broadway's 1962 Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "Ross."
Hospitalised with a severe chest infection in August 2002.
Suffered a bad fall at his Buckinghamshire home, breaking two ribs, and was kept overnight in hospital as a precaution. (November 2001)
More than 400 stars of stage and screen took part in an event organized by the Lord's Taverners charity, of which he was the founding president in 1950, at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, south east London to honor his illustrious career and recent Diamond wedding anniversary. (21 February 2001)
He always maintained his favorite movie was Tunes of Glory (1960), in which he co-starred with Alec Guinness.
Prior to his death he had planned on attending The 32nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards (2005) where his daughter Juliet Mills was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for playing Tabitha Lennox in Passions (1999).
Despite being two of Britain's most distinguished actors of their generation, he appeared in only two films with Alec Guinness: Great Expectations (1946) and Tunes of Glory (1960).
Enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1940 but received a medical discharge after a year and a half due to a duodenal ulcer.
Died seven days after his In Which We Serve (1942), The October Man (1947), This Happy Breed (1944) and Tunes of Glory (1960) co-star, Kay Walsh.
Of the Oscar-winning father-daughter couples, he and his daughter Hayley Mills are one of two couples (the other is Jane Fonda/Henry Fonda) where the daughter won an Academy award before the father did.
He was a close friend of the English actor/director Richard Attenborough, who read the eulogy at his funeral.
His wife of 64 years, Mary Hayley Bell, suffered from Alzheimer's disease for many years. Due to the advanced stage of her illness, she was unable to attend his funeral on April 27, 2005.
He was a close friend of Stephen Fry.
He is credited with playing more military roles than any other star. In 31 of his movies, almost a third of his whole cinematic output, he portrayed soldiers, usually officers.
He was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.
There is 16mm footage of Mills in the 1932 stage show "Words and Music" alongside Doris Hare. The show was written by Noel Coward.
In 1967, he appeared in "The Great Escape" themed episode of The Golden Shot (1967), hosted by Bob Monkhouse.
Father-in-law of Maxwell Caulfield.
He and his first wife Aileen Raymond both died in April 2005, approximately 78 years after they were married.
Mills was rejected by the army during World War II because of a duodenal ulcer.
According to Mills, the only reason he saw his quota quickie "The Lash" is because it was on a double bill with something that Spencer Tracy was acting in.
Mills' first professional appearance was as a chorus boy in a Hippodrome show "The Five O'Clock Revue" with Enest Truex in 1927.
Mills' greatest American stage success was as T. E. Lawrence in "Ross." Mills had met the real Lawrence in 1931 through good friend Noel Coward when he was appearing in "Cavalcade.".
Acording to Mills in the 'Films in Review' career article on him in August 1971, he was offered the Burgess Meredith role in "Of Mice and Men" and the Humphrey Bogart role in "The African Queen.".
On the list of possibles for the roles of Fallanda, DR.Armstrong and Sir Percy in Lifeforce(1985).

Personal Quotes (8)

One of the luckiest things that ever happened to me was to be born with a desperate desire to become an actor. I never remember at any age wanting to be anything else.
erring to his Oscar-winning role as a brain-damaged mute in Ryan's Daughter (1970)] It was weird. I just thought I'd been wasting my time for the past 55 years learning all these millions of lines, and then getting an Oscar for not speaking.
Ryan's Daughter (1970) is not my best film, but it is the best thing that happened to me, professionally. It brought me the Academy Award, and that meant I could finally be known again as somebody other than 'Hayley Mills''' father.
[after receiving a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the "village idiot" in Ryan's Daughter (1970)] I was speechless for a year in Ireland, and I'm speechless again now!
[in a personal tribute to Noel Coward] I don't know any actor alive today who could get laughs with, apparently, so little effort. You never compromised or went out after our sympathy for one moment.
[on Trevor Howard] He became one of the finest actors we ever had. One of the greatest, and a lovely man with it.
I used to write childish melodramas when I was seven or eight and act them out in the schoolhouse.
[about first wife Aileen Raymond] We were both young, and I guess we just drifted apart.

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