Oscar Prfile #254: Hayley Mills

Born April 18, 1946 in London, England, Hayley Mills was the second of three children of actor John Mills and his wife, novelist-playwright Mary Hayley Bell. Her sister Juliet was born in 1941 and her brother Jonathan in 1949. She made her film debut as an infant in her father John’s 1947 film, So Well Remembered.

The outgoing child who turned shy after being sent to a boarding school at age nine, was discovered by director J. Lee Thompson playing in her parents’ home in 1958 and was immediately cast in a role intended for a boy who witnesses a murder in Thompson’s 1959 film, Tiger Bay starring her father and Horst Buchholz. The film was an international success, earning her an award for her performance at the 1959 Berlin Film Festival.

One of Walt Disney’s producers saw Tiger Bay before its U.S. release and suggested her for the lead in Disney’s 1960 film, Pollyanna which catapulted her to superstardom and earned her the last Oscar given for a juvenile performance.

The young star then made her biggest hit, The Parent Trap, for Disney, after which she returned to England to film Whistle Down the Wind opposite Dirk Bogarde, based on her mother’s novel. A return to Disney found her in In Search of the Castaways co-starring Maurice Chevalier and Summer Magic co-starring Dorothy McGuire.

Mills next co-starred in the 1964 film version of the hit play, The Chalk Garden with Deborah Kerr and Edith Evans and then made her last two films for Disney, The Moon-Spinners opposite Peter McEnery and That Darn Cat! opposite Dean Jones. She had a huge hit opposite Rosalind Russell in 1966’s The Trouble with Angels followed later that year by The Family Way in which she played her first adult role as a young married woman.

The actress began a relationship with the much older Roy Boulting, one of the twin brother directors of The Family Way, marrying him in 1971. Their son, Crispin Mills, was born in 1973. Her film in this period included Pretty Polly, Twisted Nerve, Take a Girl Like You and Endless Night.

With her career pretty much over by 1976, she divorced Boulting that year and moved in with actor Leigh Lawson with whom she had another son. They split in 1984. Lawson married Twiggy in 1988. Lawson and Mills’ son, Jason, now lives with Twiggy’s daughter from her earlier marriage to Michael Whitney.

Mills had a major comeback with the 1981 TV mini-series, The Flame Trees of Thika, but it wasn’t sustained. Although she has maintained a career in television and on stage, her last film of note was 1988’s Appointment with Death.

Hayley Mills is currently appearing in the British TV series, Pitching In set in Wales. She is now 73.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

POLLYANNA (1960), directed by David Swift

Mills’ portrayal of the little girl who saw only the good in people earned her the last Oscar given for a juvenile performance out of competition. She and her father, John Mills, would become the first father-daughter Oscar winners where the daughter won first, an achievement later duplicated by Henry and Jane Fonda. Both couples won their awards ten years apart. Mills was supported in her beautifully nuanced performance by a screenful of stars including Jane Wyman, Richard Egan, Karl Malden, Nancy Olson, Adolphe Menjou, Donald Crisp, Agnes Moorehead, Kevin Corcoran and James Drury.

THE PARENT TRAP (1961), directed by David Swift

Mills’ biggest hit was this charmer about twin girls separated as infants by divorcing parents, who meet at a summer camp and switch places so that each can get to know the parent they didn’t have growing up. Like Pollyanna, it was based on a popular child’s novel, but unlike Pollyanna which had been a 1920 hit for Mary Pickford, it had never been filmed before, though it would be again in 1998. Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith were the parents with Charlie Ruggles and Cathleen Nesbitt as O’Hara’s parents, Una Merkel as Keigh’s housekeeper and Joanna Barnes as his potential new wife.

THE CHALK GARDEN (1964), directed by Ronald Neame

The 1956 Broadway play starred Gladys Cooper, Siobhan McKenna and Betsy von Furstenberg in roles played respectively on screen by Edith Evans, Deborah Kerr and Hayley Mills. John Mills played the butler, a role originated on stage by Fritz Weaver. Cooper, McKenna and Weaver were all nominated for Tonys. Only Evans, who had played Cooper’s role in the London production, was nominated for an Oscar. The now teenage Mills is an unruly brat in this one, which centers on the relationship between the strong-willed grandmother of the brat played by Evans and her new governess played by Kerr.

THE FAMILY WAY (1966), directed by John Boulting, Roy Boulting

Mills had her first adult role as a young married woman, who due to economic circumstances, is forced to live with her husband (Hywell Bennett) in the home of her loutish father-in-law (John Mills) and her long-suffering mother-in-law (Marjorie Rhodes) in a household that also includes her husband’s brother (Murray Head). Long-time British character actress Rhodes was the standout, earning numerous awards for her performance. 20-year-old Mills began a relationship with 52-year-old co-writer, co-director Roy Boulting which led to their 1971 marriage. She and Bennett would co-star in two subsequent films.

APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH (1988), directed by Michael Winner

Mills was part of an all-star cast that also include Peter Ustinov, Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher, John Gielgud, Jenny Seagrove, David Soul and Nicholas Guest. This was Ustinov’s sixth outing as Hercule Poirot, following 1978’s Death on the Nile, 1982’s Evil Under the Sun and three TV movies, 1985’s Thirteen at Dinner and 1986’sDead Man’s Folley and Murder in Two Acts. Mills previously appeared in a 1986 episode of Murder She Wrote and would return to the genre in a riveting performance in a 2014 episode of Midsomer Murders.

HAYLEY MILLS AND OSCAR

  • Pollyanna (1960) – Oscar – Juvenile Award

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