John Mills

Last updated

Sir

John Mills

CBE
John Mills by Gabi Rona.jpg
Mills in 1965
Born
Lewis Ernest Watts Mills

(1908-02-22)22 February 1908
Died23 April 2005(2005-04-23) (aged 97)
Resting placeSt Mary the Virgin Churchyard, Denham, Buckinghamshire, England
OccupationActor
Years active1929–2005
Spouse(s)
Children3, including Juliet and Hayley
Relatives

Sir John Mills, CBE (born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills; 22 February 1908 23 April 2005 [1] ) was an English actor who appeared in more than 120 films in a career spanning seven decades. He excelled on camera as an appealing British everyman who often portrayed guileless, wounded war heroes. In 1971, he received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Ryan's Daughter .

Contents

For his work in film Mills was knighted by Elizabeth II in 1976. In 2002, he received a BAFTA Fellowship from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and was named a Disney Legend by the Walt Disney Company.

Early life

John Mills was born in Norfolk, [1] the son of Edith Mills (née Baker), a theatre box office manager, and Lewis Mills, a mathematics teacher. [2] Mills was born at Watts Naval School, where his father was a master. He spent his early years in the village of Belton where his father was the headmaster of the village school. He first felt the thrill of performing at a concert in the school hall when he was six years old. [3] He lived in a modest house in Gainsborough Road, Felixstowe until 1929. His older sister was Annette Mills, remembered as presenter of BBC Television's Muffin the Mule (1946–55).

He was educated at Balham Grammar School in London, Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, Suffolk and Norwich High School for Boys, [1] [4] where it is said that his initials can still be seen carved into the brickwork on the side of the building in Upper St Giles Street. Upon leaving school he worked as a clerk [2] at a corn merchant's in Ipswich before finding employment in London as a commercial traveller for the Sanitas Disinfectant Company.

In September 1939, at the start of the Second World War, Mills enlisted in the British Army, joining the Royal Engineers. [5] He was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, but in 1942 he received a medical discharge because of a stomach ulcer. [5]

Career

Early career

Mills took an early interest in acting, making his professional début at the London Hippodrome in The Five O'Clock Girl in 1929. He followed this with a cabaret act.

Mills then got a job with a theatrical company that toured India, China and the Far East performing a number of plays. Noël Coward saw him appear in a production of Journey's End in Singapore and wrote Mills a letter of introduction to use back in London. [6]

On his return Mills starred in The 1931 Revue, Coward's Cavalcade (1931) and the Noël Coward revue Words and Music (1932).

Early films

He made his film debut in The Midshipmaid (1932). He also appeared in The Ghost Camera (1933) with Ida Lupino and Britannia of Billingsgate (1934).

Mills was promoted to leading roles in A Political Party (1934), a comedy. He was in a series of quota quickies: The River Wolves (1934); Those Were the Days (1934), the first film of Will Hay; The Lash (1934); Blind Justice (1934); Doctor's Orders (1934); and Car of Dreams (1935). He did Jill Darling (1934) on stage and was one of many names in Royal Cavalcade (1935).

"A" movies

Mills had the star role in an A film, Brown on Resolution (1935). It was back to quota quickies for Charing Cross Road (1935) and The First Offence (1936). He had another excellent part in an "A", playing Lord Guildford Dudley in Tudor Rose (1936). He did Aren't Men Beasts? (1936) on stage and worked for Hollywood director Raoul Walsh in O.H.M.S. (1937).

Mills starred in The Green Cockatoo (1937) directed by William Cameron Menzies. He appeared as Colley in the hugely popular 1939 film version of Goodbye, Mr Chips , opposite Robert Donat.

World War II

At the Old Vic he was in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1939), She Stoops to Conquer (1939) and Of Mice and Men (1939–40). He joined the army in 1939 but occasionally made films on leave. He went back to movies with Old Bill and Son (1940) and made Cottage to Let (1941), a war film for Anthony Asquith. Mills went back to supporting Will Hay in The Black Sheep of Whitehall (1942) and he was one of many names in the war film, The Big Blockade (1942).

He was in Men in Shadow (1942) on stage, written by his wife. He achieved acclaim for his performance as an able seaman in Noël Coward's In Which We Serve (1942), a huge hit. Mills had another good support role in The Young Mr. Pitt (1942) playing William Wilberforce opposite Robert Donat. He was invalided out of the army in 1942. [7]

Stardom

Mills's climb to stardom began when he had the lead role in We Dive at Dawn (1943), a film directed by Asquith about submariners. He was top billed in This Happy Breed (1944), directed by David Lean and adapted from a Noël Coward play.

Also popular was Waterloo Road (1945), from Sidney Gilliat, in which Mills played a man who goes AWOL to retrieve his wife from a draft-dodger (played by Stewart Granger). Mills played a pilot in The Way to the Stars (1945), directed by Asquith from a script by Terence Rattigan, and another big hit in Britain. He did Duet for Two Hands (1945) on stage.

Mills had his greatest success to date as Pip in Great Expectations (1946), directed by David Lean. It was the third biggest hit at the British box office that year and Mills was voted the sixth most popular star. [8]

Less successful critically and financially was So Well Remembered (1947) which used American writers and directors. [9] The October Man (1947) was a mildly popular thriller from Roy Ward Baker.

Mills played the title role in Scott of the Antarctic (1948), a biopic of Captain Scott. It was the fourth most watched film of the year in Britain and Mills was the eighth biggest star. [10]

Producer

Mills turned producer with The History of Mr Polly (1949) from the novel by H. G. Wells. [11] It was directed by Anthony Pelissier and Mills said it was his favorite film. [12] Pelisse also made The Rocking Horse Winner (1949) which Mills produced; he also played a small role. More liked at the box office was a submarine drama, Morning Departure (1950), directed by Baker. By this stage his fee was a reported £20,000 a film. [13]

Career slump

After Morning Departure Mills took almost two years off. [14] The films he made on his return were not popular: a thriller, Mr Denning Drives North (1951); The Gentle Gunman (1952), where he and Dirk Bogarde played IRA gunmen for Basil Dearden; The Long Memory (1953), a thriller from Robert Hamer. [15]

Popularity revival

Mills (middle) with Alastair Sim and Yvonne Mitchell in Escapade (1955) Sim-mills-mitchell-escapade.jpg
Mills (middle) with Alastair Sim and Yvonne Mitchell in Escapade (1955)

Mills had his first hit in a number of years with Hobson's Choice (1954), directed by Lean. He appeared in war film The Colditz Story (1955).

Mills played a support role in a movie for MGM, The End of the Affair (1955) with Deborah Kerr and Van Johnson. More liked in Britain was another war story, Above Us the Waves (1955); this was sixth most popular film at the British box office that year, and helped Mills be the fifth most popular star in the country. [16]

After Escapade (1955), Mills made the popular military comedy The Baby and the Battleship (1956), one of the biggest hits of 1956. Also on that list was another Mills comedy, It's Great to Be Young (1956). [17]

Mills had a key support role as a peasant in War and Peace (1956) and made a cameo in Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

Mills appeared in the thrillers: Town on Trial (1957) directed by John Guillermin and The Vicious Circle (1957). [18] More popular with the public were the war films: Dunkirk (1958), the second most popular film of the year in Britain; Ice Cold in Alex (1958), directed by J. Lee Thompson; and I Was Monty's Double'(1958), directed by Guillermin. [19]

In the 1959 crime drama Tiger Bay, directed by Thompson, Mills played a police detective investigating a murder that a young girl has witnessed. His daughter Hayley was cast, and earned excellent reviews.

Mills went to Australia to play a cane cutter in the Hollywood financed Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1959).

Better received was Tunes of Glory (1960), a military drama directed by Ronald Neame co-starring Alec Guinness. Mills's performance earned him a Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival.

Walt Disney saw Tiger Bay and offered Hayley Mills the lead role in Pollyanna (1960). Disney also offered John Mills the lead in the adventure film Swiss Family Robinson (1960), which was a huge hit. He did Ross (1960–61) on stage.

The Rank Organisation insisted Mills play the role of the priest in The Singer Not the Song (1961) opposite Dirk Bogarde. Mills and Baker reteamed on an interracial drama Flame in the Streets (1961) and an Italian-British war film The Valiant (1962).

Mills did a comedy with James Mason, Tiara Tahiti (1962). He had a support role in The Chalk Garden (1964) starring Hayley.

After a cameo on the war film Operation Crossbow (1965), Mills made a third film with his daughter, The Truth About Spring (1965). He had a cameo in King Rat (1965) for Bryan Forbes, who then directed Mills in The Wrong Box (1966). Mills again played Hayley's father on screen in The Family Way (1966). He then directed her in Sky West and Crooked (1966) from a script written by his wife.

He was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, firstly in 1960 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews outside Pinewood Studios, [20] and again in 1983 when Eamonn surprised him on the stage of London's Wyndham's Theatre at the curtain call of the play Little Lies. [21]

Character actor

Mills began to move into character roles, supporting Hugh O'Brian in Africa Texas Style (1967) and Rod Taylor in Chuka (1967). He went to Italy for a giallo, A Black Veil for Lisa (1968) and played William Hamilton in Emma Hamilton (1968).

Mills had a cameo in Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) for director Richard Attenborough and supported Mark Lester (though he was top billed) in Run Wild, Run Free (1969). He went to Australia to star in a convict drama, Adam's Woman (1970).

For his role as the village idiot in Ryan's Daughter (1970) — a complete departure from his usual style – Mills won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

He was in Dulcima (1971) then had support roles in Young Winston (1972) for Attenborough, Lady Caroline Lamb (1972), and Oklahoma Crude (1973). On stage he did Veterans at the Royal Court, At the End of the Day (1973), The Good Companions (1974), Great Expectations (1975) and Separate Tables (1977).

Also on the small screen, in 1974 he starred as Captain Tommy "The Elephant" Devon in the six-part television drama series The Zoo Gang , about a group of former underground freedom fighters from World War II, with Brian Keith, Lilli Palmer and Barry Morse.

In the late 1970s Mills could still get lead roles in films, as shown by The "Human" Factor (1975), Trial by Combat (1976), and The Devil's Advocate (1977). He had filmed supporting roles in The Big Sleep (1978) and The Thirty Nine Steps (1978).

His most famous television role was probably as the title character in Quatermass for ITV in 1979. He followed this with a sitcom in Young at Heart (1980–82).

On the big screen he was now mainly playing upper crust types as in Zulu Dawn (1979), Gandhi (1982), and Sahara (1983). He performed Goodbye Mr Chips on stage (1982) followed by Little Lies (1983).

Later career

Mills handprints from 1985 at Leicester Square, London Hand prints in Leicester Square, London - Sir John Mills (4039259589).jpg
Mills handprints from 1985 at Leicester Square, London

In 1986 he did The Petition at the National and the following year did Pygmalion on Broadway. He provided a voice for When the Wind Blows (1986) and supported Madonna in Who's That Girl (1987). His best roles were on TV in Harnessing Peacocks (1993) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1994). Mills also starred as Gus: The Theatre Cat in the filmed version of the musical Cats in 1998.

In 2000, Mills released his extensive home cine-film footage in a documentary film entitled Sir John Mills's Moving Memories , with interviews with Mills, his children Hayley, Juliet and Jonathan and Richard Attenborough. The film was produced and written by Jonathan Mills, directed and edited by Marcus Dillistone, and features behind the scenes footage and stories from films such as Ice Cold in Alex and Dunkirk . In addition the film also includes home footage of many of Mills's friends and fellow cast members including Laurence Olivier, Harry Andrews, Walt Disney, David Niven, Dirk Bogarde, Rex Harrison and Tyrone Power. Mills's last cinema appearance was playing a tramp in Lights 2 (directed by Marcus Dillistone); the cinematographer was Jack Cardiff. They had last worked together on Scott of the Antarctic in 1948.

Personal life and death

The Wick on Richmond Hill in Richmond, Greater London, was the family home for many years The Wick, Richmond Hill, Richmond, Surrey.jpg
The Wick on Richmond Hill in Richmond, Greater London, was the family home for many years

His first wife was the actress Aileen Raymond who died only five days after he did. They were married in 1932 and divorced in 1941. Raymond later became the mother of actor Ian Ogilvy.

His second wife was the dramatist Mary Hayley Bell. Their marriage, on 16 January 1941, lasted for 64 years, until his death in 2005. They were married in a rushed civil ceremony, because of the war; it was not until 60 years later that they were married in a church. [22] They lived in The Wick, London, for many years. They sold the house to musician Ronnie Wood in 1971 and moved to Hills House, Denham, south Buckinghamshire.

Mills and Bell had two daughters, Juliet, star of television's Nanny and the Professor and Hayley, a Disney child star who appeared in Pollyanna , The Parent Trap and Whistle Down the Wind , and one son, Jonathan Mills, a screenwriter. [2] In 1947, Mills appeared with his daughters in the film So Well Remembered . The three also appeared together decades later, on an episode of ABC's The Love Boat . Mills's grandson by Hayley, Crispian Mills, is a musician, best known for his work with the raga rock group Kula Shaker.

Despite having always previously voted Conservative, Mills publicly supported Tony Blair's Labour Party in the 2001 General Election.[ citation needed ]

In the years leading up to his death, he appeared on television only on special occasions, his sight having failed almost completely by 1992. After that, his film roles were brief cameos.

He died aged 97 on 23 April 2005 in Denham, Buckinghamshire, following a stroke. [1] His second wife died on 1 December 2005. They are buried in St Mary the Virgin Churchyard, Denham.

Honours

Mills was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1960. [2] In 1976 he was knighted [2] by the Queen.

In 1999, at 91 years of age, Mills became the oldest joining member of the entertainment charitable fraternity, the Grand Order of Water Rats. [23]

In 2002, he received a Fellowship of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), their highest award, and was named a Disney Legend by the Walt Disney Company.

Filmography

Film

YearTitleRoleNotes
1932 The Midshipmaid Golightly
1933 The Ghost Camera Ernest Elton
Britannia of Billingsgate Fred Bolton
1934 A Political Party Tony Smithers
The River Wolves Peter Farrell
Those Were the Days Bobby Poskett
The Lash Arthur Haughton
Blind Justice Ralph Summers
Doctor's Orders Ronnie Blake
1935 Car of Dreams Robert Miller
Royal Cavalcade Young Enlistee
Brown on Resolution Albert Brown(later reissued in the UK as Forever England)
Charing Cross Road Tony
1936 The First Offence Johnnie Penrosealternative title Bad Blood
Tudor Rose Lord Guilford DudleyReleased as Nine Days a Queen in USA
1937 O.H.M.S. Cpl. Bert Dawson
The Green Cockatoo Jim Connor
1939 Goodbye, Mr Chips Peter Colley – as a Young Man
1941 Old Bill and Son Young Bill Busby
Cottage to Let Flt. Lieutenant Perry
1942 The Black Sheep of Whitehall Bobby Jessop
The Big Blockade Tom
In Which We Serve Ordinary Seaman Blake(with daughter Juliet Mills)
The Young Mr. Pitt William Wilberforce
1943 We Dive at Dawn Lt. Taylor, R.N.
1944 This Happy Breed Billy Mitchell
Victory WeddingBill ClarkShort [24]
1945 Waterloo Road Jim Colter
The Way to the Stars Peter Penrose
1946 Great Expectations Pip
1947 So Well Remembered George Boswell(with daughters Juliet Mills and Hayley Mills)
The October Man Jim Ackland
1948 Scott of the Antarctic Captain Scott
Captain R.F. Scott R.N.
1949 The History of Mr Polly Alfred Polly
The Rocking Horse Winner Bassett(also produced)
1950 Morning Departure Lt. Commander Armstrong
1951 Mr Denning Drives North Tom Denning
1952 The Gentle Gunman Terrence Sullivan
1953 The Long Memory Phillip Davidson
1954 Hobson's Choice Willie MossopNominated-BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1955 The Colditz Story Pat Reid
The End of the Affair Albert Parkis
Above Us the Waves Commander Fraser
Escapade John Hampden
1956 The Baby and the Battleship Puncher Roberts
War and Peace Platon Karataev
Around the World in 80 Days London Carriage Driver
It's Great to Be Young Mr Dingle
1957 Town on Trial Supt Mike Halloran
The Vicious Circle Dr Howard Latimer
1958 Dunkirk Corporal Binns
Ice Cold in Alex Captain Anson RASC
I Was Monty's Double Major Harvey(also titled Hell, Heaven or Hoboken)
1959 Tiger Bay Superintendent Graham(with daughter Hayley Mills)
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll Barney(also titled Season of Passion)
1960 Tunes of Glory Lt. Col. Basil Barrow (Battalion Commander) Volpi Cup for Best Actor
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Swiss Family Robinson William Robinson
1961 The Singer Not the Song Father Michael Keogh
The Parent Trap Mitch Evers' Golf CaddyUncredited
Flame in the Streets Jacko Palmer
1962 The Valiant Captain Morgan
Tiara Tahiti Lt. Col. Clifford Southey
1964 The Chalk Garden Maitland(with daughter Hayley Mills)
1965 Operation Crossbow Gen. Boyd
The Truth About Spring Tommy Tyler(with daughter Hayley Mills)
King Rat Smedley – Taylor
1966 The Wrong Box Masterman Finsbury
The Family Way Ezra Fitton(with daughter Hayley Mills)
Prize San Sebastián for Best Actor (tied with Maurice Ronet for The Champagne Murders )
1967 Africa Texas Style Wing Commander Hayes
Chuka Colonel Stuart Valois
1968 A Black Veil for Lisa Inspector Franz Bulon
Emma Hamilton Sir William Hamilton
1969 Oh! What a Lovely War Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig
Run Wild, Run Free The Moorman
1970 Adam's Woman Sir Phillip MacDonald
Ryan's Daughter Michael Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor
1971 Dulcima Mr Parker
1972 Young Winston General Kitchener
Lady Caroline Lamb Canning
1973 Oklahoma Crude Cleon Doyle
1975 The Human Factor Mike McAllister
1976 Trial by Combat Colonel Bertie Cook(also titled A Dirty Knight's Work)
1977 The Devil's Advocate Blaise Meredith
1978 The Big Sleep Inspector Jim Carson
The Thirty Nine Steps Scudder
1979 The Quatermass Conclusion Professor Bernard Quatermass
Zulu Dawn Sir Henry Bartle Frere
1982 Gandhi The Viceroy Baron Chelmsford
1983 Sahara Cambridge
1986 When the Wind Blows JimVoice
1987 Who's That Girl Montgomery Bell(credited as Sir John Mills)
1993 The Big Freeze Dapper man
1994 Deadly Advice Jack the Ripper
1995 The Grotesque Sir Edward Cleghorn(also titled Gentleman Don't Eat Poets)
1996 Hamlet Old Norway
1997 Bean Chairman(credited as Sir John Mills)
1998 Cats Gus the Theater Cat
2003 Bright Young Things Gentleman
2004Lights2The TrampCinematographer Jack Cardiff (previously worked on Scott of The Antarctic), (final film role)

Television

YearTitleRoleNotes
1967 Dundee and the Culhane Dundee13 episodes
1974 The Zoo Gang Thomas 'The Elephant' Devon6 episodes
1978 Dr. Strange Thomas LindmerTV Movie
1979 Quatermass Professor Bernard Quatermass
1980 Tales of the Unexpected The Umbrella Man
1980–82 Young at Heart Albert Collyer18 episodes
1982The Adventures of Little Lord Fauntleroy [25] The Earl of DorincortTV Movie
1984 The Masks of Death Dr Watson TV Movie
1985 Murder with Mirrors Lewis SerrocoldTV Movie
1985Edge of the Wind (TV play)
1987 The Dame Edna Experience Season 1, Episode 6 (as himself)
1989 A Tale of Two Cities Jarvis Lorry2 episodes
1993 Harnessing Peacocks Bernard QuigleyTV Movie
1994 Martin Chuzzlewit Mr Chuffey3 episodes, TV Mini-series

Stage appearances

YearTitleRoleTheatre
1929The Five O'Clock Girl Hippodrome Theatre
1931The 1931 Revue London Pavilion, London
Cavalcade Drury Lane
1932Words and Music Adelphi Theatre
1934Jill Darling Savoy Theatre
1936Aren't Men Beasts? Strand Theatre
1939 A Midsummer Night's Dream Oberon Old Vic Theatre
She Stoops to Conquer Young MarlowOld Vic Theatre
1939–40 Of Mice and Men George MiltonOld Vic Theatre
1942Men in Shadow Lyric Theatre, London
1945Duet for Two Hands Vaudeville Theatre
1960–61RossBroadway Theatre
1972Veterans Royal Court Theatre
1973At the End of the Day Savoy Theatre
1974 The Good Companions Her Majesty's Theatre
1975 Great Expectations Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford
1977 Separate Tables Apollo Theatre
1982 Goodbye, Mr Chips Chichester
1983Little Lies Wyndham's Theatre
1986The Petition National Theatre
1987 Pygmalion Broadway

Box office ranking

For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted him among the top ten British stars at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.

|*1946 – 8th [27]

|*1956 – 10th [33]

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References

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  12. "FILM GOOD TIMES". The Canberra Times . 63 (19, 559). 27 April 1989. p. 26. Retrieved 15 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
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  15. "WHAT NEWS IN FILMS? GOOGIE DITCHES STAR PART TO SEE AUSTRALIA". Sunday Times (Perth) (2913). Western Australia. 3 October 1954. p. 1 (MAGAZINE). Retrieved 21 May 2016 via National Library of Australia.
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  18. Vagg, Stephen (17 November 2020). "John Guillermin: Action Man". Filmink.
  19. "Alec Guinness "world's biggest box-office attraction". The Manchester Guardian. Manchester (UK). 2 January 1959. p. 5.
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  23. "Biography of a Water Rat".
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  25. "The Adventures of Little Lord Fauntleroy (1982)". British Film Institute . Retrieved 4 June 2016.
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  32. "The Dam Busters". The Times. London, England. 29 December 1955.
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