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John Mills

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Also Known As: Lewis Ernest Watts Mills, Sir John Mills Died: April 23, 2005
Born: February 22, 1908 Cause of Death: chest infection
Birth Place: North Elmham, England, GB Profession: actor, producer, director, traveling salesman, clerk

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Although his has been knighted and won acting awards, John Mills has been seemingly overshadowed by his contemporaries (i.e., Alec Guinness, John Gielgud, James Mason) many of whom delivered showier performances in contrast to his more stoic, low-key turns. Whatever accounts for the discrepancy, when one reviews the extraordinary career of this actor (who continued to turn in neat cameos after some sixty years in showbiz), one is amazed at the range and scope of the material and the dazzling versatility displayed by the actor.Raised in Suffolk where his father was working as a school headmaster, Mills and his family (including older sister Annette who later found fame on British TV as a puppeteer) eventually settled in London. His mother managed the box office at the Haymarket Theatre and Mills was intrigued by an acting career. He began appearing in amateur theatricals while earning a living as a clerk and traveling salesman. After training at Zelia Raye's Dancing School, Mills made his stage debut as a chorus boy in the "The Five O'Clock Girl" (1929). Later that year, he joined the performing troupe the Quaints and toured India and Asian in such plays as "Journey's End", "Mr. Cinders" and "Hamlet"....

Although his has been knighted and won acting awards, John Mills has been seemingly overshadowed by his contemporaries (i.e., Alec Guinness, John Gielgud, James Mason) many of whom delivered showier performances in contrast to his more stoic, low-key turns. Whatever accounts for the discrepancy, when one reviews the extraordinary career of this actor (who continued to turn in neat cameos after some sixty years in showbiz), one is amazed at the range and scope of the material and the dazzling versatility displayed by the actor.

Raised in Suffolk where his father was working as a school headmaster, Mills and his family (including older sister Annette who later found fame on British TV as a puppeteer) eventually settled in London. His mother managed the box office at the Haymarket Theatre and Mills was intrigued by an acting career. He began appearing in amateur theatricals while earning a living as a clerk and traveling salesman. After training at Zelia Raye's Dancing School, Mills made his stage debut as a chorus boy in the "The Five O'Clock Girl" (1929). Later that year, he joined the performing troupe the Quaints and toured India and Asian in such plays as "Journey's End", "Mr. Cinders" and "Hamlet". Returning to England, Mills continued his stage career offering a comic turn in "Charley's Aunt" then displaying his dramatic capabilities in Noel Coward's "Cavalcade". In 1939, he won plaudits for his dynamic turn as George in the stage adaptation of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men". By then, the actor was well on his way to a successful film career.

After making his debut supporting Jessie Matthews in the lightweight but entertaining "The Midshipmaid/The Midshipmaid Gob" (1932), Mills first garnered notice as Lord Dudley in the period drama "Tudor Rose/Nine Days a Queen" (1936) and as one of the numerous Peter Colleys who were students of Robert Donat's in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1939). The actor began a fruitful association with director David Lean with the acclaimed war drama "In Which We Serve" (1942), which was co-directed by and starred Noel Coward. Lean further used Mills' reliability and unprepossessing solidity in such efforts as "This Happy Breed" (1944, adapted from a Coward play), as the adult Pip in "Great Expectations" (1946) and as the competitive son-in-law of Charles Laughton in the delightful "Hobson's Choice" (1954). Among his other notable features of the period is the superb war drama "The Way to the Stars/Johnny in the Clouds" (1945, as a pilot unwilling to commit to his lover) and "The October Man" (1947), a tidy thriller about a man with a brain injury (Mills) who becomes the prime suspect in his neighbor's murder.

Mills added producer to his credits with a pair of films in which he starred under the direction of Anthony Pelissier, "The History of Mr. Polly" (1949) and "The Rocking Horse Winner" (1950). The latter is reputedly the first film adapted from a D.H. Lawrence work and offered a meaty role as a groomsman. The actor added another military man to his gallery as a POW in "The Colditz Story" (1955) then tackled the role of a Russian peasant (complete with British accent!) in "War and Peace" (1956). Mills acted opposite his real-life daughter Hayley in several efforts, most notably "Tiger Bay" (1959, as a detective questioning the child about a murder) and "The Family Way" (1966, as her father-in-law). He also made his feature directorial debut with "Sky West and Crooked/Gypsy Girl" (1966), starring Hayley.

Paired with Alec Guinness, Mills offered one of his greatest film performances as a British martinet who clashes with his rival over the comportment of a regiment in "Tunes of Glory" (1960). Despite this fine portrayal, much of his film work during the 60s was in subpar fare. Mills received a Tony nomination for his Broadway debut in "Ross", a play based on the life of T E Lawrence in 1961 and later made his American TV series debut in "Dundee and the Culhane" (CBS, 1967). The latter cost him a chance to direct the film version of "Oh! What a Lovely War" (1969), a series of vignettes about British involvement in the Great War. Turning over the reins of the film to Richard Attenborough, Mills did make a cameo in the film (as did his other actress daughter Juliet). Reteaming with David Lean for the disappointing would-be epic romance "Ryan's Daughter" (1970), the actor offered a scene-stealing turn as the drunken village idiot and earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar that was as much for his career achievements as for that particular role. Still agile and capable as he aged, Mills continued to find challenging roles, although the overall quality of the vehicles varied wildly. He was at his best as men of rank and prestige (i.e., "The Quartermass Conclusion" 1979; "Gandhi" 1982). and continued to turn in incisive cameo appearances as the 90s wound down, most notably in the comedy "Bean" (1997) and as Gus the Theatre Cat in the direct-to-video release of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Cats" (1998).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Gypsy Girl (1966) Director

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Bright Young Things (2003) Gentleman
3.
 Bean (1997) Chairman
4.
 Hamlet (1996) Old Norway
5.
 Grotesque (1995) Sir Edward Cleghorn
6.
 Deadly Advice (1994) Jack The Ripper
7.
 Big Freeze, The (1993)
8.
 Frankenstein (1992) Delacey
9.
 Lady And The Highwayman, The (1989) Sir Lawrence Dobson
10.
 Who's That Girl? (1987) Montgomery Bell
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Spent childhood in Belton, Suffolk, where his father worked as a school headmaster
:
Moved with family to London
:
After failing to land a spot with the Norwich City Football Club, worked as a clerk in Ipswich and later a traveling salesman
:
Began appearing in amateur theatricals
1929:
London stage debut as a chorus boy in the musical "The Five O'Clock Girl" at London Hippodrome
1929:
Toured India and Asia as a member of the performing troupe, The Quaints, acting in "Journey's End", "Mr. Cinders" and "Hamlet" among other plays
1930:
First character part onstage, Lord Babberly in "Charley's Aunt"
1931:
Acted in Noel Coward's "Cavalcade" in London
1932:
Film acting debut in "The Midshipmaid", opposite Jessie Matthews
1933:
Reteamed with Coward for "Words and Music"
1934:
Signed contract with Gaumont-British
1936:
Portrayed Lord Dudley in the historical drama "Tudor Rose/Nine Days a Queen", opposite teen actress Nova Pilbeam
1939:
Breakthrough stage role as George in "Of Mice and Men"
1939:
Had role as student Peter Colley going off to war in the drama "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", starring Robert Donat; first US film
:
Served in WWII as a member of the Royal Engineers; eventually discharged on medical grounds because of an ulcer
1942:
Acted in and co-directed (with Bernard Miles) "Men in Shadow", written by second wife Mary Hayley Bell
1942:
Appeared in "In Which We Serve", co-directed by Noel Coward and David Lean
1944:
Co-starred in "Waterloo Road"
1946:
Reteamed with Lean to play Pip in "Great Expectations"
:
Under contract with the Rank Organization
1947:
Directed and starred in the stage play "Angel", also written by Bell
1947:
Starred in the suspense thriller "The October Man"; first onscreen appearance with duaghter Juliet
1948:
Had title role in the biopic "Scott of the Antarctic"
1949:
Producing debut, "The History of Mr. Polly"; also starred
1954:
Reprised role of Lord Babberly in revival of "Charley's Aunt"
1954:
Co-starred as Charles Laughton's son-in-law in "Hobson's Choice", directed by Lean
1956:
American TV debut in production of "The Letter", directed by William Wyler
1956:
Played a cab driver in "Around the World in 80 Days"
1957:
Formed John Mills Productions Ltd
1959:
Appeared with daughter Hayley in "Tiger Bay"
1960:
Offered one of his best performances as a British officer bent on restoring order to a regiment in "Tunes of Glory", co-starring Alec Guinness
1961:
Made Broadway debut in title role of "Ross", based on the life of T E Lawrence; received a Tony Award nomination
1966:
Feature directorial debut, "Sky West and Crooked/Gypsy Girl", starring daughter Hayley and co-written by wife Mary Hayley Bell
1966:
Acted with daughter Hayley in Roy Boulting's "The Family Way"
1967:
Starred in the CBS series "Dundee and the Culhane"
1970:
Earned Best Supporting Actor Oscar playing the village idiot in "Ryan's Daughter", directed by David Lean
1971:
Made guest appearance on "Nanny and the Professor", starring daughter Juliet
1972:
Essayed role of General Kitchener in "Young Winston"
1973:
Portrayed Faye Dunaway's father in the drama "Oklahoma Crude"
1975:
Co-starred with Lilli Palmer and Barry Morse in the NBC series "The Zoo Gang"
1977:
Headlined London revival of Terrence Rattigan's "Separate Tables"
1978:
Acted in the remake of "The 39 Steps"
1979:
Starred in the four-part British TV series "Quartermass"; episodes were re-edited and released theatrically under the title "The Quartermass Conclusion"
1982:
Portrayed the viceroy in Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi"
1984:
Had featured role as Henry Rossiter, advisor to Emma Harte (Jenny Seagrove and Deborah Kerr) in the syndicated miniseries "A Woman of Substance"
1986:
Reprised role of Henry Rossiter in the syndicated sequel "Hold That Dream"
1986:
Starred in the stage production "The Petition"
1987:
Last Broadway role, co-starring in revival of "Pygmalion"
1987:
Supported Madonna in the comedy "Who's That Girl"
1989:
Acted in the NBC miniseries version of "Around the World in 80 Days"
1989:
Co-starred in the multi-part adaptation of "A Tale of Two Cities" (PBS)
1993:
Co-starred in the British TV-movie "Ending Up"; aired in USA on PBS (filmed in 1989)
1994:
Portrayed Old Chuffey in the British miniseries "Charles Dickens' 'Martin Chuzzlewit'" (aired on PBS in 1995 in the USA)
1996:
Made cameo appearance as Old Norway in Kenneth Branagh's full-length feture version of "Hamlet"
1997:
Appeared as the Chairman in the comedy "Bean"
1998:
Played Gus the Theatre Cat in the direct-to-video release "Cats", adapted from the successful Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical; production also aired on PBS stations in USA
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Norwich High School: -
Zelia Raye's Dancing School: -
Balham Grammar School: -
St John Leeman School: -

Notes

Named Commander of Order of the British Empire in 1961

Knighted by Queen ELizabeth II in 1976.

Along with his wife, named Boston Univeristy fellow in 1977

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Aileen Raymond. Actor. Married in 1931; divorced in 1940.
wife:
Mary Hayley Bell. Playwright, novelist. Born on January 22, 1911; married on January 16, 1941; mother of Mills' three children; renewed wedding vows in a church ceremony in January 2001; diagnosed from Alzheimer's disease.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Lewis Mills. Schoolteacher. Taught mathematics; also served as headmaster.
mother:
Edith Mills. Boxoffice manager. Worked at the Haymarket Theatre in London.
sister:
Annette Mills. Dancer, singer, puppeteer. Born in 1894; died in 1955; created puppet Muffin the Mule.
daughter:
Juliet Mills. Actor. Born on November 21, 1941; mother, Mary Hayley Bell.
daughter:
Hayley Mills. Actor. Born on April 18, 1946; mother, Mary Hayley Bell.
son:
Jonathan Mills. Screenwriter, producer. Born in 1949; mother, Mary Hayley Bell.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Up in the Clouds, Gentlemen Please"
"John Mills" Trafalgar Square
"Still Memories: An Autobiography in Photography" Hutchinson

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