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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:||Cast ... actor producer director traveling salesman clerk|
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).
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