Donna Mills

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Donna Mills
Mills at the 2018 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival
Donna Jean Miller

(1940-12-11) December 11, 1940 (age 83)[1][2]
EducationUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Years active1966–present
Partner(s)Richard Holland (20 years)
Larry Gilman (2001–present)

Donna Mills (born Donna Jean Miller; December 11, 1940) is an American actress. She began her television career in 1966 with a recurring role on The Secret Storm, and in the same year appeared on Broadway in Woody Allen's comedy Don't Drink the Water. She made her film debut the next year in The Incident. She then starred for three years on the soap opera Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1967–70), before starring as Tobie Williams, the girlfriend of Clint Eastwood's character in the 1971 cult thriller Play Misty for Me. Mills played the female lead in the heist film Murph the Surf (1975), and had starring roles in a number of made-for-television movies during the 1970s.

In 1980, Mills landed the role of Abby Cunningham on the primetime soap opera Knots Landing, and was a regular on the show until 1989. For this role, she won the Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Villainess three times, in 1986, 1988, and 1989. She has since starred in several TV movies, including The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid (1990), Dangerous Intentions (1995), The Stepford Husbands (1996), Ladies of the House (2008) and Ladies of the '80s: A Divas Christmas (2023). In 2014, she joined the cast of the long-running daytime soap opera General Hospital as Madeline Reeves, for which she won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Drama Series. In 2023, she starred in the Lifetime limited series V.C. Andrews' Dawn. Mills also appeared in the films Joy (2015), Nope (2022) and Origin (2023).

Early life[edit]

Mills was born Donna Jean Miller in Chicago, to Bernice (née Lantz), a housewife,[3] and Ambrose, a computer analyst for Union Oil.[4] She has one brother, Donald, who is 10 years her senior.[5] Raised in Norwood Park, Mills attended Garvy Elementary School and Taft High School; one of her classmates was Jim Jacobs, co-creator of Grease, who based the character of Sandy on her.[1]

Mills attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she was a member of Delta Gamma sorority. She completed one year of course work, then left to pursue a dancing career, gaining some stage experience in summer stock productions. Her first professional acting role was in a production of Come Blow Your Horn at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago. She later was cast in a touring production of My Fair Lady, which brought her to New York City.[6] Before she got a job on TV, Mills supported herself as a secretary at Popular Mechanics magazine.[7]

Mills' parents retired to Florida, while her brother makes his home in Colorado.[4]


Mills in Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1967)


Mills began her acting career on television playing a nightclub singer named Rocket on the Manhattan-based CBS daytime soap opera, The Secret Storm in 1966. She later appeared on Broadway in Woody Allen's comedy Don't Drink the Water as the Sultan of Bashir's wife.[8] Following this, she made her big screen debut in the neo noir crime-thriller film, The Incident (1967), co-starring alongside Martin Sheen, Beau Bridges, Ed McMahon and Thelma Ritter. The film received positive reviews from critics and was successful in a box office. In the fall of 1967, Mills gained a regular role as ex-nun Laura Donnelly on the new CBS daytime soap opera, Love is a Many Splendored Thing. She left the series in 1970 and relocated to the West Coast, thereupon making her primetime TV debut in an episode of the Western series, Lancer.

Mills in Police Story (1975)

In 1971, Mills starred alongside Clint Eastwood and Jessica Walter in the psychological thriller film Play Misty for Me, directed by Eastwood for Universal Pictures. The film received positive reviews from critics and was a financial success for the studio.[9][10] During 1971–72, she starred in the short-lived sitcom The Good Life with Larry Hagman, who later guest-starred on Knots Landing as J. R. Ewing from the show's sister series Dallas.[6] She signed a contract with Universal in 1972 and spent much of the 1970s appearing as a guest on top-rated television shows such as Gunsmoke, The Six Million Dollar Man, Hawaii Five-O, CHiPs, The F.B.I., Quincy, M.E., the UK's Thriller series, Police Woman, and Fantasy Island. She appeared in The Love Boat S1 E11 vignette "Silent Night" as Lila Barton, who stands by her wrongly imprisoned husband, played by John Gavin (1977).

Mills starred as a leading actress in a number of made-for-television movies through the 1970s. Her role in Play Misty for Me resulted in her being typecast as a damsel in distress for the next few years.[2][11] She starred in Haunts of the Very Rich, Rolling Man and Night of Terror in 1972, was lead actress in The Bait (1973), Live Again, Die Again (1974), Beyond the Bermuda Triangle (1975), Curse of the Black Widow, The Hunted Lady and Woman on the Run in 1977, Bunco (1978), and co-starred in Who Is the Black Dahlia? (1975), Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby (1976), Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976), Fire! (1977), Superdome (1978) and Hanging by a Thread (1979). In 1975, she starred as the eponymous character's suicidal girlfriend in the American International Pictures heist film Murph the Surf opposite Don Stroud and Robert Conrad, based on a real jewel burglary involving surfer Jack Roland Murphy.[12] In 1979, Mills returned to the Midwest to star opposite Joe Namath in a stage production of Picnic by the Kenley Players of Ohio.[13]

In an era when TV was considered inferior to feature films, many had questioned Mills' decision to focus less on the latter medium.[14] As the actress retrospectively explained to Soap Opera Digest in 1996, "if I had gotten some big [movie] roles, it would probably be all over by now. Movie careers don't last all that long, generally. But my television career has been terrific, so I can't say that I'm disappointed at all."[15]

1980s: Knots Landing[edit]

Mills in 1981

In 1980, Mills landed her most prominent role — that of scheming, manipulative vixen Abby Cunningham on the long-running primetime soap opera Knots Landing.[6] In an interview with Jerry Buck for the Associated Press, Mills said: "I got tired of playing the victim. It's a more active role. Abby keeps things stirred up, and I like that."[16] According to series creator David Jacobs, Abby was not planned when the show began. He knew that he wanted a female J.R. Ewing-esque character.[17] However, he had a different sense of the character and who would wind up in the role. With Mills' reputation of playing the victim, he initially did not choose her for the part.[17]

Josh Mapes of The Biography Channel listed her in the category "10 Primetime Stars We Love to Hate". He said, "Any great soap opera needs a great villain. While viewers may identify more with the protagonist, the villains in a serial drama always spice things up, cause trouble, and make it more fun to watch. From tongue lashings to catfights, underhanded tricks to boldface lies, the characters we love to hate have each brought a fair share of great moments to primetime soaps. While Larry Hagman played the bad guy on Dallas, Donna Mills played bad girl on its spin-off, Knots Landing. Unapologetically going after what she wanted, Mills' character engaged in affairs with two of the husbands on the Knots Landing cul-de-sac, but like most vixens on primetime soaps, she was only out for money, not love."[18]

In 1989, Mills announced her intention to leave the long-running nighttime soap after nine years as Abby.[19][20] According to Mills, she wanted to take a break from acting for a while, and from Abby, as well.[21] In an interview with The Cedartown Standard, Mills explained: "I'm tired of the show. It's been too long. I'm not particularly happy with the way they've been writing Abby lately. She's too soft. I'd like Abby to get back to her old self."[22] For this role, she won the Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Villainess on three occasions, in 1986, 1988, and 1989, as well as a 1986 nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial.[23]

During her time in Knots Landing, Mills also appeared in a number of other projects. In 1982, she starred alongside Genie Francis and Linda Evans in the CBS two-part miniseries Bare Essence, and in 1985 appeared in the CBS musical film Alice in Wonderland. She played the leading roles in the made-for-television movies He's Not Your Son (1984), Intimate Encounters (1986), Outback Bound (1988) and The Lady Forgets (1989).[12]


Mills at the premiere of Air America in 1990

After Knots Landing, Mills concentrated on television movies, several of which she co-produced under her company Donna Mills Productions: The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid (1990), Runaway Father (1991), In My Daughter's Name (1992), My Name Is Kate (1994) and An Element of Truth (1995).[6] She returned to Knots Landing for its final episode in 1993, and again for the reunion miniseries Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac in 1997. In between, she had a brief recurring guest role as the mother of Jane Mancini (played by Josie Bissett) on Melrose Place from 1996 to 1997.[6] Her other 1990s credits included the prison drama False Arrest (1991), The President's Child (1992) based on Fay Weldon's novel, Remember (1993) based on the novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford, the domestic violence-drama Dangerous Intentions (1995), inspired by the Ira Levin novel The Stepford Wives thriller The Stepford Husbands (1996), and the murder-mystery Moonlight Becomes You (1998) based on Mary Higgins Clark's novel.[12] She also guest-starred in the television sitcoms The John Larroquette Show, Dream On, High Society and Rude Awakening.

After few years in semi-retirement, Mills continued to appear on television in movies and guest roles. In 2004, she starred as Mrs. Claus opposite George Hamilton in the Holiday comedy film A Very Cool Christmas. In 2005, she reunited with the Knots Landing cast for the nonfiction special, Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again, in which the stars reminisced about the show. In the mid-to-late-2000s, Mills appeared in various television movies such as Love Is A Four Letter Word in 2007 and Ladies of the House alongside Florence Henderson and Pam Grier in 2008, as well as guest appearances in series such as Cold Case (in a provocative role as a woman who seduces her grandson) and Nip/Tuck (guest-starring with fellow Knots Landing star Joan Van Ark). In 2012, she made a guest appearance in the ABC comedy series, GCB as Bitsy Lourd, Annie Potts' character nemesis[24][25] and appeared as a guest judge on the reality series RuPaul's Drag U.[26] The following year, she starred in the thriller film Deadly Revenge produced by MarVista Entertainment, and played a psychologist in the independent comedy-drama When Life Keeps Getting In The Way.[27][28]

In 2014, Mills made her return to daytime soap operas, for the first time since 1970. She was cast in a major recurring guest-starring role on ABC's General Hospital.[29][30] She debuted in mid-March and stayed to May.[31] Later that same year, she returned for another multiple-episode arc. At the 42nd Daytime Emmy Awards, Mills won Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Drama Series for her performance in General Hospital, in a three-way tie with Fred Willard and Ray Wise.[32][33] In August 2018, Mills returned for another multiple-episode arc.[34] About her experience on soap she later said: “I loved everyone at General Hospital. I became good friends with Laura Wright (Carly), and [executive producer] Frank Valentini is just a doll. But the way they shoot soaps now is so hard. You might be shooting scenes for two or more episodes a day, and there’s no time to rehearse. It just wasn’t a very satisfying experience for me, as an actor.”[35]

Mills with daughter Chloe in 2009

In 2015, Mills starred in the POP reality series Queens of Drama about a group of former stars who now produce a new primetime serial drama to star in. The ladies were required to work together in front of and behind the cameras as they developed, pitched, and produced their steamy series with the hopes of landing a pilot deal by the end of the season.[36][37]

Mills had a role in David O. Russell's film Joy, which was released in December 2015.[38] Also in 2015, she starred in the holiday comedy-drama, 12 Gifts of Christmas for the Hallmark Channel.[39][40]

In 2017, Mills was cast in the lead role of Daisy Werthan in the Colony Theatre's production of Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Driving Miss Daisy.[41] Also that year, she played a leading role in the Pure Flix streaming drama series, Hilton Head Island.[42] In 2019, she starred alongside Dyan Cannon and Crystal Hunt in the Pure Flix comedy series Mood Swings.[43] She also starred in the independent films Best Mom (2018), Turnover (2019), and A Beauty & the Beast Christmas (2019).

In 2022, Mills appeared in Jordan Peele's horror film Nope and received the Palm Springs International Film Festival Women In Film and Television's Above And Beyond Award.[44] She also starred in the thriller film Abused alongside James Russo, Taryn Manning and Angie Stone.[45] Later that year, she was cast in the Lifetime limited series, V.C. Andrews' Dawn as wicked grandmother Lillian Cutler.[46] The series premiered in July 2023 due mixed reviews but her performance was praised.[47] In January 2023, she guest starred in the ABC crime series, The Rookie: Feds making her first prime-time television series appearance in ten years.[48][49]

In 2023, Mills was cast in the Ava DuVernay' biographical drama film Origin based upon Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson.[50] It had its world premiere at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on September 6, 2023. Later in 2023, Mills starred alongside Loni Anderson, Morgan Fairchild, Linda Gray and her Knots Landing co-star Nicollette Sheridan in the Lifetime Christmas comedy film, Ladies of the '80s: A Divas Christmas.[51]

Personal life[edit]

Never married, Mills had an on-again, off-again relationship with advertising executive Richard Holland (former husband of singer Chaka Khan) for approximately 20 years beginning in 1979.[3][52][53] She dated Intimate Encounters co-star Clayton Norcross during a break from Holland.[54] In September 1994, Mills adopted a newborn daughter, Chloe.[55][56] She has been in a relationship with Larry Gilman since 2001,[57][58] and says their decision not to combine finances by marrying is "much cleaner, much better."[1]

Mills appeared in cover-featured (non-nude) pictorials for the October 1987[59] and November 1989 editions of Playboy.[60]


Denotes works that have not yet been released
Year Title Role Notes
1966 The Secret Storm Rocket Series regular
1967 The Incident Alice Keenan
1967–1970 Love Is a Many Splendored Thing Laura Donnelly Elliott Series regular
1970 Love, American Style Ellie 1 episode
Lancer Lucy 1 episode
1971 Play Misty for Me Tobie Williams
The F.B.I. Maryanne Season 6, Episode 23: "The Hitchhiker"
1971–1972 The Good Life Jane Miller Series regular, 15 episodes
1972 The F.B.I. Bernie Season 7, Episode 17: "The Break up"
Haunts of the Very Rich Laurie
Rolling Man Bebe Lotter
Night of Terror Linda Daniel
1973 Gunsmoke Cora Sanderson Episodes: "A Game of Death... An Act of Love: Part 1" and "A Game of Death... An Act of Love: Part 2"
The Bait Tracy Fleming
Thriller Chrissie Morton Season 1, Episode 3: "Someone at the Top of the Stairs"
1974 Live Again, Die Again Caroline Carmichael
Thriller Helen Cook Season 2, Episode 4: "One Deadly Owner"
Marcus Welby, M.D. Bea Averton Episode: "A Fevered Angel"
McMillan & Wife Laura Rainey Episode: "Buried Alive"
1975 The Six Million Dollar Man Liza Leitman Episode: "The Cross-Country Kidnap"
Who Is the Black Dahlia? Susan Winters
Murph the Surf Ginny Eaton
Hawaii Five-O Marcia Bissell Episode: "Murder: Eyes Only'"
Beyond the Bermuda Triangle Claudia
Thriller Patty Heron Season 4, Episode 4: "The Killer With Two Faces"
Cannon Episode: "The Victim - S5E5"
1976 Police Woman Tamee Swanson Episode: "Mother Love"
Quincy, M.E. Roberta Rhodes Episode: "A Star Is Dead"
Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby Ellen
Smash-Up on Interstate 5 Laureen
1977 Bunco Frankie TV pilot
Fire! Harriett Malone
Curse of the Black Widow Leigh Lockwood
The Hunted Lady Susan Reilly
Woman on the Run Laura Frazier CBS Pilot.
The Oregon Trail Lizzie Episode: "The Scarlet Ribbon"
1978 Superdome Lainie Wiley
Doctors' Private Lives Dr. Beth Demery
The Love Boat Jeannie Carter 3 episodes
1979 Hanging by a Thread Ellen Craig
Fantasy Island Cindy Carter Episode: "The Chain Gang/The Boss'"
Young Maverick Lila Gates Episodes: "Dead Man's Hand: Part 1" and "Dead Man's Hand: Part 2"
1980 Waikiki Cassie Howard
1980–1989, 1993 Knots Landing Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing Sumner Series regular, 236 episodes
1982 Bare Essence Barbara Fisher
Madame's Place Herself Episode: "Candidates for Hollywood"
1984 He's Not Your Son Kathy Saunders
1985 Alice in Wonderland The Rose
1986 Intimate Encounters Julie Atkins
1988 Outback Bound Samantha 'Sam' Hollings
1989 The Lady Forgets Rebecca Simms/Julie Black
1990 The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid Brenda Morgan Executive producer
1991 Runaway Father Pat Bennett Executive producer
False Arrest Joyce Lukezic Based on true story (the murders of William Redmond and Helen Phelps)
1992 In My Daughter's Name Laura Elias Executive producer
The President's Child Elizabeth Hemming
1993 Remember Nicky Wells
1994 My Name Is Kate Kate Executive producer
Dream On Ashlyn Episode: "Martin Tupper in 'Magnum Farce'"
1995 Dangerous Intentions Beth Williamson
An Element of Truth Vanessa Graves
High Society Jacquelyn Seymour Winters/Lucinda Episode: "We Ought to Be in Pictures"
1996 The Stepford Husbands Jodi Davison
1996–1997 Melrose Place Sherry Doucette 4 episodes
1997 Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing Sumner TV miniseries
1998 Moonlight Becomes You Maggie Holloway
2000 Rude Awakening Linda Episode: "Star 80 Proof"
2004 A Very Cool Christmas Mrs. Claus
2006 Jane Doe: Yes, I Remember It Well Polly Jameson
2007 Cold Case Lauren Williams Episode: "Blackout"
Love Is a Four Letter Word Margot Harper
2008 Ladies of the House Elizabeth
2009 Dirty Sexy Money Cameo appearance Episode: "The Facts"
2008–2010 Nip/Tuck Lulu Grandiron Episodes: "Lulu Grandiron" and "Christian Troy II"
2012 GCB Bitsy Lourd Episode: "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"
2014–2015, 2018 General Hospital Madeline Reeves Special guest star
2014 Deadly Revenge Evelyn
When Life Keeps Getting In The Way Dr. Goldstein
2015 12 Gifts of Christmas Joyce Rehnquist
Joy Priscilla
2016 Sharknado: The 4th Awakens Supervisor Wink
2017 Hilton Head Island Victoria Trisk Series regular, 22 episodes
2018 Best Mom Nana
2019 Turnover Pat
Carol of the Bells Helen Harris
Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses Caroline Sinclair
A Beauty & The Beast Christmas Bijou
2022 Nope Bonnie Clayton
2023 The Rookie: Feds Layla Laughlin Episode: "Out for Blood"
V.C. Andrews' Dawn Lillian Cutler
Secrets of the Morning Lillian Cutler
Twilight's Child Lillian Cutler
Origin Mrs. Copeland
Ladies of the '80s: A Divas Christmas Dana Cunningham
TBA Abused Dr. Karen Carden Post-Production
TBA The Soul Trader Erica Post-Production

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result
1986 Soap Opera Digest Award Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial Knots Landing Nominated
1986 Outstanding Villainess: Prime Time Won[61]
1988 Won[62]
1989 Won[63]
2007 TV Land Awards Anniversary Award Won
2015 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Drama Series General Hospital Won
2018 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival Best Supporting Actress Best Mom Won[64]
2022 Palm Springs International Film Festival Women In Film and Television's Above And Beyond Award Honored[44]


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External links[edit]