|Born||Lewis Ernest Watts Mills
22 February 1908
North Elmham, Norfolk, England
|Died||23 April 2005
Denham, Buckinghamshire, England
(m. 1927; div. 1941)
Mary Hayley Bell
|Children||3, including Juliet and Hayley|
Sir John Mills, CBE (22 February 1908 – 23 April 2005) was an English actor who appeared in more than 120 films in a career spanning seven decades. On screen, he often played people who are not at all exceptional, but become heroes because of their common sense, generosity and good judgement. He received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Ryan's Daughter (1970).
His 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 six years old. 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, 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 at a corn merchants 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 in the Royal Engineers. He was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, but in 1942 he received a medical discharge because of a stomach ulcer.
Mills took an early interest in acting, making his professional début at the London Hippodrome in The Five O'Clock Girl in 1929. He also starred in the Noël Coward revue Words and Music. He made his film début in The Midshipmaid (1932), and appeared as Colley in the 1939 film version of Goodbye, Mr Chips, opposite Robert Donat. In 1942, he starred in Noël Coward's In Which We Serve.
Mills took the lead in Great Expectations in 1946, and subsequently made his career playing traditionally British heroes such as Captain Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (1948). After Morning Departure he made a series of unsuccessful films but bounced back with war dramas, such as The Colditz Story (1954), Above Us the Waves (1955) and Ice Cold in Alex (1958).
From 1959 through the mid-1960s, Mills starred in several films alongside his daughter Hayley. Their first film together was the 1959 crime drama Tiger Bay, in which John plays a police detective investigating a murder that Hayley's character witnessed. Following Hayley's rise to fame in Pollyanna (1960) and the 1961 family comedy The Parent Trap, John and Hayley again starred together, in the 1965 teen sailing adventure The Truth About Spring, the 1964 drama The Chalk Garden (with Deborah Kerr in the lead role), and the 1966 comedy-drama The Family Way, in which John plays an insecure, overbearing father and Hayley plays his son's newlywed wife.
As Colonel Barrow in Tunes of Glory, Mills won the best Actor Award at the 1960 Venice Film Festival. For his role as the village idiot in Ryan's Daughter (1970) — a complete departure from his usual style – Mills won an Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His most famous television role was probably as the title character in Quatermass for ITV in 1979. 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. 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' 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. Their combined age was 186 years, a cinema record.
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; and it was not until 60 years later that they had their union blessed in a church. 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.
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. 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.
In the years leading up to his death, he appeared on television only on special occasions, his sight having failed almost completely in 1992. After that, his film roles were brief yet notable cameos.
|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 Penrose||alternative title Bad Blood|
|Tudor Rose||Lord Guilford Dudley||Released 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|
|The Young Mr Pitt||William Wilberforce|
|1943||We Dive at Dawn||Capt. Lt. Taylor, R.N.|
|1944||This Happy Breed||Billy Mitchell|
|1945||Waterloo Road||Jim Colter|
|The Way to the Stars||Peter Penrose|
|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 Mossop||Nominated-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|
|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|
|Ice Cold in Alex||Captain Anson|
|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||Father Robinson|
|1961||The Singer Not the Song||Father Michael Keogh|
|The Parent Trap||Mitch Evers' Golf Caddy||Uncredited|
|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
|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|
|1986||When the Wind Blows||Jim||(voice)|
|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)|
|1997||Bean||Chairman||(credited as Sir John Mills)|
|1998||Cats||Gus the Theater Cat|
|2003||Bright Young Things||Gentleman|
|2004||Lights2||The Tramp||Cinematographer Jack Cardiff (previously worked on Scott of The Antarctic), (Last appearance)|
|1967||Dundee and the Culhane||Dundee||13 episodes|
|1974||The Zoo Gang||Thomas 'The Elephant' Devon||6 episodes|
|1978||Dr. Strange||Thomas Lindmer||TV Movie|
|1979||Quatermass||Professor Bernard Quatermass|
|1980–82||Young at Heart||Albert Collyer||18 episodes||1985
Edge of the Wind (TV play)
|1987||The Dame Edna Experience||Season 1, Episode 6 (as himself)|
|1993||Harnessing Peacocks||Bernard Quigley||TV Movie|
|1994||Martin Chuzzlewit||Mr Chuffey||3 episodes, TV Mini-series|
|1929||The Five O'Clock Girl||Hippodrome Theatre|
|1931||The 1931 Revue||London Pavilion, London|
|1932||Words and Music||Adelphi Theatre|
|1934||Jill Darling||Savoy Theatre|
|1936||Aren't Men Beasts?||Strand Theatre|
|1939||A Midsummer Night's Dream||Oberon||Old Vic Theatre|
|She Stoops to Conquer||Young Marlow||Old Vic Theatre|
|1939-40||Of Mice and Men||George Milton||Old Vic Theatre|
|1942||Men in Shadow||Lyric Theatre, London|
|1945||Duet for Two Hands||Vaudeville Theatre|
|1972||Veterans||Royal Court Theatre|
|1973||At 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|
|1983||Little Lies||Wyndham's Theatre|
|1986||The Petition||National Theatre|
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.
- 1945 – 4th
- 1946 – 8th
- 1947 – 4th (6th most popular overall)
- 1948 – 3rd (4th most popular over all)
- 1949 – 3rd (8th most popular over all)
- 1950 – 4th (6th most popular overall)
- 1954 – 10th
- 1955 – 2nd (5th most popular overall)
- 1956 – 10th
- 1957 – 6th
- 1958 – 6th
- 1961 – 5th
- Brian McFarlane, ‘Mills, Sir John Lewis Ernest Watts (1908–2005)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2009 available online. Retrieved 28 August 2012.
- Mills, John. Chapter 1 Up in the Clouds, Gentleman Please Published by Orion.
- "British actor: Lewis Ernest Watts Mills". Encyclopædia Britannica. 22 October 2009.
- "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.
- Obituary, The Age, 25 April 2005, p.9
- Oliver, Jonathan. "John Mills to take starring role for Labour | Mail Online". London: Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
- Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006
- 'Bloomer Girl' to Play Instead of Jolson Opus, Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 March 1946: A5.
- "FILM WORLD.". The West Australian. Perth, WA. 28 February 1947. p. 20 Edition: SECOND EDITION. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "Anna Neagle Most Popular Actress.". The Sydney Morning Herald. NSW. 3 January 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "Bing Crosby Still Best Box-office Draw.". The Sydney Morning Herald. NSW. 31 December 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- "Bob Hope Takes Lead from Bing In Popularity.". The Canberra Times. ACT. 31 December 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "TOPS AT HOME.". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane, Qld. 31 December 1949. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "'The Dam Busters'." The Times (London, England) 29 December 1955. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- "The Most Popular Film Star In Britain." The Times (London, England). 7 December 1956. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- 'BRITISH ACTORS HEAD FILM POLL: BOX-OFFICE SURVEY', The Manchester Guardian, 27 December 1957: 3.
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