Sir John Mills



  • (Lewis Ernest Watts; 1908 - 2005) British actor who beganin musicals before diversifying into both comedy and serious drama,as well as making more than 100 films. He changed his name while stilla schoolboy, because it was "too sissy".

    Mills was inspired to go on the stage by his older sisterAnnette, who had revived the Charleston in New York in the 1920s (andlater partnered Muffin the Mule on British television). He made hisdebut in 1929 as a chorus boy at the London Hippodrome. Two yearslater he starred in the first production of Coward's Cavalcade,becoming the first actor to sing 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen'. LaurenceOlivier subsequently made arrangements for him to play Hamletand Richard III at the Old Vic, but World War II intervened.Olivier later directed him in such serious works as Tyrone Guthrie'sTop of the Ladder (1949).

    Mills first appeared on Broadway in 1961, playing T. E. Lawrencein Terence Rattigan's Ross. He was paralysed by stage-frightbut Olivier built up his confidence, telling him to peek through thecurtain 15 minutes before the performance and whisper to the audience,"You lucky people - you'll find it impossible to takeyour eyes off me!"

    Mills's wife, Mary Hayley Bell (1911 - 2005), was a playwrightwhile his daughters Juliet Mills (1941 - ) and HayleyMills (1946 - ) are both actresses.