Veteran actor Sir John Mills appeared in more than 100 motion pictures during his prolific career, among them the 1960 Disney live-action hit Swiss Family Robinson, in which he played the patriarch of the resourceful shipwrecked family.
As critic Leonard Maltin observed in his book The Disney Films, “John Mills strikes just the right note of adventurism, tempered with humor and a genuine feeling of enjoying the whole escapade.”
Born in North Elmham, England, on February 22, 1908, to a school master and a one-time theater manager of the Haymarket Theater in London, John was convinced of his destiny from an early age. “I never considered anything else,” he later recalled.
In 1929, he debuted as a song-and-dance man in a London revue, moving to the legitimate stage the following year. By 1932, he had branched out into film. He became one of Britain’s leading screen stars, playing mild-mannered, but iron-willed fellows. His early films include The Midshipmaid in 1932, Those Were the Days in 1934, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1939.
A medical discharge forced him out of the service during World War II, but he contributed to morale by fighting the war on-screen, playing commanding characters in such films as Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve and We Die at Dawn.
One of his greatest parts was in David Lean’s 1946 Great Expectations, a superb rendering of Charles Dickens’ novel, in which he played Pip, the orphan who becomes a gentleman of means. The role led to a string of memorable performances in such motion pictures as The October Man in 1947, Hobson’s Choice in 1954, The End of the Affair in 1955, War and Peace in 1956, Tunes of Glory in 1960, among others.
Married to playwright Mary Hayley Bell, John starred with their daughter Hayley Mills in Tiger Bay, the 1959 film in which Walt Disney first spotted his future Pollyanna star. Hayley was named a Disney Legend in 1998.
During the 1960s, John evolved from leading man to character actor appearing in such motion pictures as The Wrong Box in 1966, Oh! What a Lovely War, and Run Wild, Run Free, both in 1969. He won an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actor in the 1970 motion picture Ryan’s Daughter, in which he portrayed the village idiot.
One of John’s memorable latter-day appearances was in the 1982 feature film Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley. Other appearances included Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet in 1996, and the television production of The Gentleman Thief in 2001. Knighted in 1976, Sir John Mills published his photographic autobiography Still Memories in early 2000.
Sir John Mills passed away at the age of 97 in Denham, Buckinghamshire, on April 23, 2005.