Disney child star Hayley Mills: her partner, sons and films

From child stardom, family life to her present career, who is the daughter of iconic Sir John Mills?

 hayley mills Disney star

by Ellen Kinsey |

Hayley Mills lit up the screens with her cheeky British charm and charisma in the 60s. Walt Disney once called child actress Hayley Mills “the greatest movie find in 25 years!”

Although best known for her Disney credits, Hayley is most remembered for her part(s) in Parent Trap (1661), where she played estranged twin sisters who meet in a summer camp and plot to bring their parents back together.

Now in her mid-seventies, Hayley has had an outstanding career in film, television and stage acting, however, it is her child acting roles in Disney that she is most affectionately remembered.

"The experiences I had as a child star were unbelievable'

Looking back on her life as a child star, does she ever wish she’d had a more regular childhood?

“If you asked me 20 years ago, I might have said yes but what happened to me was so unique," says Hayley. "The experiences I had as a child star were unbelievable. It was magical for a child. I was so very lucky. I loved making the films – it didn’t feel very different from the imaginary games I played. I always felt very at home in front of a camera – kind of protected and safe. I never had any nerves or felt self-conscious.”

But fame brought problems of its own. “It wasn’t always easy. I lost touch with many of my peers as I was living a very different life to them. When you’re an adolescent, your friends are so important to you but I didn’t have that normal early teenage thing.

“It wasn’t easy for my family to adjust to what was happening to me, either. It changed the family balance. My father loved my mother being with him when he was away working – and vice versa – but she couldn’t join him because she was chaperoning me on film sets. She also found she didn’t have enough time to write.”

Talking of writing, Hayley has previously put pen to paper herself, “It was visiting Disney Studios in California before the pandemic that inspired me to write my memoir Forever Young,” she says. “That was the catalyst. Walt’s offices have been recreated to look exactly as they did when I first went there in the late Fifties. It was the most wonderful feeling walking into them – literally like stepping back in time.

“Then I was given access to the archives which were like a treasure trove. There were letters I’d written to Walt, letters my parents had written to him, in-house memos… It was extraordinary. I came home and told my partner and two grown-up sons all about it, and they said that I must write it all down. My elder son, Crispian, helped me with the structure of the book and the result is Forever Young."

Hayley Mills' age

She was born on April 18, 1946, making her currently 76 years old.

How tall is Hayley Mills?

Hayley is 5' 3" (1.6 m).

Where is Hayley Mills from?

Hayley was born in Marylebone, London in 1946. She is the daughter of the well-known film actor Sir John Mills and her mother, Mary Hayley Bell was also working in the film business as a writer. She has an older sister and brother, fellow actress Juliet Mills and screenwriter Jonathan Mills. Hayley was raised on a 400-acre dairy farm however attended boarding school growing up.

Hayley made her first debut on screen as a baby in her father’s film So Well Remembered (1947).

How did Hayley Mills become a child actor?

In the early 1960s, Hayley was one of the most prominent child stars. She was the lead in six Disney Films at the time and featured in many British film dramas.

Her film career started when she was spotted one day by the director J. Lee Thompson who had come to visit her father, Sir John Mills to talk about a potential role as a police superintendent in his forthcoming thriller, Tiger Bay.

Once J. Lee Thompson had seen the then twelve-year-old Hayley playing and acting in the garden he was so impressed that he rewrote the child lead role from a boy to a girl and cast Hayley without any audition.

Tiger Bay was released in 1959, and the film was a great critical triumph. Hayley won the British Academy Award (BAFTA) for Most Promising Newcomer to Film, as well as an award at the Berlin Film Festival.

Hayley Mills’ movies

Hayley was a popular child star during the 1960s and was remembered most for her roles in:

Tiger Bay (1959)

Hayley’s first acting debut was an exceptional one. She plays a young street urchin Gillie who witnesses the brutal killing of a young woman at the hands of visiting Polish sailor Korchinsky. This success led her to be discovered by Disney.

Pollyanna (1960)

In Hayley’s first Disney film Pollyanna, she stars as an orphan who brings joy to the lives of everyone she encounters. However, Aunt Polly (Jane Wyman) is too concerned with appearances, politics, and propriety to appreciate how special her niece is.

The Parent Trap series (1961)

In Hayley’s best-known film, Parent Trap, she plays two roles as Susan and Sharon, identical twins split at birth. When both are staying at a summer camp, they realise that they are twins and plan to switch places to meet the other parent. Ultimately the twins’ plan succeeds, and they get their divorced parents back together.

Summer Magic (1963)

In this Disney musical about Margaret Carey played by Dorothy McGuire, a Bostonian widow and her three children who move to Maine. Hayley stars with Burl Ives, Deborah Walley, James Stacy and James Mathers in this musical number.

The Moon-Spinners (1964)

This film is set on the Isle of Crete, where a young English tourist played by Hayley is put against a devious jewel thief (Eli Wallach). Mistaken identities and perilous escapes lead the young tourist to confront an eccentric millionaire (Pola Negri) with a passion for priceless gems and pet cheetahs!

Here is a video of Hayley talking about her Disney career as a child.

Hayley Mills also starred in non-Disney movies during this time as well, including:

• Whistle Down the Wind (1961), which was written by her mother Mary Hayley Bell and starred Bernard Lee (M in the James Bond films), and Alan Bates.

• The Chalk Garden (1964), a mystery drama co-starring her father John Mills and Deborah Kerr.

• The Truth About Spring (1964), a comedy featuring the father-daughter combo of John Mills and Hayley Mills.

Hayley’s post-Disney career

Hayley left Disney when she was 18. Making that transition from child actor to adult was difficult, she remembers. “Acting started out as something that was very instinctive to me, but I started to doubt myself and wondered if I was any good because it had come so easily. Theatre was my saviour. Here, again, I was learning different things from different people every day and this gave me my confidence back.”

Hayley’s popularity at the movie theatre started to fizzle out after 1966. She continued to act in British films until taking a break in 1975. Her career following her Disney debut did not achieve the same critical or commercial success, however, she started to dabble in theatre, making her stage debut in Peter Pan in London’s West End in 1966. She was frequently seen on stage in the UK throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Who is Hayley Mills’ husband?

When Hayley was filming The Family Way in 1966, the then 20-year-old Mills met 53-year-old director Roy Boulting. The two were married in 1971 and bought a flat in Chelsea London and Cobstone Windmill in Ibstone, Buckinghamshire.

Hayley states that she didn't see their age difference as a problem at the time. She recalled for her documentary for A&E that "the fact that he was considerably older was probably part of the attraction, but not consciously," She continues, "And having spent an awful lot of time with people much older than myself (on film sets, etc.) it didn't seem particularly odd or peculiar to me."

They had a son together in 1973, Crispian Mills. Then the couple divorced in 1977.

Hayley got into a relationship with English film and stage actor, director and writer Leigh Lawson in 1975 and they had a second son, Jason Lawson. The couple split in 1984.

Hayley’s current partner is Indian-born actor and writer Firdous Bamji who have been together since 1997. He is 20 years younger than her.

Who are Hayley Mills' children?

Her first-born son, Crispian Mills was born on 18 January 1973 in Hammersmith, London. Crispian is an English singer-songwriter, guitarist, and film director but he is best known as the frontman of the psychedelic indie rock band Kula Shaker.

Her second-born son with Leigh Lawson is Jason Lawson who was born in 1976.

Hayley is also the proud grandmother of five. “I am quite an indulgent grandma but I can be – it’s my prerogative,” she laughs. “I absolutely dote on them. When I’m with them, I give them 100 per cent of my time. I stuff them full of sweets and ice cream – and then I give them back!”

Hayley Mills' net worth

According to The Richest, Hayley has an estimated net worth of $5 million.

What is Hayley Mills doing now?

In recent years, Hayley had continued her acting career on the stage and television screens. She starred for 6 years on the British TV series Wild at Heart (2007-2012). Unfortunately, in 2008 Mills underwent surgery for breast cancer and despite not being able to complete chemotherapy, has been in remission since 2012.

Now in her seventies, Hayley is still acting on television in series such as Midsomer Murders, (2014) in films such as Foster (2011) alongside Toni Collette and Ioan Gruffud.

It had been a few years since she'd last appeared on our screens when Hayley Mills joined the cast of BBC's Pitching In (2019) alongside Larry Lamb.

“I love working like this. The roles aren’t too time-consuming and there aren’t huge amounts of lines to learn. I was much better at learning lines when I was 12 than I am now!”

You can find many of her movies on Disney +.

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