Doomed marriage to a movie titan… 32 years older: She was a young star, and he was more than twice her age. Within weeks she knew it was failing – as told with brutal honesty in the last part of HAYLEY MILLS’S memoir
As I came to the end of my teens, I longed more than ever for love. But the idea of having sex made me nervous — and I felt I couldn’t possibly live up to any man’s expectations.
Since the age of 13, I’d been a Disney child star, making popular family films such as Pollyanna and The Parent Trap.
Adolescence, however, had hit me hard, sapping my confidence and rendering me paralytically shy.
At home, it felt like my parents — the actor John Mills and writer Mary Hayley Bell — told me a thousand times a day how young and irresponsible I was, yet they would never let me make my own decisions.
Their control over my life was becoming suffocating.
Well, all that was about to change! In December 1965, I flew to New York on my own for a week of adventure. I was 19 years old, with money in my pocket, completely independent for the first time in my life and ready to shake off my wholesome Disney image.
Since I was alone in the city, my sister Juliet had given me the phone number of an old friend of hers called Joe. So I called him up and we arranged to meet in a bar.
Going out with Joe, who turned out to be a plainclothes detective with the NYPD, bore no relation to anything I’d ever experienced before.
I started fantasising that we were in some black-and-white romantic movie, like Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday.
Hayley Mills with her husband, film director and producer Roy Boulting at Heathrow Airport in 1971
We’d fall in love, then I’d fly away, back to my real life, tears streaming down my face, and never see him again.
I decided to sleep with Joe. I just needed to jump through that final hoop and move on with my life.
So on my last day in the city, I went to Bloomingdale’s and found a Grecian, off-the-shoulder, long white silk nightdress.
Back at my hotel, I lit some candles and asked Joe to stay. Almost immediately, I regretted it.
I suddenly realised that the nightdress had been a mistake — it wasn’t me and it felt ridiculous.
Not knowing what to do next, I attempted to strike what I hoped was a seductive pose by the bathroom door — but found myself thinking, ‘What am I doing?’ Then the truth rushed in. ‘I’m not in love with this man, this isn’t right . . . I don’t want to do this!’
To make matters worse, as I stood there in that ridiculous Greek nightie, I started to laugh and simply couldn’t stop. Needless to say, Joe didn’t stay the night.
So much for my first attempt to lose my virginity…
At the age of 20, for the first time in my sheltered life, I took all my clothes off for the camera.
It was for a British film called The Family Way, in which I was appearing along with Hywel Bennett, Wilfred Pickles — and my father, John Mills.
If there was ever a moment that marked the end of my career as a child star, this was it. My chance to grow up.
Hayley Mills in the British film The Family Way – in which she appeared alongside Hywel Bennett, Wilfred Pickles and her father John Mills
The director was Roy Boulting, known with his identical twin brother John as the Boulting Brothers.
As a producer-director team, they had been responsible for some of Britain’s most successful films, launching the careers of stars like Richard Attenborough and Peter Sellers.
Taking my clothes off was an extraordinarily awful and rather hysterical experience from start to finish.
I had agreed to it in principle because the scene wasn’t gratuitous and the story justified it — the tense and awkward moment when new wife Jenny is caught bathing in a hip bath in the family’s kitchen by her husband Arthur’s younger brother, played by Murray Head.
HOW THE TAXMAN TOOK MY MILLIONS
When I turned 21, I knew I’d finally have access to the trust Daddy had got his lawyer to set up for me.
It contained all the money I’d earned in my eight years of child labour.
The lawyer, Stanley Passmore, now in his 70s, reminded me of an aged Mr Banks from Mary Poppins.
‘Well, my dear,’ he said, looking at me across his desk, ‘basically the Revenue have attacked your trust company.
‘They’re going to tax you at the full rate: 91 per cent of the entire trust.’
I felt the blood drain from my face.
Stanley gave a rattling laugh.
‘Well, nothing you can do, really. You could contest it but if I were you, I’d leave the country!’ He laughed again.
I stared blankly, my mind reeling.
‘Ideally,’ Stanley added, ‘you should have repudiated the trust before you reached 21, but I’m afraid it’s too late for that now.’
Later, I was advised to sue either my father or the lawyer.
Well, suing Daddy was out of the question; as for Stanley, he’d been my parents’ solicitor for decades.
I’d named my first pet white mouse after him, for goodness’ sake!
The idea of suing an old boy I’d known all my life was unthinkable.
I waited two years for a tax appeal to be heard — and lost.
Three years later, in 1971, the case went before a High Court judge — and I lost again.
I must take it even higher, said Stanley.
To the Court of Appeal! I wrote another huge cheque to his firm of solicitors and waited another year.
In October 1972, my tax case went up before the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning. Pointing out that I’d already paid tax on my earnings and shouldn’t have to pay a surtax, he ruled that the money belonged to me.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d won! I was so exhilarated I could have flung my arms around his Lordship’s neck!
Shortly afterwards, the tax commissioners decided to fight me to the last ditch — the House of Lords.
In 1974, I lost for the final time, which meant I had to pay a surtax of £106,598 (£2 million today).
The state had plundered my trust like a horde of pirates.
The Disney money was all gone and I’d have to continue to work, like everyone else, for the rest of my life.
Of course, I mourned the loss of the freedom my small fortune might have given me — but not the money itself.
How can you miss something you never had?
At first we rehearsed without any water at all. Clanking around in a tin hip bath, which was more of an oversized bucket, I felt so acutely self-conscious that I must have been scarlet with embarrassment.
Then the scene took three days to complete. So I sat there for hours and hours like a skinned rabbit, feeling hideously undignified, my legs screwed up in front of me, the puddle of water getting colder by the minute.
It may have been my nightmare in the hip bath that set me off, but my fragile self-confidence took a nosedive. I began to dread going to the studios.
‘She’s really not very good, is she? Oh dear…’ I imagined the other actors saying.
It got to the point that I seriously doubted whether Roy was bothering to put film in the camera for my close-ups.
On my way to Shepperton Studios one morning, I felt so desperate, so hopeless and wretched, so utterly consumed with gloom, that I resolved to end my life.
‘At the next corner, I won’t turn,’ I decided. ‘Whatever happens, I’ll just put my foot down and accelerate, I’ll close my eyes and just keep driving. And that will be that…’
At the next corner, I drove straight into a large hedge. It wasn’t a very impressive crash.
I sat there for a minute or two staring through the windscreen at a lot of tangled greenery. I was numb.
With a lot of noisy grinding of the gears, I managed to back out of the little ditch and drive through the studio gates, oblivious to the fact that half the hedge was sticking out of my radiator.
Even my half-hearted attempt at killing myself had been a joke.
Roy Boulting intrigued me. Along with his brother, he was without question one of the most striking-looking men I’d ever encountered.
In his mid-50s, he still had a good head of hair that flopped over his bright blue eyes.
On the night before The Family Way opened in cinemas, he took me to see the film.
I was astonished: it was deeply moving and Paul McCartney had done a soulful musical score. I didn’t even mind my own performance.
So my heart was lighter as we walked back to my flat, across a deserted Trafalgar Square, down The Mall.
On a pedestrian crossing, in front of Buckingham Palace, Roy kissed me.
The Family Way opened the following evening to a rapturous reception, and we celebrated far into the night.
Then we slept together. I adored him; I simply didn’t care that he was 32 years older than me.
That same week, the BBC rang to tell me that Walt Disney had died. He was just 65 and had been suffering from lung cancer.
I simply wasn’t able to process the information. Walt Disney was larger than life; he couldn’t just die!
He’d been my boss, my mentor, my friend throughout half of my childhood, and I’d genuinely loved him.
With Walt’s passing, I felt like my childhood had finally disappeared over the horizon. One life had ended, a new one was opening up.
So 1967 dawned with great expectations, most of them centred on Roy. I just hadn’t told my parents yet.
I decided to surprise them, very early, at Heathrow when they flew back from America, where Daddy had been making a TV series.
After exchanging hugs, we shuffled off to find a cafe. They were both bleary-eyed and jet-lagged but twigged something was up.
When I told them I was in love with Roy, there was a stunned silence.
My father’s stool tilted, his elbow nudged a plate of scrambled eggs — and the next moment he was flat on the floor, covered in egg.
Daddy pushed his hat on to the back of his head. ‘Well . . . I’m poleaxed!’ he said.
I turned to Mummy. She fixed me with her gimlet eye. ‘So. You’ve finally been in the hay!’
She snorted knowingly and lit herself a cigarette.
This was not the conversation I had imagined.
‘Darling, I do like Roy, I really do,’ said Daddy, ‘but — really, darling, he’s as old as me! Just think, when you’re 40, Roy will be 72! And all his friends will be, too. What will that mean for you?’
‘Oh, we’ve talked about that,’ I said, trying to laugh it off. ‘We have a joke that I’ll have to push him along the seafront in a wheelchair!’
They stared back, horrified.
Of course, the awkward truth was that Roy was my father’s contemporary; the Boulting Brothers were as much of a British institution as he was.
Ms Mills and the TV Choice Awards in London in 2019
But when you’re truly, madly, deeply in love, you believe no obstacle is insurmountable.
Roy was a man with a considerable past. He had six sons — two of them older than me — from three earlier marriages and another relationship, so it took time for me to meet them all.
I often had the impression that he had absolutely no idea what his children were up to, or even where they were.
As for me, I was barely an adult myself and unsure how to behave with them.
Meanwhile, I started appearing in a series of Roy’s films. The first of them, Twisted Nerve, was an unmitigated disaster. Roy plunged into depression.
The experience did me no favours either: it wasn’t my kind of film, playing victim to a prowling maniac.
No one wanted to see Disney’s Pollyanna being stalked by a pervert. The next, in 1969, was Take A Girl Like You, with Jonathan Miller making his directorial debut.
He was a brilliant man — not only the creator of Beyond The Fringe with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett, but also an actor and a doctor, specialising in neurology.
He’d often come on set without any plan for the scene we were about to shoot. Instead, he would spend hours talking with great erudition about whatever interested him at the time — like diseases and disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system.
My co-star was Oliver Reed — playing a schoolmaster who seduced an inexperienced girl —and I didn’t warm to him.
I really disliked the way he talked about women as if they were a lower species.
Maybe I was a bit of a prude but I found his constant sexual innuendos tiresome.
Sadly, the film was a total non-event. It probably didn’t help that Jonathan spent half the shoot talking about neurosurgery and autopsies.
The following year, Roy gave me a part in Mr Forbush And The Penguins, about a vain, frivolous young biologist, played by John Hurt, who is sent to Antarctica.
Ms Mills dons a white dress in a portrait issued for the Walt Disney film Pollyanna in 1960
Even then, John was apt to over-indulge. In a restaurant one day, I suddenly I became aware that he was sinking down into his seat.
First, his face landed in his plate, then he slid very slowly under the table and disappeared from view.
I gave a little squeak as I felt something bite my ankle, before feeling the dead weight of John’s head settle on my foot, where he promptly fell asleep.
In the end, Mr Forbush And The Penguins was my third consecutive flop. By now, though, Roy considered me his employee.
The next film, Endless Night — an Agatha Christie adaptation that subsequently became a cult classic — was shot on location on the Isle of Wight, where the actress Britt Ekland and I spent a lot of time hanging out.
She introduced me to her favourite drink: vodka and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.
‘It won’t make you fat or your breath smell, darling,’ she said. ‘No one will even know you’ve been drinking!’
I TURNED DOWN A CLASSIC OUT OF GUILT
I’d seldom seen my sister Juliet, who’s also an actress, so excited.
To her delight, she was on the shortlist for the lead part in a forthcoming movie adaptation of Doctor Dolittle, starring alongside Rex Harrison.
Then something truly awkward happened — quite horrible, in fact.
The role wasn’t offered to her, as everyone expected; instead they offered it to me. I should have been thrilled; instead, I felt like c**p.
When I told my sister about the offer, she smiled lovingly and was wonderful about it, which only made it worse.
How could I possibly take the role she wanted so much?
I was scared it might damage our relationship — though I know now that it wouldn’t have been affected.
So I turned the offer down.
Looking back, that was obviously a blunder.
I should have taken my career more seriously and done what would turn out to be a classic (the role went to Samantha Eggar).
Ultimately, I made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons: guilt and embarrassment.
We spent hours together in her trailer, often talking about her four-year marriage to Peter Sellers. He was an old friend of the Boulting Brothers, who had helped to catapult his film career with the enormously successful I’m All Right Jack.
Britt’s relationship with him had been stormy. Much older than her, Peter was convinced she was flirting with everyone behind his back, which made him manic and intensely controlling.
The final straw, she said, came when he chopped up all her clothes and, in retaliation, she hit him over the head with a photograph of his beloved mother, then stamped on it.
I should have left Roy in 1970. The age difference was becoming a problem because I had so many more things I wanted to do, whereas Roy had seen and done it all before.
I had no friends and no freedom. It was the Disney years all over again.
In May 1971, I realised I couldn’t go on like this. So one day I told Roy we should either separate or get married.
As soon as I said the word ‘married’, I wondered why it had popped out of my mouth.
He opted for marriage — a shabby affair in the South of France with just my French solicitor and his wife doubling as guests and witnesses.
Life went on. Soon, Roy was questioning my every move and censoring any new friends. ‘Let me have my freedom,’ I told him.
I didn’t mean freedom to have other relationships, just the freedom to be young and have friendships. But he was fearful. He tightened his hold and shortened the lead.
We bought a house next door to Lord Lucan’s on Lower Belgrave Street, and I’d often see Lady Lucan out walking, always on her own and always wearing the same pink, sleeveless wool dress by Mary Quant.
She was very thin, with bony white arms, and her mousecoloured hair was pushed off her face by a thick blue Alice band.
There was something very strange about her. Sometimes, when I was in our basement kitchen, I’d see her crouch down and peer in through the railings, like a child.
We were in on the night the respectable calm of Belgravia was ripped apart by Lady Lucan running down the street screaming hysterically ‘Murder! Murder!’ Her husband, Lord Lucan, had attacked the family nanny in their basement and battered her to death with a metal pole.
Our son Crispian was born in January 1973. I remember standing with my baby in my arms, looking out of the hospital window.
Life was carrying on as normal, yet it was a new world — because the baby changed everything.
Not only was I no longer a child, I realised, but I had finally joined the human race. It was a fleeting moment of clarity, but something I will always remember.
I also finally came to accept the hard truth: my marriage to Roy was over. So one day, I just walked out of the door.
I left with nothing but my baby. At 28, I knew my life would probably be full of many more mistakes and failures.
But, for better or for worse, they would be my choices now. So I moved on and began a new life . . .
Adapted by Corinna Honan from Forever Young, by Hayley Mills, to be published on September 2 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20. © 2021 Hayley Mills. To order a copy for £18, go to mailshop.co.uk/book or call 020 3308 9193. Offer valid until August 28, 2021. p&p free on orders over £20.
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