Forever Young: A Memoir

By Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills movies have been my comfort watch for many years. Pollyanna, Parent Trap, The Moonspinners, and Summer Magic. The Truth About Spring and The Castaways were favorites of my childhood as well. I think of her with a great deal of fondness. Even gratitude. This book did not change my feelings. When I was over halfway through the book, I couldn’t help it. I paused in my reading and looked at both The Moonspinners and Pollyanna.

Because John Mills and his wife were so popular and respected among their peers, the book is chock-full of references about the leading lights of British Stage and film. Many many were not just casual acquaintances but good friends. And because their family was so solid, Hayley was right there.

We kids lived in the shadow of their great romance. It was the bedrock and stability of our life. We were molded to fit in with their lives, not the other way around. The other way around was unthinkable! Absurd! And yet that is precisely what was in the cards. If their twelve-year-old daughter was going off to make movies in “Horrorwood,” as Mummy called it, she would have to travel with me—and this would split them up.

I felt a little surge of excitement as I leafed through the crisp pages
[of “Pollyanna”], imagining the scenes on the big screen. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my father had opened his script too—“Swiss Family Robinson.” It felt good, knowing we all had a job with Disney. Daddy was always happiest when he was working. And if he was happy, then Mummy was happy. If they were happy, I was happy. That was my logic anyway.

Her films, even the later non-Disney ones, were full of the famous and revered. Famous not to everyone, but to those of my age who love classic films and are familiar with British cinema, I should say. Lots of Lords and Ladies!

Even though she adored her parents, her brother, and especially her sister, Juliet, there was darkness as well. Her mother was a life-long alcoholic and prone to depression. She was high-functioning, usually, but not always. Hayley struggled with adolescent angst, identity, and body image but of course, it was magnified by her fame and profession. All of her Disney money, which would have given her more freedom in her work-life balance was lost to the rapacious British tax system. Her marriage to Roy Boulting proved harmful to her career and less than ideal, to say the least. She does talk about some controlling behavior, but she has a lot of good to say as well.

There are a lot of encounters and anecdotes both great and small. Most are good-humored and all are written with the perspective of age and wisdom. Between the lines, though, a little sadness and regret do creep in from time to time. Roles not taken, love not pursued, her father’s lack of action in a few issues, being sent away for school. And especially her lawyer and family friend, who did not protect her trust. But she is always fair. And one senses that much is omitted that might not reflect too kindly on others. What shines through is that she seemingly was and is just as beloved by her friends and family as she was by her fans. Her childhood friends are still friends. Has anyone heard a bad word about Hayley Mills?

Most of the book, and of the most interest to me, is about her Disney years. After that the book kind of flagged a bit. For me, it ended how and when it should have. In her ’70s (!), she is in a good place now, and that makes me happy.

When it comes to being parents, I hope my boys learn from my mistakes. But did I learn from my parents? My mother battled with alcohol her whole life. She never really got the better of it and she paid the price. My father never stopped loving her, nor she him, but their struggle served as a warning. Not necessarily of the perils of drink, but the dangers of failing to face one’s demons. So perhaps her battle had a positive outcome after all. Maybe that sounds a bit Pollyanna… There’s no doubt that playing that character at such an early age had a lasting influence on me. It made me aware of the importance of seeing the positive.

But her son Crispian writes that the role of Pollyanna was perfectly cast….I think people will now realize that there is an element of Pollyanna in her that is very real. That was truth coming across on screen.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 27, 2021

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