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Sir John Mills (1908-2005)

  1. Leo Genn, The Wooden Horse, 1950.    Australian director Jack Lee beat Mills to buying Eric Williams’ POW escape book in Londion. “Johnny would’ve been very good,” admitted Lee, “probably better than Leo Genn, who was very stolid.”
  2. Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen, 1951.    After 1938-47 thoughts ofDavid Niven and James Mason, Bette Davis said “I always wanted to do it in 1949 with John Mills - absolutely perfect for it.”She played his sickly wife in a TVersion of Murder With Mirrors, her first work after her 1983 stroke. An RKO reader of potentialprojectsfamously called the CS Forrester book a “distasteful and not a little disgusting” taleof a “physically unattractive” couple.
  3. Bill Travers, Bhowani Junction, 1955.    Director George Cukor wanted Mills as the Anglo-Indian Patrick Taylor - one of three men (rather than Cukor’s usual two) sniffing aroundthe heroine.Ava Gardner in this case.
  4. Michael Gough, Richard III, 1955.    Laurence Olivier, the star and director, thought it was an amusing idea to have two of the UK’s most famous WWII movie heroes as the murderers, Dighton and Forrest. Mills was far from pleased - “stunt casting!” Attenborough was booked elsewhere. Or so he said.
  5. Peter Finch, No Love For Johnnie, 1961.    When writer-producer Carl Foreman owned the novel about life in the British Parliament, by Wilfred Feinburgh, MP.
  6. Richard Attenborough, The Great Escape, 1962.      No stranger to WWII sagas, Mills was in the frame for Roger Bartlett, based on Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, who masterminded the famous POW break-out. Like Richard Harris, etc, Mills was not happy with the way the emphasis switched from British Commonwealth POWs to James Garner and Steve McQueen - when all US prisoners were moved from Stalag Luft III seven months before the mass break-out on March 24, 1944 - ironically, the 14th birthday of the film’s top star, Steve McQueen.
  7. Kenneth More, The White Rabbit, TV, 1967.   A decade earlier Richard Burton was to star having stupidly given another RAF hero to Kenneth More in Reach For The Sky, 1956. Now UK producer Michael Deeley found the old scriptbased on the WWIIof Wing Commander FE Yeo-Thomas - he’d assisted the FrenchResistance and escaped from Buchenwald. And everyone turned Deeley down: Mills, Dirk Bogarde, James Mason.  Not, however, the previous RAF hero... by which time it was a BBC mini-series.
  8. Peter Sellers, The Optimists of Nine Elms,1973.    The role was writtenin the ‘60s for Buster Keaton.The Money Menrefused him.Mills was then somewhat myteriously hired...and immediately broke his leg. Alloptimisim wasthen shelved for several years until Sellers made it - beautifully.Channeling moreof Dan Leno, than Keaton. (Mills as in Sellers’ first film after The Heart Attack(s): The Wrong Box, 1965).
  9. Charles Tingwell, Breaker Morant, Australia, 1979.   Talked of for the presiding officer of a trumped-up court martial hiding real Boar War  crimes committed by the top brass.
  10. Trevor Howard, Meteor, 1979.       In the loop for Sir Michael Hughes in the last of the disaster movies (a $22m bummer) were: Howard, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen Peter Cushing, Michael Hordern, Gordon Jackson, John Mills, Kenneth More, Anthony Quayle… and four UK knights: Sirs John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, John Mills and Ralph Richardson. (Hordern was knighted in 1983, Quayle in 1985).

 





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