Forever Young – Hayley Mills | Non-Fiction Bookish Thoughts

Iconic actress Hayley Mills shares personal memories from her storied childhood, growing up in a famous acting family and becoming a Disney child star, trying to grow up in a world that wanted her to stay forever young. 

In her charming and forthright memoir, she provides a unique window into when Hollywood was still ‘Tinseltown’ and the great Walt Disney was at his zenith, ruling over what was (at least in his own head) still a family business. This behind-the-scenes look at the drama of having a sky-rocketing career as a young teen in an esteemed acting family will offer both her childhood impressions of the wild and glamorous world she was swept into, and the wisdom and broader knowledge that time has given her. 

With her regrets, her joys, her difficulties, and her triumphs, this is a compelling read for any fan of classic Disney films and an inside look at a piece of real Hollywood history. 

Published: 2021 | Add On: TheStoryGraph or Goodreads

My Thoughts:

I was first introduced to Hayley Mills through The Parent Trap, the wonderful and hilarious movie where Mills plays two mischievous, and sweet, twins of a long-divorced couple, who meet at summer camp and decide to switch places. Where the story goes from there is not hard to imagine, but it is a joy to watch. The Parent Trap triggered my interest in Mills’ work and we soon after enjoyed several of her other movies, of which my personal favorite is The Trouble With Angels

When I saw that Mills’ was releasing a memoir at the end of last year I was curious enough about her life to pick it up, and I must say that I do not regret my curiosity. Forever Young is truly a memoir of Mills’ childhood and her work for the legendary Walt Disney. It is engaging and interesting, full of the right balance of behind the scenes information and the trials and triumphs of Mills’ personal life. The reader is pulled into the pages and barely released until the final quarter of the book, where suddenly you simply wish that it was over. 

Born on April 18, 1946 in London, Hayley was the second of three children born to John and Mary Hayley Mills. John was a successful actor and Mary an often struggling playwright. Throughout Hayley’s childhood her family moved around a handful of times, and Hayley writes that the “intense devotion” of John and Mary to each other was the source of her family’s security. 

Essentially from the very beginning of her life, Hayley was immersed in the world of film and acting, through her father. Hayley’s career as an actress began with her role in the movie Tiger Bay, a movie co-starring her father. She received the part completely by chance and took the opportunity gladly, but without any real expectations. It would prove to be the gateway to working for Disney. 

At the time that Tiger Bay was released, Disney was searching for its Pollyanna, a young girl who would bring the sweet and sunshiny character to life on screen for a new generation. Through a handful of coincidences, Walt Disney was pointed to Hayley as the girl that they were looking for; after watching Tiger Bay, Walt agreed and promptly flew to London to meet with the Mills family. 

The successful, and informal, meeting that took place would signify the beginning of Hayley’s career with Disney. After much negotiation, Hayley signed a seven-movie contract with Disney – the offer that finally convinced Hayley’s parents to agree was the guaranteed part of the father in Swiss Family Robinson for John Mills. That year Hayley filmed Pollyanna, the first of her films with Disney and the second film of her career. 

Pollyanna was a success, and despite the fact that The Parent Trap would surpass it in popularity, it was the role that defined Hayley in the public eye for the rest of her life – a blessing and a curse in her eyes. The years that followed were bumpy ones for Hayley. She truly loved acting, but struggled greatly with her self-worth, often feeling guilty for and undeserving of her success. 

Hayley split her time between partial semesters at boarding school in the UK and summers spent filming in the United States. This led to a lack of stability, that when combined with the struggles of her parents – her mother suffered greatly being separated from John while she was with Hayley, and turned increasingly to alcohol for comfort – was difficult to bear at times. These issues would manifest themselves in the form of bulimia and severe feelings of hopelessness for Hayley. 

Despite any issues Hayley may have had in her private life, her career thrived under Disney and following the massive success of The Parent Trap, she became a household name.  It was in only the years following her departure from Disney that her career declined for a number of reasons and by the time Hayley was in her early twenties, her focus had shifted from acting. 

Forever Young covers far more than I could ever give attention to in a brief review, and I admire the way that Hayley wrote a balanced and largely fascinating memoir. I found the historical elements of Forever Young fascinating, and upon reflection realized that learning about a different time in the near-past is one of the main reason that I enjoy reading memoirs. I am glad that I took the time to read Forever Young and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in either Hayley Mills or what it was like to work with Walt Disney as an actor. 

Have you seen The Parent Trap? Either the original one or the “new” one? Are you reading any biographies at the moment?

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