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Book Review of "Forever Young: A Memoir" by Hayley Mills

Forever YoungForever Young by Hayley Mills <-- Get it at Amazon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was a teen on the prairies of Canada at the time of the British Invasion (1960s). There were many little Anglophiles swarming about in those days-- trying out our British accents, reading British novels, swooning over the Fab4 and other groups, and watching British movies.

Hayley Mills was a young British movie star and only a couple of years older than I.

I enjoyed her movies-- especially "The Parent Trap".

I enjoyed this Memoir. Very much. I learned there was quite a bit I didn't know about Miss Hayley Mills.


10. Hayley was an English actress but her mother, born Mary Hayley Bell, grew up in a Missionary family in China, and was descended from New Englanders.  Her mother's family had lived in the United States for several generations. Hayley didn't discover this until she herself was an adult and had worked back and forth between the UK and the USA for all of her teen years.

9. Hayley signed up to work with the Disney company, and to provide movies yearly for her teen years. Because she was just 12 at the time of her first contract in the movies, her parents had agency. While they initially discussed the experience, throughout her childhood/youth, her parents often spoke on her behalf, and indeed, took other actions on her behalf, some of that she did not know about until they were in motion. While she loved her parents and trusted them, as she grew up she increasingly resented not being a participant in some of the decisions that were made for her.

8. Hayley boarded at Elmhurst School in England when she was home, and was often taught on the sets of movies when she was in the United States.  In the boarding school she was told that there would be no special concessions for her just because she happened to be a successful movie star. Her education was "spotty" to say the least, and she didn't have the experience of a stable group of friends to grow up with. A little later in her teens she is given some wonderful advice around educating herself by a former mistress of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 The boarding school was bleak and there was an abuser on staff. Hayley avoided being abused through bravely listening to her inner voice and speaking out when she recognized that she was being prepared to be groomed.

7. Hayley's family was "in the business" (i.e., show business). Her father was Sir John Mills, knighted by the Queen for his contributions to the Culture, and her mother, Mary Hayley Bell, was a writer who had started out with acting, but had recognized that her talents lay in writing-- she wrote for movies and the theatre, as well as novels. Hayley's older sister, Juliet, was an actress before Hayley was contracted by Walt Disney.  As a famous theatrical family, the Mills had intimate friendships in both the British theatre, and the movie industry in both the US and the UK.

6. Hayley had no problem in memorizing lines for her various roles, and was surprised at the technique her very skilled father took, playing back his lines with a tape recorder as he rehearsed. Hayley felt guilty when she was awarded nominations and prizes, such as the Oscar, right from the beginning of her career as a child, whereas her father had, until that time, been much esteemed, but had not won any awards. She also felt constrained in taking an acting role offered to her when it was one that her older sister had coveted and failed to get. 

5. Walt Disney was kind and considerate of Hayley, much like another parent, but he also blocked her from auditioning for certain roles that she felt would have boosted her career-- "stretched her". But, in spite of these disappointments, Hayley considered Walt and the Disney movie crews to be a second family.

4. Hayley recalls feeling unattractive and uninteresting to the opposite sex as a teenager, and writes openly about her self-image and her lack of "voice". She presents as an intelligent, empathic, young woman trying to make her way in the pretty dangerous and callous movie business of the time. While her own parents were very much in love and faithful to each other, many of their friends in the business (Laurence Olivier, Rex Harrison, etc.) were less apt to be monogamous and respectful of women. 

3. Hayley did have some interesting dates with famous guys-- one in particular. I don't want to steal any more of the book's thunder by disclosing. She has a very interesting, insightful description of this particular date that is well worth reading. She also had a stalker-- or a potential stalker-- say that he(?) was planning to kill her. Being sent to a Finishing School in the far-flung Swiss Alps helped her feel safe during this period-- no one knew where she was.

2. Hayley fell in love with a much older man-- Roy Boulton-- and lived with/married him when she was in her 20s. She recognized that the marriage was not healthy and left him with their child. She had another child after that, but appears not to have re-married.

1. Due to a really pretty shocking set of events (you will be best served by reading the book), Hayley chose to try her wings in traditional theatrical shows (vs. movies) in her mature working life. She even had an opportunity to do the prestigious Peter Pan role, a role traditionally held out to women in the theatre world. 

There is so much else of interest in this book. Mills writes well and certainly covers a broad swath of cultural life from the time when I was in a similar stage of adult curiosity and exploration. She writes with warmth and honesty, both often missing from the more narcissistic celebrity memoirs. And there is a lot of humor in this book as well. 



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