Knots Landing’s Villainess
American actress Donna Mills first gained fame as former nun Laura Donnelly on the soap opera “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” (1967-1970). Upon leaving the series, the blonde, buoyant player received additional popularity as Clint Eastwood’s spouse in the thriller feature Play Misty for Me (1971), her most famous movie role to date. However, after the performance, she had to spend an unsatisfying few years stereotype as a woman in distress. Mills bounced back in the early 1980s with her renowned portrayal of Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing, one of primetime’s calculating malevolent vixen, in the successful TV series “Knots Landing” (1980-1989, 1993). The role brought Mills three Soap Opera Digest Awards. She has since gone on to headline a number of TV-movies, frequently also serving as executive producer.
Recently appearing with Lea Thomson in the TV film Doe: Yes, I Remember It Well (2006), Mills is set to star along side Teri Polo, Robert Mailhouse and Barry Bostwick in the upcoming TV movie Love Is a Four-Letter Word, a romance venture due for 2007 release.
Off camera, Mills is five feet and four inch tall and has measurements 33-23-34 (while filming “Knots Landing”; Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine). She was diagnosed with Arthritis and has become a spokesperson for an arthritis awareness group, B.E.A.T. Mills is a loyal member of Eco, an environmental group. On a more personal note, Mills has never married. She was once in a long-term relationship with Richard Holland. She has an adopted child.
Childhood and Family:
In Chicago, Illinois, Donna Jean Miller was born on December 11, 1942. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but departed college before turning twenty in pursuit of a career in acting and dancing. She has an adopted daughter, Chloe (born 1995).
Play Misty For Me
Donna Mills dropped out of college to dance and act in local amateur and professional productions, including several at the Drury Lane Theatre, in her hometown of Chicago. A gig in a touring production of “My Fair Lady” brought Mills to New York and in 1966 she debuted on Broadway with a turn as a harem girl in the Woody Allen hit “Don’t Drink the Water.” The same year, she landed a recurring role on the 1954 daytime soap “The Secret Storm,” playing Rocket, and moved on to feature a year later by taking on a supporting part, as Alice Keenan, in director Larry Peerce’s crime/drama The Incident. However, it was Mills’ portrayal of ex-nun Laura Donnelly Elliot on the CBS daytime drama “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” (1967-1970) that won her attention.
Now launched as an effective actor and having received notice with her soap role, Mills headed to the West Coast to try to create the breakthrough to primetime. She made a guest starring performance in the Burt Reynolds crime show “Dan August” (1970), an appearance that led to Mills being cast as the girlfriend of Clint Eastwood, her most well-known movie role to date, in the 1971 thriller Play Misty For Me, which also marked Eastwood’s directorial debut. While the movie was a modest success, Mills found extra features intangible. She focused on television instead, in which she frequently was cast as a damsel in sorrow. An exception was her role as the wife of Larry Hagman in the now-forgotten 1971 situation comedy “The Good Life.” The actress also created a slot for herself in television films. Making her debut with 1972’s Haunts of the Very Rich, she delivered hard-hitting performance in the ABC The Bait (1973), as an undercover policewoman named Tracy Fleming, and in CBS’s Woman on the Run (1977), playing a wife escaping from her spy-husband.
Mills appeared in a number of television films through the 1970s. She also guest starred in such shows as “The Six Million Dollar Man” (1975), “Thriller” (1973-1975), “The Love Boat” (1977-1978) and “Young Maverick” (1979-1980). It was not until 1980, however, that Mills reached TV stardom, thank to her costarring regular role as the venal but sexy Abby Cunningham Ewing on the popular nighttime soap “Knots Landing.” For her bright efforts, she was handed three Soap Opera Digest for Outstanding Villainess in 1986, 1988 and 1989, as well as received a 1986 Soap Opera Digest nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial. After a nine-year run, Mills departed the show to pursue other projects. She made her return to Knots Landing in 1993 for its finale.
The blonde actress continued to star in numerous television films and specials. Among her remarkable works were playing a mother who looking after a child in He’s Not Your Son (1984) and as a demanding executive who falls in love with her male secretary (played by Brian Wimmer) in the comedy The World’s Oldest Living Bridesmaid (1990), in which she also executive produced. She also served as executive producer for such telepics as Runaway Father (1991), In My Daughter’s Name (1992) and My Name Is Kate (1994). After roles in the made-for-TV films An Element of Truth (1995) and The Stepford Husbands (1996), she found herself rejoining the world of primetime soap opera with the recurring role of Sherry Doucette, the birth mother of bothered clothing designer Jane Mancini (Josie Bissett), in the Fox “Melrose Place,” a role she playedfrom 1996 to 1997. Also in 1997, Mills reprised her villainous role of Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing in the reunion TV movie Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac.
Entering the new millennium, Mills could be seen in the comedy/horror film Cursed Part 3 (2000), helmed and written by Rae Dawn Chong. This was followed by an appearance in one episode of “Rude Awakening,” that same year, playing Linda, and a costarring role opposite George Hamilton and Brooke Nevin in director Sam Irvin’s comedy/family television film Too Cool for Christmas in 2004.
Recently, in 2006, the 64-year-old actress was cast as Polly Jamison in the mystery made-for-TV film Jane Doe: Yes, I Remember It Well, starring Lea Thompson. She will star in Love Is a Four-Letter Word (2007), a romance television film directed by Harvey Frost. The upcoming project also stars Teri Polo, Robert Mailhouse and Barry Bostwick.
- Soap Opera Digest: Outstanding Villainess: Prime Time, “Knots Landing,” 1989
- Soap Opera Digest: Outstanding Villainess: Prime Time, “Knots Landing,” 1988
- Soap Opera Digest: Outstanding Villainess: Prime Time, “Knots Landing,” 1986