Forever Young: Hayley Mills Remembers Eli Wallach (and Marilyn)

As Marilyn’s career wound down in the early 1960s, a generation of new faces emerged. Among them was English teenager Hayley Mills, who first came to notice in the 1959 crime film, Tiger Bay, opposite her father, John Mills. She was just twelve years old. The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who would go on to have a successful career in Hollywood. In the last week of her life, Marilyn was reported to have viewed his films in the hope she would star in What a Way to Go!, a lavish musical comedy, later made with Shirley MacLaine.

Meanwhile, Hayley was signed up by Walt Disney, becoming an international star in Pollyanna (1960), and The Parent Trap (1961.) In her memoir, Forever Young, Hayley reveals that in order to preserve her wholesome image, she had to turn down roles in more challenging fare, like The Children’s Hour and Lolita. In 1964, she had her first screen kiss (with Peter McEnery) in The Moon-Spinners, an adventure story in which she played a young girl visiting the island of Crete, who teams up with a local lad to foil the nefarious schemes of a jewel thief (Eli Wallach.)

Hayley Mills with Eli Wallach in The Moon-Spinners (1964)

Of course, Eli Wallach had befriended Marilyn during her Actors Studio days, and in 1960, they worked together in what turned out to be her last movie. Hayley picks up the story here…

“I had asked Eli about Marilyn Monroe and what she was like, as he had made The Misfits with her, and he told me she was sweet and lovely but terribly insecure. Marilyn Monroe!? It seemed extraordinary that someone so beautiful and talented could suffer from paralysing insecurity, but on one level I could understand it. The image of the star is never the real person. Eli apparently took Marilyn under his wing. even when she would be hours late on the set, and sometimes not appear at all. He felt it was important that she always knew he was her friend.”

Sadly, Eli’s friendship with Marilyn floundered after The Misfits, and she would not complete another film before her death in 1962. After six years at Disney, Hayley Mills transitioned into adult roles and later worked onstage and in television; while Eli continued working steadily until his death in 2014, aged 99 (see here.)

Hayley Mills at a book-signing in 2021

Thanks to A Passion For Marilyn