UP IN THE CLOUDS, GENTLEMEN PLEASE by John Mills

UP IN THE CLOUDS, GENTLEMEN PLEASE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The subtitle here--""The Unabashed Autobiography of Britain's Best-Loved Actor""--is an overstatement on at least one, and probably two, counts. But if Mills' memoirs are actually quite abashed (and awfully bland), they are also pleasant, literate, and unpretentious. Son of a school headmaster in Suffolk, young John's theatrical yearnings were frowned upon (though sister Annie was a dancer), and only after saving money while clerking did he take off for London to try his luck (""you have made a most unwise decision,"" wrote his father). But quite soon--after lots of tap-dancing lessons and vaudeville turns-luck struck: the author of the hit-play Journey's End happened to stroll into auditions for replacements and gave the casual nod to John. . . who was soon touring around Asia with that play and others in rep (Hamlet and a musical too). More luck in Singapore: Noel Coward--""the Master""--was in town and vowed to take John under his wing. Back in London he did so: lots of West End work followed, plus a reluctant first dip into films (auditioning in costume to prove he could play a sailor--which he did constantly thereafter), and then a bad stretch. Thanks to Larry Olivier, however, the career got new juice from the classics--Puck in Guthrie's Old Vic Dream--and by war's end Mills was a filmstar (In Which We Serve, Great Expectations) ready to branch out into producer-directing. Meanwhile, too, after a short first marriage, he had found Miss Right: writer Mary Hayley Bell, whose playwrighting he devotedly encouraged and abetted. And along with later successes--Tunes of Glory, Ryan's Daughter--came knighthood, plus the marriage problems and jealousy-making careers of his two daughters. Few funny anecdotes (except for some well-known second-hand ones), no real drama--but likable enough reading for Mills fans and passionately Anglophilic film/theater buffs.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1981
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin