Hayley Mills Talks about Working for Walt Disney During “Pollyanna” 60th Anniversary Event with Leonard Maltin

D23, the official Disney fan club, hosted a special event in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Walt Disney’s Pollyanna. Film critic, historian, and Disney fan Leonard Maltin and his daughter Jessie interviewed Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills during a live virtual event. The co-hosts of the Maltin on Movies podcast reunited with one of Disney’s biggest stars for a fun and engaging 30-minute conversation.

“I can’t believe it was 60 years ago, but there we are,” the legendary actress said about Pollyanna’s diamond anniversary. “And there’s something about Pollyanna. She really is ageless… because of all the things that she stands for.”

After sharing how lucky she feels to have had such a wonderful start to her career with Disney, Leonard Maltin asked if she had any unhappy memories from the set. The closest that she could come was that her first day on set was a rocky start. “It was the scene with Carl Maldin up a hill and he’s practicing his sermon. So it was my first day, it was terribly hot, the wig was really itching, the dress was tight and hot, grass kept getting stuck in my tights… I was also quite nervous… I could just see over my shoulder the catering truck and on the catering truck were these astonishing American donuts. And as the morning wore on, I got more and more hungry and I was more and more distracted by those donuts.” She doesn’t think they got a single usable shot that morning and her father had to pull her aside to tell her she was being a “Big white cabbage,” which meant she was boring to watch. She took the feedback and had a successful afternoon on the set. It was smooth sailing from then on.

Hayley Mills also shared her memory of the first time she met Walt Disney, casually name dropping that she had just gotten a pekingese puppy given to her family by Vivian Leigh (of Gone with the Wind legend status), who was given it by her husband, Sir Lawrence Olivier. “What a darling, I adored him,” Hayley Mills shared about being invited to meet Walt Disney at the Dorchester Hotel where he was staying in the Harlequin Suite, bringing her new puppy along. “We had a really wonderful meeting playing with the puppy on the carpet… He was a very easy man to be with, to talk to, and love, quite honestly. And, of course, the studio was so small when I first went there. And Walt walked around and was very much in residence. Later when I went back and did a couple of sequels to The Parent Trap, it was so weird that he wasn’t there and the [studio] heads were… nobody saw them. It was a very different atmosphere.”

Hayley Mills made her first two films for Disney with Director David Swift, who made Pollyanna and The Parent Trap. “He was wonderful,” Hayley Mills shared. “A very good writer. I think he saved Pollyanna because it is a very, if you’re not careful, it’s quite a schmaltzy story. In fact, he said he really had a tough time writing the script and he was worried that the audience was going to puke in their seats. But she’s quite a feisty little thing, he brought that out, David. And he was a lovely man. He was very warm and he had a great sense of humor, he was sweet. As a child, the director for me was in the back of my mind who I wanted to please. I wanted him to come around the camera at the end of a scene with a big smile on his face.”

While the event was mostly about Pollyanna, the conversation did steer to Hayley Mills’ most iconic film, The Parent Trap. “It was a very interesting process and split-screen was in its infancy then,” she explained. “It’s so sophisticated now, you really can’t tell, but back then it was quite basic… I had a wonderful photographic double, she was an actress, her name’s Susan Henning. She would play Sharon or Susan or Susan or Sharon and that was fun because she was an actress and she was a good actress. What was probably not fun for her is sometimes when we were in scenes together they would film over her shoulder to see me… to be on the safe side, they made her wear a rubber replica of my nose. This poor girl spent the entire day with this rubber nose on, which was not very comfortable. And when we were dressed completely alike, with the wigs and everything, we used to go out to the hamburger joint Bob’s Big Boy and pretend to be real twins, which was such fun. It was more fun for me because she had to eat a hamburger breathing through that nose. It must’ve been quite galling at times because she was an actress and she never got her face on the camera. But a few years later she got one on me because she was a dancer and she had these long legs and she dated Elvis Presley and I loved Elvis Presley.”

Her on-screen mother in The Parent Trap also became a role model for young Hayley Mills. “Maureen O’Hara in The Parent Trap, my goodness what a beautiful woman and a darling she was. She had such a great joie de vive and just one of those people who just loved life and laughed a great deal and didn’t really take things… I mean, she took her work very seriously, but she didn’t take her appearance very seriously. She didn't spend hours picking herself in the mirror or anything like that… She was an influence on me, definitely. It was fantastic for me because I really, I just had to learn my lines and not bump into the furniture. You had amazing, talented stars and they carried the picture… And, of course, it was so clever because,… a reviewer said something to the effect of ‘there are enough gags in it to keep the kids screaming in laughter and enough dialogue to keep the parents interested.’”

“That game of hers is a very sensible way of living your life,” the modest actress shared about the philosophy of Pollyanna. “Looking at the best of things. The glass is half full, not half empty… Everyone talks about mindfulness and being in the moment, the power of now. Things we’ve always known for years and years.”

Leonard Maltin’s final question was about Hayley Mills’ Disney Legend award. “It means a lot because Disney means a lot, Walt means a lot, My years working with Disney… were wonderful,” she shared. “It represents formative years of my life and it’s deeply embedded in my heart. I was so fortunate to have that start with this wonderful man and his wonderful studio. And the fact that Disney as an organization is so tremendously loyal to anyone who has ever worked for it… they don’t forget them… I really admire that and appreciate that about them. Walt used to say, he told me once, he said ‘I want to make films that show people the best in themselves.’ So when you go to the cinema and you see a Disney film, you feel better about yourself, your own human condition. So it’s a great privilege for me to have that association with that wonderful man, the studio, and the Disney Legend award is a symbol of that.”

For more information on D23, visit D23.com.

You can stay connected with Leonard Maltin on LeonardMaltin.com, by listening to Leonard and Jessie on their Maltin on Movies podcast, and get bonus content by supporting the show through Patreon

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).