Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Review: Still Memories: An Autobiography in Photography

Having just read John Mills' STILL MEMORIES: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN PHOTOGRAPHY, I'm now halfway through my 2014 Summer Classic Film Book Reading List.

Mills wrote this book in 2000, when he was 92. He was a lifelong photographer, and many of the photos in the book were taken by him, as well as by his wife, Mary Hayley Bell, and his three children.

This Random House book is very attractively presented, with over 200 glossy pages in a rectangular 8-by-10-1/2-inch book which shows off the photographs to great effect.

Although there are photographs on every page, there's also a great deal to read in the book, as Mills describes some of the photos extensively, sharing insights about the people in the photos or relating the pictures to what was happening in his life at the time.

Mills was great friends with luminaries such as Laurence Olivier and David Niven, who feature in many of the photographs, along with other friends such as Rex Harrison, Stewart "Jimmy" Granger, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (godfather to Mills' youngest child, Jonathan).

I photographed a couple of the pages just to give a sense of some of the unique photos found inside. Here, for instance, are John and Mary Mills with Martha Scott, who is holding future actress Hayley Mills at her 1946 christening.

Hayley's godparents were Valerie Hobson and Trevor Howard, while older sister Juliet's godparents were Vivien Leigh and Noel Coward. That alone gives a sense of the social and professional circles the Mills family moved within.

Mills' insights into his friends are brief but nonetheless illuminating; for instance, Stewart Granger was "tricky" while Tyrone Power was "incredibly generous." Van Johnson inspired Mills to follow his lead wearing red socks on stage from the time they became friends in the mid '50s!

I loved this funny 1959 photo of David Niven caught mid-air as he jumped into a pool.

Since the Mills daughters also went into acting, the photos of his family are of added interest. There are great Disney-related shots, including Hayley on her first day shooting POLLYANNA (1960), when she was initially having trouble settling into the role; at Disneyland with Walt Disney; and John and Hayley on location in the West Indies for John Mills' Disney film SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960).

John Mills lived on a few years after writing this book, passing away in April 2005.

STILL MEMORIES is a fascinating chronicle not only of John Mills' life and family but of the acting world in the UK and United States during the 20th Century. Photography buffs will also enjoy the many styles of photos taken over the years; I loved his Kodachrome photos of Rex Harrison! Though it has been a number of years since it was published, used copies are available online at affordable prices.

Highly recommended.


Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

This book sounds really interesting! I love photographic collections like these because they transport me to another place and time.

Great review Laura! I wish the book were still in print.

12:47 PM  
Blogger LĂȘ said...

It sounds really interesting, indeed! I'm more acquainted with Hayley because of the Disney matinees, but her father was also great. I didn't know he had such a notorious friendship circle! And I laughed at David Niven's photo :)

11:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I wish it were still in print too, Raquel, it's an extremely well-done book -- in fact I'd say it's one of the books I've enjoyed most in the last year or so.

Le, I'm glad you enjoyed the photo! I think you would both enjoy this book very much.

Best wishes,

10:10 AM  

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