Donna Mills

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Donna Mills
Donna Mills 1990.jpg
Mills in 1990
Donna Jean Miller

(1940-12-11) December 11, 1940 (age 81)
EducationUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Years active1966–present
Partner(s)Richard Holland (20 years)
Larry Gilman (2001–present)

Donna Mills (born Donna Jean Miller; December 11, 1940)[1] is an American actress. She began her television career in 1966 with a recurring role on The Secret Storm, and in the same year appeared on Broadway in the Woody Allen comedy Don't Drink the Water. She made her film debut the following year in The Incident. She then starred for three years in the soap opera Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1967–70), before starring as Tobie Williams, the girlfriend of Clint Eastwood's character in the 1971 cult film Play Misty for Me.

Mills landed the role of Abby Cunningham on the primetime soap opera Knots Landing in 1980 and was a regular on the show until 1989. For this role, she won the Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Villainess three times, in 1986, 1988, and 1989. She has since starred in several TV movies, including False Arrest (1991), In My Daughter's Name (1992), Dangerous Intentions (1995), The Stepford Husbands (1996), and Ladies of the House (2008). In 2014, she joined the cast of long-running daytime soap opera General Hospital, for which she won a 2015 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Drama Series.

Early life[edit]

Mills attended Garvy Elementary School and Taft High School. After being double-promoted at Garvey, she graduated from Taft at an early age.[citation needed]

From there, Mills attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she was a member of Delta Gamma sorority. She completed one year of course work, then left to pursue a dancing career, gaining some early stage experience when she danced in summer stock productions. Her first professional acting role was in a production of Come Blow Your Horn at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago. She later was cast in a touring production of My Fair Lady, which brought her to New York City.[2]


Early career[edit]

Mills in 1975

Mills began her acting career on television with a six-month stint on the CBS daytime soap opera The Secret Storm in 1966, playing the character of Rocket.[citation needed] Following this, she made her film debut in The Incident (1967), co-starring alongside Martin Sheen, Beau Bridges, Ed McMahon and Thelma Ritter. She appeared on Broadway in Woody Allen's comedy Don't Drink the Water as the Sultan of Bashir's wife.

In the fall of 1967, she gained a regular role as ex-nun Laura Donnelly on the soap Love is a Many Splendored Thing. Mills relocated to the West Coast in 1970, thereupon making her primetime TV debut in an episode of Lancer. In 1971, she co-starred with Clint Eastwood and Jessica Walter in the thriller Play Misty for Me.

During 1971-72, she starred in the short-lived sitcom The Good Life with Larry Hagman, who later guest-starred on Knots Landing as J. R. Ewing from the show's sister series Dallas.[2] Prior to signing a contract for Universal Studios in 1972, she spent much of the 1970s appearing as a guest on top-rated television shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man, Hawaii Five-O, The Love Boat, CHiPs, The F.B.I., Quincy, M.E., the UK's Thriller series, Police Woman, and Fantasy Island, as well as many made-for-TV movies.

Mills in 1981

Knots Landing[edit]

In 1980, Mills landed her most prominent role — that of scheming, manipulative vixen Abby Cunningham on the long-running primetime soap opera Knots Landing.[2] Mills portrayed Abby from 1980–1989.[3] Prior to being cast in Knots Landing, Mills was primarily known for playing the "damsel in distress" archetype in both film and television media. The actress became somewhat famous for playing these roles, often leading to unwanted typecasting.[3][4] In an interview with Jerry Buck for the Toledo Blade, Mills said: "I got tired of playing the victim. It's a more active role. Abby keeps things stirred up, and I like that."[3] According to Jacobs, Abby was not planned when the show began. He knew that he wanted a female J.R. Ewing-esque character.[5] However, he had a different sense of the character and who would wind up in the role. With Mills's reputation of playing the victim, he initially did not choose her for the part.[5]

Josh Mapes of The Biography Channel listed her in the category "10 Primetime Stars We Love to Hate". He said, "Any great soap opera needs a great villain. While viewers may identify more with the protagonist, the villains in a serial drama always spice things up, cause trouble, and make it more fun to watch. From tongue lashings to catfights, underhanded tricks to boldface lies, the characters we love to hate have each brought a fair share of great moments to primetime soaps. While Larry Hagman played the bad guy on Dallas, Donna Mills played bad girl on its spin-off, Knots Landing. Unapologetically going after what she wanted, Mills's character engaged in affairs with two of the husbands on the Knots Landing cul-de-sac, but like most vixens on primetime soaps, she was only out for money, not love."[6]

In 1989, Mills announced her intention to leave the long-running nighttime soap after nine years as Abby.[7][8] According to Mills, she wanted to take a break from acting for a while, and from Abby, as well.[9]

In an interview with The Cedartown Standard, Mills explained: "I'm tired of the show. It's been too long. I'm not particularly happy with the way they've been writing Abby lately. She's too soft. I'd like Abby to get back to her old self."[10] For this role, she won the Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Villainess on three occasions, in 1986, 1988, and 1989.[11]


After Knots Landing, Mills concentrated on television movies, four of which she co-produced: The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid (1990), Runaway Father (1991), In My Daughter's Name (1992), and My Name Is Kate (1994).[2] She returned to Knots Landing for its final episode in 1993, and again for the reunion miniseries Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac in 1997. In between, she had a brief recurring guest role as the mother of Jane Mancini (played by Josie Bissett) on Melrose Place.[2]

Donna Mills with daughter Chloe in 2009

Mills continued to appear on television in movies and guest roles. In 2005, she reunited with the Knots Landing cast for the nonfiction special, Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again, in which the stars reminisced about the show. In more recent years, Mills has appeared in various television movies such as Love Is A Four Letter Word in 2007 and Ladies of the House in 2008, as well as guest appearances in series such as Cold Case (in a provocative role as a woman who seduces her grandson) and Nip/Tuck (guest-starring with fellow Knots Landing star Joan Van Ark). In 2012, she made a guest appearance on GCB as Bitsy Lourd[12][13] and appeared as a guest judge on the reality series RuPaul's Drag U.[14]

In 2014, Mills made her return to daytime soap operas, for the first time since 1970. She was cast in a major recurring guest-starring role in the ABC soap opera General Hospital.[15][16] She debuted in mid-March and stayed to May.[17] Later in that year, she returned for another multiple-episode arc. At the 42nd Daytime Emmy Awards, Mills won Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Drama Series for her performance in General Hospital, in a three-way tie with Fred Willard and Ray Wise.[18][19] In August 2018, Mills returned for another multiple-episode arc.[20]

On October 7, 2014, it was announced that Mills will star in the POP reality series Queens of Drama about a group of former stars who now produce a new primetime serial drama to star in. The ladies will be required to work together in front of and behind the cameras as they develop, pitch, and produce their steamy series with the hopes of landing a pilot deal by the end of the season.[21][22]

Mills had a role in David O. Russell's film Joy, which was released in December 2015.[23] Also in 2015, she starred in the holiday comedy-drama, 12 Gifts of Christmas.[24][25]

In 2017, Mills was cast in the role of Daisy Werthan in the Colony Theatre's production of Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Driving Miss Daisy.[26] Also that year, she played a leading role in the Pure Flix drama series Hilton Head Island.[27] In 2019, she starred alongside Dyan Cannon and Crystal Hunt in the Pure Flix comedy series Mood Swings.[28] She also starred in the independent films Best Mom (2018), Turnover (2019), and A Beauty & the Beast Christmas (2019).

In 2022, Mills appeared in the Jordan Peele's horror film Nope and received Palm Springs International Film Festival Women In Film and Television’s Above And Beyond Award.[29]

Personal life[edit]

Never married, Mills had an on-again, off-again relationship with advertising executive Richard Holland (former husband of singer Chaka Khan) during the 80’s and 90’s.[30] In 1994, Mills adopted a newborn daughter, Chloe.[31][32] She has been in a relationship with Larry Gilman since 2001.[33][34]

Outside of acting, Mills released The Eyes Have It in 1986, an instructional video for achieving several different make-up looks. She went on to release her own line of cosmetics of the same name.[citation needed] She appeared in cover-featured (non-nude) pictorials for the October 1987[35] and November 1989 editions of Playboy.[36]


Mills in Gunsmoke (1973)
Mills in The Hunted Lady (1977)
Year Title Role Notes
1966 The Secret Storm Rocket
1967 The Incident Alice Keenan
1967-1970 Love Is a Many Splendored Thing Laura Donnelly Elliott Series regular
1970 Love, American Style Ellie 1 episode
1970 Lancer Lucy 1 episode
1971 Play Misty for Me Tobie Williams
1971 The F.B.I. Maryanne Season 6, Episode 23: "The Hitchhiker"
1971-1972 The Good Life Jane Miller Series regular, 15 episodes
1972 The F.B.I. Bernie Season 7, Episode 17: "The Break up"
1972 Haunts of the Very Rich Laurie
1972 Rolling Man Bebe Lotter
1972 Night of Terror Linda Daniel
1973 Gunsmoke Cora Sanderson Episodes: "A Game of Death... An Act of Love: Part 1" and "A Game of Death... An Act of Love: Part 2"
1973 The Bait Tracy Fleming
1973 Thriller Chrissie Morton Season 1, Episode 3: "Someone at the Top of the Stairs"
1974 Live Again, Die Again Caroline Carmichael
1974 Thriller Helen Cook Season 2, Episode 4: "One Deadly Owner"
1974 Marcus Welby, M.D. Bea Averton Episode: "A Fevered Angel"
1974 McMillan & Wife Laura Rainey Episode: "Buried Alive"
1975 The Six Million Dollar Man Liza Leitman Episode: "The Cross-Country Kidnap"
1975 Who Is the Black Dahlia? Susan Winters
1975 Live A Little, Steal A Lot Ginny Eaton
1975 Hawaii Five-O Marcia Bissell Episode: "Murder: Eyes Only'"
1975 Beyond the Bermuda Triangle Claudia
1975 Thriller Patty Heron Season 4, Episode 4: "The Killer With Two Faces"
1975 Cannon Episode: "The Victim - S5E5"
1976 Police Woman Tamee Swanson Episode: "Mother Love"
1976 Quincy, M.E. Roberta Rhodes Episode: "A Star Is Dead"
1976 Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby Ellen
1976 Smash-Up on Interstate 5 Laureen
1977 Bunco Frankie TV pilot
1977 Fire! Harriett Malone
1977 Curse of the Black Widow Leigh Lockwood
1977 The Hunted Lady Susan Reilly
1977 Woman on the Run Laura Frazier CBS Pilot.
1977 The Oregon Trail Lizzie Episode: "The Scarlet Ribbon"
1978 Superdome Lainie Wiley
1978 Doctors' Private Lives Dr. Beth Demery
1978 The Love Boat Jeannie Carter 3 episodes
1979 Hanging by a Thread Ellen Craig
1979 Fantasy Island Cindy Carter Episode: "The Chain Gang/The Boss'"
1979 Young Maverick Lila Gates Episodes: "Dead Man's Hand: Part 1" and "Dead Man's Hand: Part 2"
1980 Waikiki Cassie Howard
1982 Bare Essence Barbara Fisher
1984 He's Not Your Son Kathy Saunders
1985 Alice in Wonderland The Rose
1986 Intimate Encounters Julie Atkins
1988 Outback Bound Samantha 'Sam' Hollings
1980–1989, 1993 Knots Landing Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing Sumner Series regular, 236 episodes
1989 The Lady Forgets Rebecca Simms/Julie Black
1990 The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid Brenda Morgan Executive producer
1991 Runaway Father Pat Bennett Executive producer
1991 False Arrest Joyce Lukezic Based on true story
1992 In My Daughter's Name Laura Elias Executive producer
1992 The President's Child Elizabeth Hemming
1993 Remember Nicky Wells
1994 My Name Is Kate Kate Executive producer
1994 Dream On Ashlyn Episode: "Martin Tupper in 'Magnum Farce'"
1995 Dangerous Intentions Beth Williamson
1995 An Element of Truth Vanessa Graves
1996 The Stepford Husbands Jodi Davison
1996–1997 Melrose Place Sherry Doucette 4 episodes
1997 Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing Sumner TV miniseries
1998 Moonlight Becomes You Maggie Holloway
2000 Rude Awakening Linda Episode: "Star 80 Proof"
2004 A Very Cool Christmas Mrs. Claus
2006 Jane Doe: Yes, I Remember It Well Polly Jameson
2007 Cold Case Lauren Williams Episode: "Blackout"
2007 Love Is a Four Letter Word Margot Harper
2008 Ladies of the House Elizabeth
2009 Dirty Sexy Money Cameo appearance Episode: "The Facts"
2008–2010 Nip/Tuck Lulu Grandiron Episodes: "Lulu Grandiron" and "Christian Troy II"
2012 GCB Bitsy Lourd Episode: "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"
2014–2015, 2018 General Hospital Madeline Reeves Special guest star
2014 Deadly Revenge Evelyn
2014 When Life Keeps Getting In The Way Dr. Goldstein
2015 12 Gifts of Christmas Joyce Rehnquist
2015 Joy Priscilla
2016 Sharknado: The 4th Awakens Supervisor Wink
2017 Hilton Head Island Victoria Trisk Series regular, 22 episodes
2018 Best Mom Nana
2019 Turnover Pat
2019 Carol of the Bells Helen Harris
2019 Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses Caroline Sinclair
2019 A Beauty & The Beast Christmas Ginger's mother
2022 Abused Again! Dr. Karen Carden
2022 Nope Bonnie Clayton

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result
1986 Soap Opera Digest Award Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial Knots Landing Nominated
1986 Outstanding Villainess: Prime Time Won[37]
1988 Won[38]
1989 Won[39]
2007 TV Land Awards Anniversary Award Won
2015 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Drama Series General Hospital Won
2018 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival Best Supporting Actress Best Mom Won[40]
2022 Palm Springs International Film Festival Women In Film and Television’s Above And Beyond Award Honored[29]


  1. ^ Varying sources have cited 1942 or 1943 as her year of birth, however The Huffington Post and her entry on Intelius (under her real name, Donna Jean Miller) establish the year as 1940
  2. ^ a b c d e Donna Mills biography Archived April 24, 2014, at the Wayback Machine,; accessed August 27, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Buck, Jerry (July 4, 1982). "Donna Mills To Play Victim". Toledo Blade. Block Communications. p. 32.
  4. ^ Brady, James (November 3, 1991). "In Step With Donna Mills". The Daily News (Kentucky). John Pipes Gaines. p. 22.
  5. ^ a b "Exclusive Interview: In conversation with series creator David Jacbos". Knots (The Official Knots Landing Website). CBS. July 7, 2021.
  6. ^ Mapes, Josh (June 13, 2012). "10 Primetime Stars We Love to Hate". The Biography Channel. Hearst Corporation. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  7. ^ Zuckerman, Faye (April 27, 1989). "Like fine wine, 'Knots Landing' ages well". The Providence Journal. A. H. Belo.
  8. ^ Sullivan, Paul (November 6, 2001). "Where are they now?; Donna Mills's makeup has successful Landing on QVC". Boston Herald. Patrick J. Purcell.
  9. ^ King, Susan (January 5, 1991). "Donna Mills Plays-Guess What?". Los Angeles Times. p. 22.
  10. ^ Sanello, Frank (September 29, 1998). "Talking with Donna Mills". The Cedartown Standard.
  11. ^ " - Funny Videos, Funny Jokes, Dumb Pictures, Online Games". Archived from the original on December 30, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  12. ^ Kris (March 26, 2012). "GCB Review: Stand Your Ground". TV Fanatic. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  13. ^ ""Donna Mills, Former 'Knots Landing' Star, Looks Amazing At 71" (PHOTOS)". The Huffington Post. June 19, 2012. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  14. ^ Lindsay Robertson (May 14, 2012). "And The 'RuPaul's Drag U' Season 3 Professors Are..." Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  15. ^ Valby, Karen. "'General Hospital' casts 'Knot's Landing' star". Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  16. ^ "Praise, Soap Jesus: General Hospital Taps Donna Mills For Mystery Role!". Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  17. ^ Gelman, Vlada (January 17, 2014). "'General Hospital' Cast — Donna Mills Books Secret Role". TVLine. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  18. ^ Cynthia Littleton (March 31, 2015). "'General Hospital,' Ellen DeGeneres, CBS Lead Daytime Emmy Nominations". Variety. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  19. ^ "Daytime Emmy winners". Daytime Emmys. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  20. ^ "Exclusive: 'General Hospital' welcomes back Donna Mills". Retrieved August 3, 2018.
  21. ^ "POP Announces Initial Lineup of Original Programming for Early 2015 Launch". TVbytheNumbers. Archived from the original on October 9, 2014. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  22. ^ "POP (Formerly TVGN) Developing 'Queens of Drama' Docu-Series With Vanessa Marcil, Donna Mills, Lindsay Hartley, Hunter Tylo and More! - Soap Opera Network". Soap Opera Network. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  23. ^ "Reality Bites: Donna Mills Gets "A Little Pushy" (But Not Bitchy!) in Queens of Drama". Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  24. ^ "'12 Days Of Christmas': Hallmark Christmas Shopper Movie Stars Katrina Law, Donna Mills, And Aaron O'Connell". The Inquisitr News. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  25. ^ "Holiday TV: 'Empire,' '12 Gifts of Christmas'". USA TODAY. November 25, 2015. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  26. ^ "Knots Landing's Donna Mills Will Star in Driving Miss Daisy - Playbill". Playbill. October 11, 2017. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
  27. ^ "Christian "hope opera" starring Donna Mills, Antonio Sabato Jr., and more debuts".
  28. ^ "Watch soap vets Donna Mills and Crystal Hunt in trailer for new sitcom 'Mood Swings'".
  29. ^ a b Hammond, Pete (April 1, 2022). "Palm Springs International Film Festival And Awards Gala Sets 2023 Dates; Donna Mills To Receive PSWIF Honor".
  30. ^ "Summer Indulgences". People. June 2, 1986. Archived from the original on June 3, 2009.
  31. ^ "Donna Mills Dishes". August 20, 2009. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  32. ^ "Palm Springs Life Interviews Linda Gray, Donna Mills, Morgan Fairchild". Archived from the original on February 1, 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  33. ^ "'General Hospital' Star Donna Mills Shares Over-the-Top Gift from Beau — Larry Planted a Vineyard for Me!". September 10, 2015.
  34. ^ "Donna Mills Shares a Heartfelt Message to Her Daughter".
  35. ^ "Playboy, October 1987 vol.34, no.10". Vintage Playboy Mags.
  36. ^ "Playboy Cover November 1989 (United States)". Playboy Cover Archive. January 5, 2010. Archived from the original on October 13, 2014. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  37. ^ "Soap Opera Digest Awards: 1986 Winners". Soap Opera Digest. American Media, Inc. April 11, 2003. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  38. ^ "Soap Opera Digest Awards: 1988 Winners". Soap Opera Digest. American Media, Inc. April 11, 2003. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  39. ^ "Soap Opera Digest Awards: 1989 Winners". Soap Opera Digest. American Media, Inc. April 11, 2003. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  40. ^ "Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival - HRIFF 2020". FilmFreeway.

External links[edit]