Sunday, April 24, 2005

Goodbye John Mills

British thespian Sir John Mills is dead at the age of 97. As I am not a particularly avid movie watcher, I was unfamiliar with Mr. Mills's career until after my marriage almost ten years ago. My bride turned me on to the movie That Darn Cat, one of Disney's best ever films with a great supporting cast, and Hayley Mills and Dean Jones playing second fiddles to a Siamese Applehead. A couple of years later, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats appeared on home video for the first time. I was amazed by the obviously very old performer who essayed the role of Gus the Theater Cat. Whoever he was, he certainly must have brought some prestige to the role, as his name was listed third in the credits among the stars of the show. And, of course, there is the matter of him having been knighted at some point, as evidenced by the inclusion of the word "Sir" at the front of his name. Upon performing some minor research (i.e. I looked it up in a book), I discovered that this old man in the feline musical was the father of the girl in the Disney cat movie. Surely someone in this family must have done something non-cat related.

A favorite anecdote of mine, which I read in a British pop culture magazine several years back, concerns an incident in a restaurant where Sir John angrily hurled biscuits at an estranged former paramour of one of his daughters. He was "emoting", as it were.

As "Gus", Sir John Mills evoked strong sensations of sorrow and pity for an aged beast on the point of death, reciting the many triumphs of his younger days, all of which were now vivid memories of a distant past. One could not help wondering whether Sir John was playing a feline version of himself. Lead roles were many decades behind him, but he did pop up from time to time in bit parts, such as the museum director in Rowan Atkinson's Bean. I have since had the chance to watch Sir John in a number of other roles, but to me he shall always be Gus the Theater Cat.

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