Born: December 11, 1940
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Donna Jean Miller, better known as Donna Mills (born December 11, 1940), is an American actress and producer. 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.
Mills was born Donna Jean Miller in Chicago, the daughter of Bernice, a dance teacher, and Frank, a market researcher. She attended Garvey Elementary School and Taft High School. After being double-promoted at Garvey, she graduated from Taft at an early age.
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.
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. 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. She was a cast member for three years, until she left the series in 1970 and moved to California. In 1971, Mills co-starred in the popular thriller Play Misty for Me, with Clint Eastwood and Jessica Walter.
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. 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.
In 1980, Mills landed her most prominent role — that of scheming, manipulative vixen Abby Cunningham on the long-running primetime soap opera Knots Landing. Mills portrayed Abby from 1980-1989. 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. 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." According to Jacobs, Abby was not planned when the show began. He knew that he wanted a female J.R. Ewing-esque character. 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.
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."
In 1989, Mills announced her intention to leave the long-running nighttime soap after nine years as Abby. According to Mills, she wanted to take a break from acting for a while, and from Abby, as well.
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." For this role, she won the Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Villainess on three occasions, in 1986, 1988, and 1989.
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). 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.
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 and appeared as a guest judge on the reality series RuPaul's Drag U.
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. She debuted in mid-March and stayed to May. 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.
Mills had a role in David O. Russell's film Joy, which was released in December 2015. Also in 2015, she starred in the holiday comedy-drama, 12 Gifts of Christmas.
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.
Mills has never married, but has one daughter, Chloe, whom she adopted in late 1994 when Chloe was four days old.
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. She appeared in cover-featured (non-nude) pictorials for the October 1987 and November 1989 editions of Playboy.
|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|
|1971||Play Misty for Me||Tobie Williams|
|1971-1972||The Good Life||Jane Miller||Series regular, 15 episodes|
|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 (UK TV series)||Episode: "Someone at the Top of the Stairs"|
|1974||Live Again, Die Again||Caroline Carmichael|
|1974||Thriller (UK TV series)||Helen Cook||Episode: "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 (UK TV series)||Episode: "The Killer With Two Faces"|
|1975||Cannon)||Episode: "The Victim - S5E5"||Lena Michaels|
|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||Curse of the Black Widow||Leigh Lockwood|
|1977||The Hunted Lady||Susan Reilly|
|1977||The Oregon Trail||Lizzie||Episode: "The Scarlet Ribbon"|
|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"|
|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|
|1991||Runaway Father||Pat Bennett|
|1991||False Arrest||Joyce Lukezic||Based on true story|
|1992||In My Daughter's Name||Laura Elias|
|1992||The President's Child||Elizabeth Hemming|
|1994||My Name Is Kate||Kate|
|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||General Hospital||Madeline Reeves||Special guest star|
|2014||When Life Keeps Getting In The Way||Dr. Goldstein|
|2015||12 Gifts of Christmas||Joyce Rehnquist|
|2016||Sharknado: The 4th Awakens||Supervisor Wink|
|Year||Film / Television||Award||Category||Result|
|1986||Knots Landing||Soap Opera Digest Award||Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial||Nominated|
|1986||Knots Landing||Soap Opera Digest Award||Outstanding Villainess: Prime Time||Won|
|1988||Knots Landing||Soap Opera Digest Award||Outstanding Villainess: Prime Time||Won|
|1989||Knots Landing||Soap Opera Digest Award||Outstanding Villainess: Prime Time||Won|
|2015||General Hospital||Daytime Emmy Award||Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Drama Series||Won|
Donna Mills supports the following charitable cause: Environment.