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June 1, 2014 · Posted in Commentary 

Sir John Mills, wife Mary, and Hayley

Sir John Mills, wife Mary, & daughter Hayley Mills

By Bob Vickrey

Ringo Starr was staring at me with a mischievous grin and I wasn’t really sure why. We sat on couches facing one another in the Green Room of the Tonight Show as he waited for the call to make his onstage appearance.

I was there accompanying British actor Sir John Mills, and his wife Mary, who were in town promoting his recent memoir, “Up in the Clouds, Gentlemen Please.” That evening’s show had a distinctive international flavor that featured appearances by Starr, Mills, and Swedish-born actress Britt Ekland.

Visiting a television waiting room while accompanying a touring author wasn’t entirely new to me, but this occasion was considerably more extravagant, and quite unlike most of my escort duties of the past. As a publisher’s representative, part of my job was to shepherd our company’s touring authors about town to bookstore signings and media appearances. I normally spent more time in green rooms of local morning or mid-day talk shows than national nighttime venues.

Ringo finally said to me: “My friend, I was admiring your splendid moustache. I’m sorry to make a spectacle of myself.” I laughed nervously as he nudged his wife, actress Barbara Bach, who seemed far less impressed by his quirky observation. She glanced my way and quickly returned to reading her magazine. He stood up and walked over to where I was sitting and studied the growth above my upper lip and sheepishly asked, “Would you mind if I take a closer peek?”

He asked Barbara if she’d like to take a look, which she promptly declined, and then requested that he come back to the couch and take a seat. I could hear the chuckling of the various assembled guests scattered throughout the room who seemed entertained by Ringo’s antics.

Ringo Starr and Barbara

Ringo Starr and wife Barbara Bach

Ringo’s whimsical spirit broke the ice that evening in what had been an otherwise hushed waiting room, and soon he was introducing himself to John and Mary who were seated beside me. Their conversation was interrupted when John was called by a page for his appearance onstage with Johnny Carson.

Ringo and I had quickly exhausted all our topics of conversation after he ran out of comments about the moustache that had amused him so. Mary and I were left to discuss our plans for the rest of the evening, which included a book signing at Brentano’s Bookstore in Beverly Hills, and then dinner with their daughter Juliet and her husband.

Back in England, John Mills was one of the most admired stage and screen actors of his generation and appeared in more than 120 films, spanning seven decades, including his Academy Award winning performance as Best Supporting Actor in David Lean’s “Ryan’s Daughter.” He had been knighted by the Queen of England, but here in this country, he was better known as the father of actresses Hayley and Juliet. The story of John’s 60-year marriage to Mary, and their quiet life in Denham, Buckingham-shire, lacked the scandalous content of trendy tell-all Hollywood memoirs, and undoubtedly lessened the chances of the book hitting best-seller lists.

I looked up from my conversation with Mary just in time to see a partially-clad Britt Ekland dashing down the hallway into her dressing room. Mary caught me peering down the hallway at the dazzling actress and shot me a playful smile. She said, “I can envision you becoming very comfortable hanging out in green rooms of late night talk shows.”

When John finished his stint onstage with Carson, he reappeared in the waiting room and said his goodbyes to his new friends, Ringo and wife. The early evening taping of the show had left us plenty of time to make it across town for his appearance at Brentano’s, which was very near where we had planned to have dinner.

As we headed single-file down the hallway toward the back door exit, Britt Ekland opened her dressing room door and grabbed my arm. She stood in the doorway clad only from the waist down, while holding her blouse close to her chest and leaving little to my imagination. She asked if I would retrieve John and have him sign a copy of his book to her. I managed to train my eyes toward her face, fearing Mary was likely going to notice my wandering curiosity once again.

Britt 3

 Actress Britt Ekland

I informed John he had been summoned by Ms. Ekland to her dressing room, and subsequently followed him inside to aid him in any way I could during this vital mission. By the time we had returned, she was fully dressed, and seemed genuinely thrilled to be meeting the esteemed actor. After chatting for awhile about their upcoming projects, we were finally off to Beverly Hills.

To my great relief, there was quite a crowd awaiting John’s arrival at the bookstore. In fact, the assembled guests broke into spontaneous applause when he entered the room. I found it heartening to know there was an American audience that had an appreciation of his long impressive career as an actor.

While he was signing copies for the last remaining fans, Juliet and husband, actor Maxwell Caulfield, entered the store just in time to accompany us for dinner. However, as I stood back and witnessed the long extended hugs between family members, I knew immediately I did not belong at their dinner table that evening. I met Juliet and Maxwell, and then offered my apologies for not being able to join them. This dinner was meant to be a family affair, as it should be.

My phone rang early the following morning and I was pleased to hear Mary’s voice as they prepared to leave the hotel for the airport and their return home. Mary thanked me profusely for my company the previous day, but had also called to specifically thank me for accompanying John into Ms. Ekland’s dressing room the night before. She praised the thoroughness of my work ethic, and said, “Not everyone would have gone to those noble lengths to see after their author’s well being. Keep up your fine work, Bob!”

After my conversation with Mary that morning, I remember feeling extremely pleased that someone had expressed an appreciation of the true diligence and commitment I brought to my work. I’m almost sure that Britt had noticed as well.

Bob Vickrey’s columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, and is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.


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