Donna Mills
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
November 15, 2023 ·  5 min read

This Star was a ‘Bit of Tomboy’ Who Dreamed of Becoming a Dancer, Only to Become a Famous Actress

Beloved star Donna Mills is more than just a talented actress. She’s also an independent woman and mother whose style is unique and as fascinating as the life shes living. As it turns out, despite her successful acting career, she had other big dreams. 

Donna Mills had a “Normal” Childhood

Donna Mills was born on December 11, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois. A self-proclaimed “Tomboy”, she was born into a middle-class family. Her father was employed as a Union oil worker, and her mother was a stay-at-home mom. However, Donna’s mother worked as a telephone operator from time to time. A fact that would inspire Donna Mills to become the independent woman that she is today. According to Donna Mills, her mom “came alive” at the opportunity to work and was “saddened” when Mills’ father Ambrose asked her to quit and stay home, believing he made enough income to support their household on his own. “That impacted me greatly because I could see such a difference in her, but I never spoke to her about it.” Donna Mills said of her upbringing. 

She recalls her childhood as one that was “normal.” “playing in the yard, playing outside, climbing trees. I was a bit of a tomboy,” she disclosed. 

Dreams of Something Different

Although she would go on to have great success in acting, Donna Mills dreamed of being a ballet dancer when she was little. She even began taking dance classes at age 5, ultimately becoming an accomplished speed skater. She won five medals, showcasing her talents prior to becoming a Hollywood star. “My then-dance teacher said to me, ‘You’ve got the acting bug. You’re not going to be a ballet dancer.’ I said, ‘Oh no, I’ll be a ballet dancer,’ but they were right.” She recalled. 

Donna Mills was a young girl when she made her way into acting, first appearing on Broadway. Then she went on to play a recurring role on a Manhattan-based soap opera in 1954.

Later, she moved to New York and did a few commercials. However, she never gave up on dancing and auditioned for several dance and theater performances along the way. She also began making guest appearances on PrimeTime television.

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However, it wasn’t until 1972 that Donna Mills’ career really began to take off. She took on a controversial role as one of the first lesbian characters on television. Not long after, she became friends with Burt Reynolds, a relationship that would take her life on a whole grand adventure. Reynolds suggested her for a part that his friend, Clint Eastwood, was casting at the time. 

Donna Mills Gets a Big Break

She did well with that part, but it branded her as a “damsel-in-distress” character. Hoping for something more impactful, she found an opportunity at age 40 that would launch her career into a whole other realm. 

Her role in “Knots Landing” made her one of the most famous TV villains of its time. 

Although Donna Mills is an independent woman who “values her independence and personal life, she also feels that love is integral to who she is. “I’ve always felt a woman being independent was important. It made me feel safer, I guess, to know that I can take care of myself.” She explained. “I want someone to be in my life to love and be with, to be a companion and to go places and all that, but if I have to I can take care of myself”

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While she’s never married, she has had a few significant and long-term relationships, including her relationship with Larry Gilman, since 2011. “I’m lucky to have found him,” she said. “I found him late, but I found him.” She gushed of Gilman.

However, finding love wasn’t the only thing that happened later in life for Donna Mills. For many years, she was invested solely in her career and had no intention of starting a family. At least not until 1994. At age 54, Donna Mills adopted her daughter Chloe. “Probably the best moment of my entire life was when she was put in my arms. She was four days old.”

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Just as she had with her career, Donna Mills poured herself into motherhood. She took a long break from acting to raise her daughter. However, when her daughter started college, Donna Mills reached back out to Hollywood, with the hopes of once again filling her days with performances.

Back at It

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Sadly, she ran into some turbulence as the new generation of casting agents didn’t know who Donna Mills was. However, it wasn’t long before she was again recognized for her talent. 

In 2014 through 2015, and again in 2018, she played Madeline Reeves in “General Hospital” and has no intention of retiring anytime soon. “Well, I figure they have to have somebody to play the grandmother. I’m available for those things.” She explained. 

She has also done roles in things like a theater production of “Driving Miss Daisy”, Jordan Peele’s “Nope”, and a Lifetime Network’s version of “V.C. Andrews’” 

It’s so much fun to play the evil character, it really is.” She said of the lifetime role. 

Her approach to motherhood, love, and a career aren’t the only unique qualities that Donna Mills has. Her style is one of a kind and so is her home. While she was initially unsure of the idea, she now owns a vineyard in her backyard. Thanks to a little help from Larry Gilman’s ideas, Donna Mills is now blissfully a self proclaimed farmer. 

The vineyard, Mandeville Vineyards, produces an average of 600 to 900 bottles of wine per year. Another unique feature of her home is the decor. Her nearly 5,000 square foot home is adorned with candles, her alternative to using lights. The candles highlight the uniquely decorated walls, layered with blocks of gold leaf. The candlelight and the gold have a “magical” effect, she notes. “We don’t need to put the lights on unless we want to see our food better,” Donna Mills shared. 

As she gears up to celebrate another trip around the sun, it’s clear that Donna Mills is living a blissful life, balancing work, relationships, and relaxation.

Keep Reading: Simon Cowell Said His Only Son Won’t Inherit his $600 Million Fortune and it Will Go to Charity


  1. Donna Mills Biography.” IMDb
  2. Donna Mills quit her TV career at the height of her fame to adopt a four-day-old baby. Now, 26 years on, the Knots Landing star reveals: It’s still the best decision I ever made.Daily Mail Lina Das. February 20, 2023.
  3. This Actress Was ‘A Bit of a Tomboy’ Who Dreamed of Becoming a Dancer — She Is Also an Independent Single Mom.” Amomama. Jana Stevens. September 16, 2023.