I promise this won’t be a habit, but it’s happened again! What are the odds? Yesterday we wrote about two old time performers named Sally Starr whose birthdays were two days apart. Today we write about two actors name Frank Mills…whose birthdays were two days apart. Frank Mills #1 was born on January 24; Frank Mills #2 on January 26. And for fun we added a couple of other notable Frank Mills at the bottom. Frank Mills appears to be a fortuitous name in show business, even apart from the song and character in Hair.
Frank Mills #1 (1868-1921) was an old time melodrama actor of the stage and the silent screen. Originally from Michigan, he made his theatrical debut in 1888, and appeared two years later in the William Gillette play Held by the Enemy. His first Broadway appearance was in Clyde Fitch’s The Way of the World (1901). Followed by a revival of She Stoops to Conquer (1905). In 1906 he starred in an important film, The Story of Ned Kelly, an Australian production which has often been called the first feature length film (it was an hour long at a time when most movies were between 5-10 minutes.) Sadly, three quarters of that film is now lost; all that remains are small fragments, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes, gathered from various sources, From 1906-08 he is said to have been Olga Nethersole’s leading man in the theatre. Other actresses he appeared with included Mrs. Fiske and Mrs. John Drew. He appeared in 15 additional plays on Broadway from 1908 through 1917, including The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, Camille, I Pagliacci, Carmen, and Sapho. From 1915 through 1920 he appeared in two dozen silent films. His last was Women Men Forget. In 1921, the New York Times reported that Mills had “died insane” in a Michigan asylum. In those days that almost meant syphilis, a disease which afflicted show people with depressing frequency.
Frank Mills #2 (1891-1973) was also from Michigan. While this Frank Mills appeared in over 300 film and television productions as a supporting player between 1927 and 1962, he is especially notable here for the number of classic comedies he appeared in, Including Hook Line and Sinker (1930) Hold ’em Jail (1932), and Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934) with Wheeler and Woolsey; Everything’s Rosie (1930) with just Woolsey; The Phantom President (1932) with George M. Cohan; She Done Him Wrong (1933) and Belle of the Nineties (1934) with Mae West; Little Miss Marker (1934) with Shirley Temple; The Milky Way (1936) with Harold Lloyd; Way Out West (1937) with Laurel and Hardy; The Gladiator (1938) with Joe E. Brown; The Day the Bookies Wept (1939) with Joe Penner; Love at First Fright (1941) with El Brendel; My Favorite Blonde (1942) with Bob Hope; Mail Trouble (1942) with Leon Errol; Crazy Like a Fox (1944) with Billy Gilbert, and She Snoops to Conquer (1944) with Vera Vague. With Andy Clyde he’s in Knee Action (1937), Host to a Ghost (1941), Gold is Where You Lose It (1944), and Andy Plays Hooky (1946). With the Three Stooges he’s in Three Little Beers (1935), Dizzy Doctors (1937), Three Dumb Clucks (1937), No Census, No Feeling (1940) and On Again, Off Again (1945) with Shemp Howard (solo) and The Good Bad Egg (1947) with Joe DeRita (solo). As an extra he’s in Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight (1952).
He’s also in Hawks’ Twentieth Century (1934) with John Barrymore, Capra’s Broadway Bill (1934) and You Can’t Take it With You (1938), Leo McCarey’s Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) with Charles Laughton, George Stevens’ The Talk of the Town (1942), Rene Clair’s I Married a Witch (1942), and several Preston Sturges comedies. He’s in almost all of the Fred and Ginger musicals, Gold Diggers of 1933; and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).
In case you can’t tell from the photo, most of the roles he got were “drunk”, barfly” or “bum”. He also played carnival barkers, stage hands, cab drivers and the like. Directors clearly liked him; though he was usually a walk-on, he was often given business, a brief scene of his own. Other than comedies, the genre he worked most often in, especially after about 1950, was westerns (too many of them to list here, but many of them classics). But he worked in all genres.
Some other notable stuff he’s in: Scarface (1932); King Kong (1933) and Son of Kong (1934); The Mighty Barnum (1934); Carnival (1935); Barbary Coast (1935); Annie Oakley (1935); The Goldwyn Follies (1938); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1945); Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe (1945); The Great John L. (1945); The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) with John Wayne and Oliver Hardy; several Dick Tracy pictures; and the original The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)! His last credits were extra work on TV westerns like The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Laramie, Death Valley Days, and Gunsmoke. It’s hard to stop listing his credits, but if I don’t I’ll end up typing every movie and tv show known to man.
For extra credit, I wanted to mention a couple of other notable Frank Mills. There is a British TV actor by that name, born 1927, who’s been on Coronation Street, Rumpole of the Bailey, Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders, The Palace, and Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple mysteries. And a Canadian musician by that name, born 1942, whose instrumental tune “Music Box Dancer” became a massive U.S. hit in 1979 — it went all the way to #3 on the pop chart! And now just try to get it out of your head! You’re welcome!
For more on silent film and classic screen comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,