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Hayley Mills was ready to grow up. After an immensely successful career in Disney features, the young actress was looking for ways to spread her proverbial wings. While her role in The Trouble with Angels wasn’t new ground – she had played troublesome characters before – it did represent a significant change. “This was my first Hollywood movie without Disney, and without my parents, so it was all incredibly exciting,” she recalled in her memoir.
“Every film is an education of sorts, and on Trouble with Angels I took away a huge amount of inspiration from this company of strong, talented women leading the caravanserai.”
Go further behind the scenes below!
1. Mills was inspired by a rebel.
Hayley Mills was no stranger to playing rambunctious characters, having played the spoiled lead in The Chalk Garden and scheming twins in The Parent Trap. Angels gave her another chance to play a young woman struggling to mature, and her performance was a tribute to someone special. She said, “I dyed my hair red, inspired by my mother who… had been an out-and-out rebel at her boarding schools in England. Her exploits were family legend so I wanted to channel her spirit.” She apparently did quite a good job as Russell remembered her “demon” co-star liked to stick her tongue out at her while on the set.
2. Russell knew the part well.
Originally, Greta Garbo was sought for the role of Mother Superior (which was actually the working title for the picture). But Garbo wasn’t coaxed out of film retirement, and the part went to Rosalind Russell. To prepare for the role of a nun, Russell, a devout Catholic, read about well-known saints of the faith. She had actually been taught by nuns herself, so she knew what it felt like to be on the other side. “I was rather in awe of [her],” remembers Mills. “Rosalind was very beautiful and very intelligent, and dressed up in the black robes of Mother Superior one couldn’t help but feel daunted.”
3. It was the last film Lupino directed.
Ida Lupino was a trailblazer, working as an actress, director, and producer in Hollywood – which was quite the feat. However, after directing The Hitch-Hiker and The Bigamist, she focused on directing television, working on shows like The Donna Reed Show, The Untouchables, and The Twilight Zone. The Trouble with Angels was a chance for her to return to directing a feature film. “She was an exceptional person and an excellent director,” wrote Hayley Mills in her memoir. “On the set she was very decisive but never lost her feminine touch or her sense of humor.” Lupino referred to people as “darling” or “sweetie” and her director’s chair read: “Mother of us all.” Mills said, “She was quite a force to be reckoned with.”
4. There’s a tongue-in-cheek cameo.
Burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee makes an appearance to teach the girls grace and “interpretive dancing.” Gypsy was known for her striptease act, and her life story was adapted into the musical Gypsy, starring Natalie Wood with Rosalind Russell, who played an overbearing stage-mother-type. Read more about that film here.