How Former Child Star Hayley Mills Lost Her $17 Million Disney Movie Fortune

Hayley Mills became famous in the 1960s, starring in wholesome juvenile comedies like The Parent Trap (1961) and That Darn Cat! (1965.) But in a new memoir, Mills reveals that she earned a fortune on Disney movies — and then lost it virtually overnight. 

Hayley Mills was just 14 years old when she starred in ‘The Parent Trap’ 

Hayley Mills
Hayley Mills | Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Hayley Mills was a mere teenager when she starred in perhaps her defining role — a rare dual role in which she played rival identical twins Susan and Sharon in the 1961 classic The Parent Trap. At 14, she also acquired a Juvenile Oscar, a now-defunct honor for youthful roles, for her role as Pollyanna

According to BestLife, she worked so hard as a child that by the time she was 21, Mills had starred in over a dozen films. Amongst them were Tiger Bay (1959), Whistle Down the Wind (1961,) In Search of the Castaways (1962,) Summer Magic (1963,) The Trouble With Angels (1966,) and The Moon-Spinners (1964.)

Now, in her new memoir Forever Young, Mills discloses that a trust was set up for her to access at age 21 — and explains exactly what happened to it instead. 

Hayley Mills’ $17 million fortune was heavily taxed

Mills recalled in her memoir that when she went to claim her hard-earned Disney fortune, she was stunned to find that it had been heavily taxed by the British government — to the shocking tune of 91%. 

She wrote that her lawyer Stanley Passmore broke the unpleasant news. 

“Well, my dear, basically, the Revenue have attacked your trust company,” Passmore explained. “They’re going to tax you at the full rate: 91 percent of the entire trust.”

She recalled the feeling of dread that followed. “I felt the blood drain from my face,” she wrote in Forever Young. “Nothing you can do, really,” Passmore told her. “You could contest it but if I were you, I’d leave the country!” 

Hayley Mills claims that Passmore told her she should have “repudiated” the trust before turning 21 and said it was too late to do anything about it. 

Rather than sue her father or her lawyer over the bad advice on her paychecks, Hayley Mills opted to file repeated tax appeals. She briefly won a ruling in 1972 stating that she’d already paid taxes on her money. 

“My tax case went up before the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning,” Mills wrote. “Pointing out that I’d already paid tax on my earnings and shouldn’t have to pay a surtax, he ruled that the money belonged to me.” 

But she still couldn’t hang on to her 2 million British pounds; a sum that translates to $17 million in current US dollars. The House of Lords appealed the ruling two years later. “The state had plundered my trust like a horde of pirates,” wrote the star. “The Disney money was all gone.”

Mills nonetheless managed to etch out a post-Disney career, starring in The Family Way (1966,) Pretty Polly (1967,) and others leading up to several Parent Trap sequels in the 1980s. 

She said the money was like a ‘dream’ 

'Parent Trap' vintage poster
‘The Parent Trap’ poster | LMPC via Getty Images

In a September 2021 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hayley Mills compared the loss of her Disney fortune to a dream. 

“I never saw it,” she told the newspaper. “I knew it was there, and one day I would have it, but it was just sort of a dream, and then one day the dream was gone.” 

Still, Mills left the moviegoing public with a series of dreams they won’t forget. As The Parent Trap turns 60, the actor now has five grandchildren with whom to share her movies and her remarkable legacy. 

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