Disney’s original Parent Trap movie premiered in 1961 with Hayley Mills playing both of the leading roles. If one Hayley Mills had been good in Pollyanna, then two of her had to be even better, right?
In The Parent Trap Mills played twin sisters Susan and Sharon who were separated at birth. After rediscovering each other at a summer camp, they plot to get their estranged parents back together.
The Boston Townhouse
We don’t spend a lot of time in the Boston townhouse that Sharon lives in with her mother and grandparents. This is the most we see of the exterior–a brief glimpse of the street as Susan pulls up to it for the first time.
The luminous Maureen O’Hara plays their mother Maggie, who inexplicably gave up one of her twin daughters at birth to her ex-husband Mitch (Brian Keith in his first comedy). It’s one of those “suspension of disbelief” things…
Hayley Mills says that at times she would be so confused about which girl she was playing from scene to scene that “I was only saved by the wig.” If she had the short wig on, she knew she was Susan, the “tomboy” twin from California. Her real hair was long like the “proper” twin Sharon’s, but, she points out in the movie commentary, in some scenes it looks as bad as a wig.
After Susan chops Sharon’s hair off at summer camp so they’ll “match,” they both have the short wig on for the rest of the movie. It became even harder for Mills to remember who she was playing from scene to scene.
In the remake, one of the twins lives in London instead of Boston. Natasha Richardson was perfect in Maureen O’Hara’s role.
They struggled to find the right title for the movie. It was originally supposed to be His and Hers, but that was already taken by another studio. They resorted to running a contest and thousands of titles came in. None of them worked, either.
Some of the titles that almost made the cut:
- Susan and I
- We Belong Together
- For Now, For Always
- Petticoats and Blue Jeans
Hard to imagine the movie with any of those, isn’t it? It just wouldn’t have been the same. Writer-director David Swift recalls that one day, Walt Disney walked in and announced that they were going with The Parent Trap, and that was that. Discussion over.
The movie especially struck a chord with children of divorce. Hayley Mills says that she still hears from fans who tell her that watching the girls work to get their parents back together was “empowering” for them because they felt so helpless in their own lives when their parents separated.
Welcome to Golden Oak Ranch, where Mitch (Brian Keith) and his daughter Susan lived in the Carmel Valley.
This was actually some land owned by Disney south of Carmel on Placerita Canyon Road. They built a shell of a house on the property with nothing but exterior walls and a roof. The interiors were all created on a soundstage.
The Great Room:
Sharon–posing as Susan–explores the ranch for the first time. She’s understandably awestruck by it all.
There was a scene on the golf course in which her real-life father John Mills played Mitch’s caddy, but it ended up on the cutting-room floor.
One of the great things about the house is how it’s connected to outdoor living spaces. The doors always seem to be open to the courtyard and covered patio:
The Hallway Leading to the Courtyard:
The girls covered the doorway to the courtyard while they planned the private dinner and “show” for their parents. Who can forget the charmingly awful duet, “Let’s Get Together”? (Warning: Once you hear the song, it’ll be stuck in your head all day long!)
The Dining Room:
June Parker Beck, who edits Maureen O’Hara’s official website, tells me: “I get so many letters from people who want to go to California and see the house where it was filmed. Maureen doesn’t remember much about the structure. Stars are just taken to the shoot for that day–do their thing and go home.”
I read a comment on a message board that questioned why everyone apparently had to share this bathroom. Didn’t a house this size have more than one?
I love this kitchen with all the big windows overlooking the courtyard.
How charming was Brian Keith in this role? Swift says Keith was nervous about it because he’d never done comedy before, but he was perfect as Mitch:
In the DVD commentary, director David Swift says he has always regretted that he didn’t have wardrobe give Maureen O’Hara something “sexier” to wear in this scene.
He felt it made her look a little plain, and too much like a “housewife.”
I only wish I looked this “homely” while cooking dinner in my kitchen…
O’Hara was 41 when she shot this movie. Joanna Barnes, who played Mitch’s younger girlfriend Vicki, was only 27. But Vicki almost looked older because of the way they styled her hair and clothes:
Joanna Barnes went on to become an accomplished writer. She also appeared in the Parent Trap remake, playing Meredith’s mother Vicki (Meredith is the younger woman in the newer version).
The back of the house with the balcony (I would’ve killed to have a balcony like this off my bedroom when I was a girl–heck, I still would!):
The screenplay was written by David Swift, who also wrote Pollyanna. Disney had bought the rights to a short story published in Germany called “Lisa and Lottie” by Erich Kästner and asked Swift to adapt it for American audiences.
One of the challenges of making Parent Trap was finding an actress who looked enough like Hayley to play her twin in scenes where she’d only be seen from the back or side.
Susan Henning was cast and had to sign a contract promising to never tell anyone she was in the movie. Years later, Henning was interviewed for the Special Features on the Parent Trap DVD and was allowed to tell her story. She appeared in scenes like this (that’s the back of her head):
Susan had the same dress and shoe size as Hayley, but they gave her a rubber nose to wear. She says they also put a roll of tissue paper under her lip to make it stick out a little and padded her bra. After a few days of filming, however, they decided that the girls looked enough alike that the “extras” weren’t really needed.
Here’s a photo taken on set that shows the girls filming a scene together (Susan is on the left; Hayley on the right):
After filming each scene, they would switch places and do it again–this time with Hayley acting out the other twin’s role. Susan Henning as she looks today (via the Special Features on the DVD):
Henning says that she taught Mills how to talk with American slang, and Mills recalls how close the two of them became both on and off the set.
There is a wonderful commentary on the DVD with Hayley Mills and writer-director David Swift reminiscing about the making of The Parent Trap. Swift died a few years later, so we’re fortunate to have so many of his stories recorded.
Swift said that Disney spoiled him for working with other studios. They gave him free reign on both Pollyanna and The Parent Trap to do what he wanted.
The other thing that comes out in the interviews and commentary is what a lovely and gracious person Mills is.
She says she grew up hanging out on movie sets because her father is the famous British actor Sir John Mills. “Studios were my playground.” Her mother was a successful playwright. Mills says that “Walt Disney loved my mother. She made him laugh.”
Brian Keith, who died in 1997, once said:
“I’ve made I don’t know how many pictures. Forty, I guess. I’ve seen only about a half dozen of them. We made Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) in Rome last spring. I really enjoyed working with Liz and Brando and that great director, John Huston.
“But the kind of picture I enjoy seeing is something like The Parent Trap. That was a charming thing with Hayley Mills playing my twin daughters. I saw that four times. I even took my wife’s parents to see it. I like it so much I forgot I was in it, as a matter of fact.”
In 1998 they filmed a remake starring Lindsay Lohan as the twins and Nathasha Richardson as their mother. In that version she lives in an elegant house in London. You can read my post about the sets from that version here: