Donna Mills (born December 11, 1940) is an American actress and producer. She is best known for her long-running role as villainous Abby Cunningham on the prime-time soap opera Knots Landing, and for her role as Tobie Williams, the girlfriend of Clint Eastwood’s character in the 1971 cult film Play Misty for Me.
Mills began her acting career on television with a six-month stint on the CBS daytime soap opera The Secret Storm in 1966, playing the character of “Rocket.” Following this, she made her film debut in The Incident (1967), co-starring alongside Martin Sheen, Beau Bridges, Ed McMahon, and Thelma Ritter. She appeared on Broadway in Woody Allen’s comedy, Don’t Drink the Water, as the Sultan of Bashir’s wife. She then starred for three years in the soap opera Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1967-1970).
In 1980 Mills landed her most prominent role — that of scheming, manipulative vixen Abby Cunningham on the long-running primetime soap opera Knots Landing. Mills portrayed Abby from 1980–1989. Prior to being cast in Knots Landing, Mills was primarily known for playing the “damsel in distress” archetype in both film and television media. Donna became famous for playing these roles, often leading to unwanted typecasting. In an interview with Jerry Buck for the Toledo Blade, Mills said: “I got tired of playing the victim. It’s a more active role. Abby keeps things stirred up, and I like that. Abby was not planned when the show began. The writers knew that they wanted a female J.R. Ewing-esque character. However, they had a different sense of the character and who would wind up in the role. With Mills’ reputation of playing the victim, they initially didn’t choose her for the part.
Josh Mapes of The Biography Channel listed her in the category “10 Primetime Stars We Love to Hate”. He said, “Any great soap opera needs a great villain. While viewers may identify more with the protagonist, the villains in a serial drama always spice things up, cause trouble, and make it more fun to watch. From tongue lashings to catfights, underhanded tricks to boldface lies, the characters we love to hate have each brought a fair share of great moments to primetime soaps. While Larry Hagman played the bad guy on Dallas.
Donna Mills played bad girl on its spin-off, Knots Landing. Unapologetically going after what she wanted, Mills’ character engaged in affairs with two of the husbands on the Knots Landing cul-de-sac. But, like most vixens on primetime soaps, she was only out for money, not love.”
In 1989, Mills announced her intention to leave the long-running nighttime soap after nine years as Abby. According to Mills, she wanted to take a break from acting for a while, and from Abby as well. In an interview with The Cedartown Standard, Mills explained: “I’m tired of the show. It’s been too long. I’m not particularly happy with the way they’ve been writing Abby lately. She’s too soft. I’d like Abby to get back to her old self. For this role, she won the Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Villainess on three occasions, in 1986, 1988 and 1989.
She has since starred in several TV movies, including False Arrest (1991), In My Daughter’s Name (1992), Dangerous Intentions (1995), The Stepford Husbands (1996) and Ladies of the House (2008). In 2014, she joined the cast of long-running daytime soap opera General Hospital.
After Knots Landing, Mills concentrated on television movies, four of which she co-produced: The World’s Oldest Living Bridesmaid (1990), Runaway Father (1991), In My Daughter’s Name (1992) and My Name Is Kate (1994). She returned to Knots Landing for its final episode in 1993, and again for the reunion miniseries Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac in 1997. In between she had a brief recurring guest role as Jane Mancini (played by Josie Bissett)’s mother on Melrose Place.
Donna has now joined ABC’s General Hospital as yet another wealthy troublemaker, Madeline Reeves. She has also joined the cast of Queens of Drama on the POP Network, due to air in 2015.