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Juliet Mills bewitches on ‘Passions’

‘Nanny and the Professor’ actress enjoys making daytime magic
/ Source: The Associated Press

At 11 weeks old, Juliet Mills made a brief appearance in “In Which We Serve,” the World War II film starring her father, John Mills, and written and directed by her godfather, Noel Coward.

“I think I was quite good. I haven’t heard stories to the contrary,” she says with a gentle laugh.

Maybe her own times on movie sets as a child — usually just visiting “Daddy,” but sometimes playing a small role — make her particularly adept at working with younger stars.

In the early ’70s, she played Phoebe Figalilly, who brightened the lives of a single dad and his kids in the sitcom “Nanny and the Professor.”

Since 1999, she’s been displaying a darker side as the witch Tabitha Lenox in NBC’s daytime soap “Passions.” Tabitha used to cast her spells over the townsfolk of Harmony with the help of Timmy, a living doll played by Josh Ryan Evans. But the 3-foot-2-inch Evans died in 2002 at age 20.

With Timmy gone, Tabitha needed another young accomplice. The magic element in “Passions” allows for anything to happen, so Tabitha — who’s 300 years old — got pregnant and gave birth to Endora, also a witch.

“The whole story line was so bizarre. You can’t think about these things too much because they don’t make a lot of sense,” says Mills, who’s 63. “But now I have a beautiful little girl to work with.”

On the set this day, Tabitha and Endora, played by 2-year-old Nicole Cox, are surveying the dire consequences of their spells getting tangled as they attempted to prevent a neighbor from telling the citizens of Harmony there are witches in their midst. The seismic disaster they cause is the show’s major plot line this summer.

Giggles, hugs and candy are exchanged as Mills, gussied up in Tabitha’s baubles and beads, reels off the dialogue while expertly keeping the toddler attentive enough to cast a spell right on cue.

Executive producer Lisa de Cazotta says Mills has found “just the right balance” in playing Tabitha, a seemingly “sweet, eccentric” who can “then really zap you.”

Magical familyMills, who won a prime-time Emmy for her supporting role in the 1974 miniseries “QB VII,” was nominated this year for a daytime Emmy but didn’t win.

She’s doesn’t believe in magic, although her mother, writer Mary Hayley Bell, did — “so I think some of Tabitha is based on mummy. She was also quite rude at times, always spoke her mind, and didn’t care what people thought!”

Bell and John Mills, who died in April, raised two acting daughters; Juliet’s younger sister is Hayley Mills, 59, the child star of the 1960s Disney movies “Pollyanna” and “The Parent Trap.”

“One of the last things daddy said to me was ‘I’m so proud of my family,”’ recalls Juliet Mills, “and I do feel there is a legacy from what we learned from him about the business, about life too ... we feel lucky to be in his light. He taught us a great deal about humility and believing how lucky we are to be doing what we love to do and being paid for it.”

Mills and her third husband, actor Maxwell Caulfield, 45, celebrate their 25th anniversary this year. He recently finished a two-year stint as a pediatrician on the British soap “Casualty.”

“That was pretty hard. It was the first time we had been separated by work like that,” says Mills.

But there was an up side — her many trips to England to see Caulfield meant she also got to spend more time with her father in the last years of his life.

Mills and her sister recently returned to Britain for “a bittersweet day” at the Chelsea Flower Show, where a rose was named for their father.

“He was really thrilled about that. He was actually trying to hang on for that date, but he couldn’t quite make it,” says Mills. “It’s a beautiful pink climbing rose with a wonderful fragrance, and we are going to have one in our garden forever.”