Alley Mills, who is still recurring on B&B, was as surprised as anyone when she got the call from GH to play the soap’s favorite female psycho, Heather Webber, a role previously portrayed by Robin Mattson, who was unavailable at the time. “I have a friend who is a Broadway actor and he lives in a cul-de-sac in the Catskills, as does the head writer of GENERAL HOSPITAL,” recounts Mills as to how the opportunity came about. “One night over a martini, my friend called me and he said, ‘Would you ever think of doing GENERAL HOSPITAL?’ This was months and months ago. ‘We were just talking and yours and Orson’s name came up and he goes, ‘I love Pam! Would she ever do GH?’ That was pretty soon after Orson [Bean, her husband] died and I said, ‘I don’t know. Probably.’ About three months later, I got this phone call and Frank Valentini [executive producer] had heard from the head writer. How they drew the line from Pamela Douglas to Heather Webber, I don’t know, but Orson always said when you have to make a decision that you’re not really sure of, just put the proverbial gun to your head because inside, your gut knows. So, I did that. I read the breakdown of the character, and Robin Mattson couldn’t come back, and it was the 60th anniversary. It was supposed to be just 10 episodes and it sounded like fun. So, I just said yes. I went in and did it and it ended up being close to 30 episodes.”
Several factors attracted Mills to the role. “I’ve never played a character like that before,” she shares. “I loved how smart she was. Whether anyone else knows it, she’s the smartest one in the room. I was excited because it was something new and different. I had done a lot of research by that point. I watched everything Robin Mattson ever did, and even the Heathers before her, too. I had a good three weeks to do all of that, so I was ready to rock it. I was in a very aggressive frame of mind.”
And, her B&B boss, Bradley Bell, executive producer/head writer, gave the actress his blessing. “Brad’s assistant, Jen, is a big Heather Webber fan so she made him watch it and apparently, they loved it,” she smiles. “I wrote him an email right away and said, ‘I’m assuming this is fine because I’m not under contract right now, but I wanted to have the courtesy to write you and tell you how much I love working with you, and this is just something new and different.’ There was no problem at all, and when I saw him after that at a B&B party, he couldn’t have been sweeter about it.”
The actress, who is set to return as Heather for an upcoming arc, reveled in portraying the role. “When you’re playing crazy, there is nothing you can’t do,” she points out. “There is no person you can’t stand up to. Nobody intimidates you. There is nothing you can’t do because you have no fear, and that was really interesting to me. I’ve never played a person like that. Pam was frozen with fear most of the time, and emotionally crippled by Betty White’s [ex-Ann] character and Stephanie screaming at her all the time. Poor Pam was squashed but not Heather. I loved the freedom to do anything I wanted.”
Mills has nothing but praise for her Port Charles partners. “I loved working with Jon [Lindstrom, Kevin/ex-Ryan] and Avery [Pohl, Esme]. They were like my real family. I think Avery is one of the best young actors I’ve ever worked with. She is very deep. She is a complex woman and she brings all of that into the room. I loved working with Jon, too. He is such a wonderful person. I think my favorite scene was with Sonny because I felt like Heather had met her match. I didn’t know Maurice [Benard] but I admired his work. I liked him and thought he was a very good actor so when he came in the door, it was a standoff. It was fun because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I also want to add that I loved working with Frank, too. I felt so seen by Frank, like really seen as an artist. That inspired me for the whole time I was there, from September to January. He has this twinkle in his eye and he looks so piercingly at you as a person. It’s an amazing feeling and it goes a long way. It was really a freeing experience, especially after the death of my husband. I was like a kid in a candy store. It was such an unexpected gift to be that young again, and I’m deeply grateful for it.”
Mills admits she was surprised to learn of the twist that Heather was The Hook killer. “I didn’t really know how GH worked and it was a stunt double doing all these murders,” she recalls. “I didn’t know how brutal they were, so it was a challenge to try and keep her light and funny about things when you’re hooking people. But that transcended into an attitude of, ‘I’m going to show them all who’s boss and all the people who’ve hurt my daughter, Esme, are going to pay.’ ”
Despite the fact that she had a ball at GH, Mills stresses that she still very much loves her B&B family. “I will always have this incredible soft spot in my heart for Brad and everybody there,” she assures. “I was there the day Jacqui [MacInnes Wood, Steffy] first came and now she’s a grown woman and starring in the show. I still love Susan [Flannery, ex-Stephanie] and I miss her. I’m going to see her in July in Santa Barbara. I’m really tight with the crew. I have to say, Thorsten [Kaye, Ridge] really loved Orson and considered him a mentor. He was so devastated when Orson died, and he really showed up for me. He came over a lot and put up a tent in my backyard. He built things. He repaired things. I came back from New York, where I was doing a play [Morning’s At Seven, opposite her WONDER YEARS husband, Dan Lauria; she subbed for an ailing Judith Ivey]. I was unexpectedly back for Christmas when they canceled the show due to Covid, and Thorsten had put up a Christmas tree and had presents under it. The grandchildren put up a big banner with Thorsten that hung over the door. I mean, who does that? He is really something.”
Losing Bean was life-changing for Mills. In February 2020, the 91-year-old actor passed away after he was struck by two cars while crossing the street in Venice, CA. As a result, the Covid lockdown weeks later was “a weird blessing for me because I didn’t have to go anywhere, and I didn’t want to, anyway,” she shares. “But I had a lot of people come by and we’d sit in the yard at a distance, and that helped. We had to cancel his [in-person] memorial service for 800 people. We did a Zoom call with everyone, but it wasn’t the same.”
Mills was thrilled that once the lockdown ended, the city of Venice dedicated the street next to their beloved Pacific Resident Theatre as Orson Bean Way. “For 16 years, we did A Christmas Carol every holiday season [where they would put on free shows for the local children],” she notes proudly. “During the dedication ceremony, there were speeches and songs. Marc Cherry [creator of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES] spoke. I hadn’t seen the sign before the unveiling, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. That was a beautiful day for me. It was the memorial that we couldn’t have. It was a true celebration of Orson’s life.”
For her next chapter, Mills is looking to branch out. “I’d like to do something that I haven’t tried,” she relays. “I consider myself a character actor, and I love becoming other people. I’m open to whatever thing that presents itself. I’d love to do something that’s brilliant and weird. That’s what I’m into right now. I just ran for Venice City Council to help with the homelessness problem, and that is in the forefront of my mind, and that is where my heart is. I feel a little like Heather in that I can call all my shots now that I’m single and a widow. My life is very different because I was part of a team for so many years. But, I have a family. I have friends, and I still have things to do on this planet that really matter to me. I don’t know what my life is going to be, but at this moment, it’s one day at a time.”
The Wonder Mom
Mills is thrilled to still be recognized as one of TV’s most iconic moms from her 1988-93 run as Norma Arnold on THE WONDER YEARS. “The thing about that show was the writing was so excellent, every single half-hour, I cried,” she recalls. “I thought it was so beautifully written and poignant. I was so lucky to play a character like that, sort of an iconic mother who was a housewife but like Heather, she was way smarter than her circumstances. Carol Black [co-creator] told me that going in. She said, ‘This is my mom. She was brilliant but she wanted to raise us in Maryland in a small town.’ Carol Black really sort of wrote my part. Even though she was always wearing pink pedal pushers and bringing Jack a drink and always trying to calm him down, Norma was doing what women did in those days because she grew up in the ’50s. She was a product of the times. I love it when people recognize me from that. My favorite was the pottery episode, when Norma and Jack got into a fight because he assumed she was having an affair with her instructor. Fred’s [Savage] face is what broke people’s hearts because it was the first time in his life this little boy ever saw his parents fight. It was so profound. It won the Humanitas Prize, and the show also won the Peabody Award. It was such an honor to be in something that was so moving and well-written.”
Just The Facts
Birthday: May 9
Birthplace: Chicago, IL
Education: Mills graduated from Yale University and studied acting at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art.
Love Lines: Mills was married to Orson Bean (ex-Howard, B&B; ex-Roy, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES) from 1993 until his death in 2020. You can catch Bean’s autobiographical one-man show, Safe At Home, on YouTube.
Paging DR. QUINN: Recurred on DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN, where Bean was a series regular, playing the titular character’s sister from 1993-97.
Otherwise Known As: Pam, B&B (2006-present) and Heather, GH (2022-23)
Bar None: Yes, she is still asked by B&B fans about Pam’s famous lemon bars. “Of course! I get that all the time.”
ISLAND Girl: Most recently appeared on FANTASY ISLAND opposite her WONDER YEARS hubby, Dan Lauria.