Martin (Marty) Hager Mills, was born in New York in 1927. Marty’s varied interests led him from music publishing, to being a theatrical agent to photography.
Marty’s father, Jack, founded Jack Mills Music in the 1920’s and later, Mills Music with his brother Irving Mills, which became the largest and most well-known music publishing company in the world up until 1960 when it was sold. Located in the famed Brill Building, clients included Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Quincy Jones, Fats Waller, Mitchell Parish, Willie “The Lion” Smith and many others.
Marty started his professional career in music publishing at Mills Music as a song plugger, going from city to city meeting disc jockeys he hoped would play titles from Mills Music. He later partnered with singer/songwriter Jerry Keller to form Jaymar music publishing, which published Keller's 1959 hit "Here Comes Summer." Mills sold his share of Jaymar to Keller and joined MCA as a an agent booking talent for televison and advertising agencies. He later became a personal manager for Eddie Fisher, Joey Bishop and Edie Adams. His professional career spawned lifelong friendships with celebrities, musicians and those in the world of film, television and music. This gave Mills a unique access when he became a professional photographer. He was often able to bypass agents, managers, film and television studios as he was personally invited by his subjects to shoot them.
Married to entertainer Edie Adams in the mid-1960’s, Marty found himself in Rome, Italy, for six months on the United Artists film, “Anyone for Venice” which co-starred Adams, Cliff Robertson and Rex Harrison. With time on his hands, Mills learned how to cook Italian food, which became a life-long passion, as well as taking up photography. Being in a unique position to document a major motion-picture starring his wife, Marty picked up a camera and shot on set, on location, street scenes, daily life in Italy, landscapes – just for fun. He shot many rolls of film just to figure out lighting, shading and how to capture an interesting subject on a moment’s notice. He was entirely self-taught.
Upon his return to Beverly Hills, he founded Martin Mills Photography and was hired as a freelance photographer to shoot sports, entertainment and political figures for a diverse set of publications including Look Magazine, Pageant, TV Guide and Sports Illustrated among others. Marty was also hired to shoot many publicity portraits as well as on set photography by the studios and occasionally by the stars themselves. Ironically, it was Mills’ close relationship with celebrities as friends that helped put his subjects at ease in front of the camera. Because he knew many of his subjects socially, he was able to capture them at their most natural.
Mills shot diverse subjects including Joe DiMaggio, Jack Nicklaus, John Wayne, Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. Mel Torme, Bette Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, MIckey Mantle, Lee Marvin, Johnny Carson and Martin Luther King Jr.. He also shot extensively at major PGA, LPGA and celebrity golf tournaments, NBA professional basketball games, NFL professional football games, boxing matches and professional and celebrity tennis tournaments.
Ever resourceful, Mills was one of the first photographers to use a police scanner to document the times (as was the case during the 1960’s UCLA riots). In the 1970’s when he lost a photography assignment due to being out of the office and “away from the phone,” he installed a ‘ship-to-shore’ mobile phone in his Mercedes to make sure it never happened again.
Mills was known as a “working’ photographer” so he didn’t specialize in one specific style - portraits, sports or landscapes. He was hired to shoot publicity photos, spreads for national magazines and sometimes directly by the celebrities themselves for their professional events and parties. He was profiled in a 2006 Daily Variety article, "Legends of the Lens."