Martin (Marty) Hager Mills, was born in New York in 1927. Marty’s varied interests led him from music publishing to 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. Their publishing company became the largest and most well-known independent music publishing company in the world up until 1965 when it was sold. Located in the famed Brill Building in New York with offices in Denmark Street in London, songwriters included Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, 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 an agent booking talent for television and advertising agencies. He later became a personal manager to entertainers Eddie Fisher, Joey Bishop and Edie Adams among others. His professional career spawned lifelong friendships with celebrities, musicians and actors which gave him 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 photograph 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 shot on set as well as daily life in Italy, landscapes – just for fun. It was where he learned about lighting, shading and how to capture subjects on a moment’s notice. He was entirely self-taught.
Upon his return home to Southern California, Marty founded Martin Mills Photography. He was soon hired as a freelance photographer to shoot sports, entertainment and political figures for a diverse set of publications including Look Magazine, Pageant, TV Guide the New York Times and Sports Illustrated among others. Marty was also hired by film studios to shoot on set (Warner Brothers Outlaw Blues), television networks like ABC Television as well as publicity stills occasionally by the stars themselves. It was Mills’ close relationship with celebrities as friends that helped put his subjects at ease in front of the camera. He knew many of his subjects socially and 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 shot major professional and collegiate sporting events inclosing PGA, LPGA, celebrity golf tournaments, NBA professional basketball games, NFL professional football games, NCAA Football, 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 late 1960’s UCLA protests). He had lost a photography assignment while out of the office and “away from the phone,” so he installed an early ‘ship-to-shore’ mobile phone in his Mercedes to make sure it never happened again.
Mills was known as a “working’ photographer”. He didn’t specialize in one specific style – such as portraits, sports or landscapes. He shot what he was assigned to shoot- publicity photos, covers 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".