Orson Bean and Alley Mills – they were together almost from the day they met and stayed that way until death did them part.
How Did Alley Mills and Orson Bean Meet?
Life had not been particularly kind to either Mills or Bean, especially where romantic entanglements were concerned. Mills had a few serious gentlemen callers but any and all of the relationships petered out around the two-year mark. For his part, Bean had two failed marriages behind him – the first to actress Jacqueline de Sibour and the second to Carolyn Maxwell, a fashion designer.
She said, “Most Hollywood men are too vain and shallow for me.” He claimed, “I was never going to get involved again.” But then, cupid’s arrow struck. “Just when I was the happiest ever, I met Alley.”
Listen To Your Mother
Remembers Mills, “My mother was visiting… and we went to a reading of a play – the guy that plays my husband, Dan Lauria [Jack Arnold, The Wonder Years], produces these play readings – and Orson was in the reading. And my mother says ‘why don’t we all…invite the whole company out for drinks?’
“So she’s walking, quietly, with Orson, on the sidewalk…he then sits himself down next to me…and I’m walking home with mom, and she said ‘I think he likes you!’ I said ‘Mother, I’m sure he’s married – he was talking about his kids… I mean he was a wonderful, funny, I had a great night.’ And she goes – ‘By the way, he’s not married. I asked him – he’s divorced!’
The First (Of Many) Dates
“And then, he called the next morning – he’d given me his card, he was very gentlemanly – he had given me his card and said ‘do you like to go the theater?’ and I still thought, well maybe, he’s married…he’s just being like a theater friend – because he was so not flirtatious.”
But simple friendship was the furthest thing from Bean’s mind. “I always thought she was a fox! When I saw her, I moved in… I moved in pretty strongly.” Of the auspicious first date, Mills recalls that “He brought flowers and put on a tie. I was very moved.” After the theater, they dined on meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
A Non Proposal
From there, the courtship began in earnest. In October of 1992, seven months after their initial introduction, Bean popped the question. Well, more succinctly, he haphazardly presented her with a diamond ring and promised Mills that, “It’s unconditional.”
“He said, ‘If you don’t want to wear it, put it in a drawer. If you want to consider it an engagement ring, that’s up to you.’” According to Mills, she put it on “immediately” – but that didn’t exactly mean that the engagement was on.
For you see, the would-be bride had her reservations — namely the 23 year age gap — he was 63 and she 40 — that would most certainly, in time, result in her widowhood. However, a realization dawned.
“The reason I was single at the age of 40 is because the people that I kept picking were people that I was never going to [be] able to be intimate with, truly.
“Every single one of the guys was trouble. I realized that I was afraid of intimacy because of so much disappointment in my childhood, and so much … I don’t know if trauma’s the right word, but betrayals and things that had hurt me in the past.”
To let her soon-to-be betrothed aware of her decision, Mills enclosed her “yes” in an envelope, wrapped that in a Brooks Brothers sweater, and presented it to Bean on Christmas Eve 1992.
An Unconventional Wedding
A ceremony was arranged for April 18. On the afternoon preceding it, the couple hosted a cookout and fed 200. The event itself was held in the same area as the festive meal — Bean’s beach house in Venice California.
The guests, about 60 in total, listened to the pair exchange personally written vows, then retired to the reception area where they were served the same down-home, comfort food that Mills and Bean had first enjoyed 13 months previous.
Alley Mills and Orson Bean – Partners In Life and On Stage
They say that the family that plays together, stays together and it’s a sentiment that Mills and Bean took to heart and put into practice. Over the next 27 years of their marriage, they appeared together in a number of plays such as Bad Habits and The Playboy of the Western World.
But there was perhaps no greater triumph than their one-act, two-hander Alright Then. It was a sequel of sorts of Bean’s autobiographical stage show Safe at Home, and although there were a few embellishments, the narrative was, unequivocally, a window into the duo’s enduring love affair.
A Soulmate Lost
It’s true that all fairytale romances must come to an end. It’s inevitable. However, the wrenching apart of Mills and Bean was particularly tragic. On February 7, 2020, pedestrian Bean was struck down crossing the street to the theater (where they were performing) by a passing car and then fatally hit by a second vehicle operated by a distracted driver.