In 1961, Hayley Mills played twins in the Walt Disney movie “The Parent Trap.”
Twenty-five years later, Mills again co-starred with herself in the sequel, “Parent Trap II.”
And when the Disney studios, perhaps deciding that three times was the charm, began production on the made-for-TV movie “Parent Trap III,” Mills was again cast opposite herself. Only this time around, she is one-upped by a set of real-life triplets.
Leanna, Joy and Monica Creel, three of the more prominent members of the Sunny Hills High School class of 1988, portrayed the sisters in the film, which made its television debut earlier this month as a two-part Disney Sunday movie special.
In “Parent Trap III,” the girls play sisters who spend their summers abroad separately, only to return home to Malibu to find their widowed father, played by Barry Bostwick, engaged to a lady they believe is not right for him.
“We all got along great,” Joy said of the cast. “We learned from them (co-stars) and it was fun to be on the set with them.”
The Creels, 18, also have learned to appreciate being seen as individuals and not just one of three.
“Each of us went in and auditioned for the director (Mollie Miller) and then she cast each part,” Leanna said. “It was neat because she gave us parts that were opposite of what we’re really like.
“I’m usually the one in T-shirts and jeans,” she said, “and I played the sophisticated triplet (Lisa) in the movie. She’s the one who just got back from Paris, and I wear clothes in the movie that I would never wear in real life.”
And Mills, who by now is used to seeing double, was a hit with the triplets from the start.
“A lot of people can’t tell us apart even after years of knowing us,” Joy said, “But she (Mills) just stood there and said, ‘Now, let’s see. You’re Monica, Joy and Leanna,’ pointing to the correct person.
“What really impressed us was that she could tell us apart the first time she met us. That made us like her even more.”
“Parent Trap III” took a month to film. The girls were in front of the cameras Monday through Friday--some days for as long as 13 hours--and spent Saturdays with their director, going over the following week’s scenes.
“It was a very tiring experience,” Joy said. “We worked in the business before so we knew a little and what to expect, but the filming for the movie moved at a kind of rapid pace. At night, we would just go back to our apartment in Burbank and crash.”
But the triplets said they had a lot of fun on the set.
“We brought our friend’s video camera (to the Malibu set) and taped everybody doing goofy things,” said Joy, who added that one of the pranks the girls played was to decorate their director’s car with “Just Married” banners and bunting.
“We really loved our director and working with Barry and Hayley and just everyone,” Joy said.
She said one of her most memorable moments of the filming came during the last scene, when she got to work the clapboard. “It was like a big joke because I had begged them to let me do it and so they finally said I could do it during the wrap scene.
“I had always wanted to major in communications, but now I really like film production. I just want to get to know the whole field.”
On the night the movie aired, the Creels invited 40 to 50 friends to their home in Fullerton and rented a large-screen TV.
“It was fun watching it with their friends because everyone would cheer and holler during certain scenes,” said Christine Creel, the girls’ mother. “It was like a football game.”
Said Monica: “I was excited to see it because none of us had seen the full version until it actually came on TV.”
The sisters, who enrolled at Cal State Fullerton last fall, had to take the spring semester off to complete the filming.
“We all plan on going back to school (this fall) unless we are working,” Joy said. “It’s just impossible to do both.”
While the girls realize that much of their success is due to their being triplets, they are proud of their individuality and differences.
“In college, most of the people didn’t even know I was a triplet and there were enough people to have my own identity,” said Leanna, who participated in cross-country and cycling at Fullerton. “I wasn’t just one of the triplets.
“That’s the major drawback of ‘Parent Trap III'--people will tie us together as one unit again,” she said. “I haven’t totally broken free.”
Leanna, the one triplet not living at home, had been cast as actor Ralph Macchio’s girlfriend in “Karate Kid III” last November, but was forced to give up the movie role when the filming schedule, because of a production delay, overlapped with that of “Parent Trap III.”
“I had gone through pre-production rehearsing, screen tests and wardrobe, but then this complication arose,” she said. “Naturally, it was a big loss, but I learned a lesson from it.
“I could have been really bitter against Disney and ‘Parent Trap,’ and thought that I had missed my big break, or I could choose to have a good attitude about the whole thing.
“All we have power over is our attitude, and we have a choice as to how we react to things. I’m glad I learned this lesson early on in life, because I don’t want to live the rest of my life thinking, ‘What if?’ ”
But any questions regarding the public’s awareness of the triplets began to be answered with their April 7 appearance on the “Tonight Show” to promote “Parent Trap III.” They also appeared in the April 19 episode of “My Two Dads.”
“A lot of people do come up to us now because they recognize us,” Monica said, “and that’s pretty funny. We’ve even received a little bit of fan mail.”
This Sunday night, they will again be on TV in “The Magical World of Disney,” a special celebrating the opening of the Walt Disney Co.'s new studio-tour theme park outside Orlando, Fla.
Although the filming took only a day, the girls stayed 1 1/2 weeks in Florida to visit relatives.
“My husband was born and raised in Florida and the girls got to meet relatives they never met before,” Christine Creel said.
“A 6-year-old second cousin took them to school for show and tell, and that made him the big man on campus.”