Monday, 31 August 2009

Suzy Mandel on Mary Millington : 30 years later

August 19th marked the 30th anniversary of Mary Millington’s death in 1979, I was away on the day, and was first made aware of the significance of the date in a message from Millington biographer Simon Sheridan when I returned. Simon also informed former actress and Millington co-star Suzy Mandel about the date, and since the national press seems to have completely ignored the anniversary of Mary’s passing, Suzy suggested I should write something to commemorate the date, which would also give Suzy the chance to share a few thoughts about her co-star with Mary’s many fans.

Suzy first met Mary at the beginning of Mary’s career as a top billed film star on the set of Harrison Marks’ Come Play With Me in late 1976 “She was a pretty little creature” Suzy remembers “Very, Very, Sweet.” Although they were from slightly different backgrounds -Mary was essentially a top shelf model being flung in the deep end acting wise, while Suzy was a trained, Aida Foster graduate and as a result was entrusted with far more dialogue than her co-star- the two films they made together would bond their careers together forever, with the pair of them sharing space on screen and as Tom Chantrell drawings on the film’s posters, while Come Play With Me would propel Mary and Suzy into the record books when it went on to become the most profitable and longest running British film in history, playing at the Moulin Cinema in Great Windmill Street from 1977 to 1981. Suzy once snuck in to the Moulin to check out the film, giving a member of the raincoat brigade the surprise of his life when watching the film he suddenly saw one of the film’s “nurses” sitting in the audience, which provoked a stunned reaction of “its you!!!”.
Suzy remembers Harrison Marks as “very funny, very charming”, but despite Marks’ music hall meets pornography under the influence of a bottle of scotch personality being all over the film, its hard to argue with her claims that Mary’s popularity and the David Sullivan publicity machine are what made Come Play With Me a success rather than the film itself “you get to the end of the film and you think ‘what was that all about’”.

As well as the films, Suzy also accompanied Mary on a photoshoot at 10 Downing Street, which has become the stuff of legend, due to Millington, while posing for an innocuous picture with a policeman outside Number Ten, deciding to unzip her top, exposing her breasts for the photograph, much to the surprise of Whitehouse photographer George Richardson (who took the picture anyway) and the policeman in question (who tried to confiscate the reel of film). According to Simon Sheridan’s biography of Millington :“For this stunt Mary was conditionally discharged and bound over to keep the peace”.

Suzy last saw Mary around April 1979, when in a publicity stunt both of them were photographed in lingerie at the top of the Moulin Cinema for the second anniversary of Come Play With Me’s long engagement at the Cinema, this would be one of Mary Millington’s final public appearances, if not the last. On the morning of August 19th 1979, Mary was found dead in bed by her husband having consumed a lethal combination of alcohol and paracetamol, “I did think of her that day” remembers Suzy “a dreadful thing to do to yourself… I was very saddened”.

Suzy left Britain in 1979, starting a new life for herself in America, and resuming her acting career before eventually moving behind the scenes as a film producer, but although Suzy is now -quite literally- a million miles away from her former sex comedy career, her thoughts return to her Come Play With Me co-star at this time “its terrible that she is no longer around”. According to Simon Sheridan, Mary’s favourite group were The Bee Gees and her favourite drink Campari and Lemonade, so why not give one of the Gibb Brothers’ LPs a spin and raise a glass to Mary. Suzy, for one, remembers her with great fondness, and hopes her reminisces here will do their bit to keep Mary’s memory alive “after all” says Suzy “if things were different, I’m sure she’d do the same for me…bless her heart”.

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