She may not routinely be described as the greatest porn star who ever lived, and the full length movies that she made were decidedly disappointing.
But across a string of pre-fame shorts shot in the early 1970s, and a mountain of magazine photo shoots that took her through to the end of the decade, actress Mary Millington took English-made porn to brand new heights, not only in terms of adventure and variation, but also because she never once behaved like she was acting.
Even more exhilaratingly, she did so at a time when British porn was so underground that it made American morality look like Sodom and Gomorrah. While married couples Stateside were lining up to watch Deep Throat and Behind The Green Door at the not-yet-a-Multiplex down the road, and TV talk shows were seriously discussing Porno Chic, British film makers and distributors were being seriously and severely hounded for their handiwork, with police harassment a part of daily life, and media assaults a constant.
No more than half a dozen of Mary’s sex shorts are known to circulate today, and that despite her shooting close to four times that many, often under the watchful eye of one of Britain’s most revolutionary movie makers, the great John Lindsay. His eye for detail, and taste for the bizarre, pushed buttons that would still get a reaction today - one of the most astonishing scenes in Miss Bohrloch arrives when Mary stands up to answer the door... and a pingpong ball falls out of her pussy. The viewer didn’t even know it was in there. (Deservedly, Miss Bohrloch], won the Golden Phallus award at the 1970 Amsterdam Wet Dream Festival.)
Her other shorts are just as enjoyable - and Mary was obviously having a ball as she shot them. Few XXX actresses, even today, ever captured the look of absolute pleasure that constantly shone in Mary’s eyes, yet to describe her as one of the most beautiful women ever to fuck on camera for a living is to overlook the sheer girl-next-door homeliness that was her other most potent quality.
It was that which established her as the face of British porn, and the mouthpiece for it as well. Indeed, even more than her films, she is probably better remembered for her figurehead role at publisher David Sullivan’s Whitehouse magazine, a publication that sailed so close to the legal winds of the day that police raids were an almost regular occurrence, while the movies that brought her to household name status, led off by 1977’s Come Play With Me, were little more than a lightly raunchy variation on the kind of sex comedies British cinema had been making for years. It was Mary’s name that made the movies move, and that was as true for the other starring vehicles she appeared in (The David Galaxy Affair, Queen Of The Blues and The Playbirds) as for the one movie she made which is still a national treasure, the Sex Pistols' The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle.
Indeed, given time she might even have made the crucial transition into some form of “acceptable” mainstream superstardom, although her crusading spirit would never have been crushed.
Her personal life was under constant scrutiny by the police, and her popularity was no guarantee of security. Constantly speaking out against the weight of the laws that suppressed all but the most anodyne attempts to illustrate human sexuality in the UK, Mary made some appallingly powerful enemies - so powerful that there was no way in which her story could have a happy ending.
Hounded by every authority that could possibly have a bone to pick with her, from the taxman to the police, and onto the sundry guardians of British morality that roamed those days, Mary was first backed into a corner, and then pushed further from there. Thirty-three years ago this weekend, August 19 1979, unable to see any life beyond the incessant harassment, Mary committed suicide. She, too, was thirty-three.
Her life has its celebrations today. Author Simon Sheridan wrote a wonderful biography, named for her first full-length movie, a variety of websites exist to remember her, and at least a few of her movies - long form and short - can now be purchased by anyone with a desire to possess them. Precisely the state of permissive affairs that Mary spent her adulthood fighting for, and possibly gave her life for as well.
Even if you’ve never heard of her before reading this today, please spare her a thought this weekend.