Mary’s most iconic film, Come Play with Me, opened on 28 April 1977 at the newly-refurbished, five-screen Cameo Moulin in Great Windmill Street, Soho. Unbeknownst to the movie’s bemused critics, producer David Sullivan had an agreement with the cinema that they would continue to screen Come Play with Me for as long as weekly takings exceeded a pre-designated ‘break’ figure of £1,000. Through relentless marketing in Sullivan’s magazines, Come Play with Me stuck firmly in the public consciousness, and the punters kept on queuing for what the Guardian newspaper later described as ‘The Mousetrap at the Moulin’ (a reference to Agatha Christie’s play of the same name, which had been running, without a break, in the West End since 1952). Come Play with Me would eventually even outlive Mary, playing at the Moulin for an astounding 201 continuous weeks until 4 March 1981.
Outside of London, Come Play with Me’s first provincial date was in Leeds where it gave the Plaza cinema its biggest take for two years, followed by record-breaking bookings in Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Bristol, Bath and Sheffield. In Blackpool the movie charmed seaside audiences for 17 weeks solidly. Tigon, the film’s distributors, took out a patriotic advert in Screen International boasting that ‘Come Play with Me is THE surprise movie of 1977/1978… and it’s British!’
Mary promoted the film throughout the UK, but never forgot where the phenomenon originally started. She visited the Moulin on several occasions for photo opportunities and in April 1978, to celebrate Come Play with Me entering its second successful year, she posed with co-star Suzy Mandel, high above the cinema frontage. Teetering in high-heels and dressed only in their underwear, the two girls beamed for the cameras. The stunt paid-off handsomely; within a week Come Play with Me had taken over £202,276 – a cinema record for a single screen in London’s West End.
Mary returned to the Moulin again, on the evening of 28 April 1979, to pose for slightly more-sedate photos in the cinema’s foyer, to mark the movie’s third year of residency. But, sadly, this was to be Mary’s final visit to Soho’s most profitable ‘X’-rated venue. The week following her suicide, on 19 August 1979, Come Play with Me doubled its box office; takings were up £3,384 in just seven days. It was a portent of things to come. For several more years, even in death – thanks to regular reissues of her films and the release of two questionable ‘tribute’ movies – Mary still remained the biggest cinematic draw in the West End.
All words © Simon Sheridan 2012-2014