Mary Collinson – Actress, model
Born July 22, 1952; died November 23, 2021
Mary Collinson, who has died of bronchopneumonia aged 69, was an actress and model, who, for a brief period at the start of the 1970s, captured the imaginations of B-movie film producers and softcore men’s magazine editors. This was done in tandem with her identical twin sister Madeleine. The siblings’ highest profile came when they took the title roles in Twins of Evil (1971).
Director John Hough and screenwriter Tudor Gates’ film was produced by horror specialist Hammer Films, and was the third part of the studio’s Karnstein trilogy, which began with The Vampire Lovers (1970), followed by Lust for a Vampire. While the first film was loosely based on Carmilla (1872), J Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic yarn about a female vampire, as the titles of the films suggest, the studio’s commercial instincts saw them taking an increasingly sexualised tone in their depictions of Sapphic creatures of the night.
Set in seventeenth century Central Europe, Twins of Evil saw the Collinson sisters play the recently orphaned Frieda and Maria Gellhorn, who move to the gothic town of Karnstein to live with their witch-hunting puritan uncle Gustav, played by Peter Cushing. Mary Collinson played the ‘good’ twin Maria to her sister’s more restless Frieda, whose fascination for Damien Thomas’ dashing but dangerous Count Karnstein saw her transformed into a bloodsucking vampire.
While covering for Frieda’s late night liaisons, Maria grows fond of the local schoolteacher, Anton. As Frieda is captured and imprisoned by her uncle, the Count kidnaps Maria and exchanges her for Frieda, with only one of the sisters destined to survive.
It was presumed for many years that the Collinsons’ dialogue in Twins of Evil was dubbed due to their strong Maltese accents, though their friend and fellow actor Judy Matheson, who also appeared in the film, said this wasn’t the case.
Collinson and her sister were cast by Hammer after they were spotted in the October 1970 edition of Playboy magazine, in which they were Playmates of the Month, the first twins to do so. This novelty was kept up throughout the siblings’ brief film career, and they always appeared on screen together, invariably typecast as a decorative double act of glorified extras
The titles of the films say it all, as do the Collinsons’ largely nameless characters in various depictions of a terminally swinging society. Come Back Peter!, aka Some Like it Sexy (1969), was a cut-price sex comedy, which saw Christopher Matthews’ E Type Jag driving lothario chase around London having what turn out to be fantasy dalliances with numerous women. Collinson was simply Twin – White Dress, while her sister wore black as siblings who end up having more fun with each other than Peter. Groupie Girl (1970) saw the duo as uncredited hangers on in the rock world. They did something similar in Permissive (1970), also set at the grubbier end of the music scene.
In Hollywood, the Collinsons characters were at least given names, with Mary playing Debbie and Madeleine as Sandy during a shower scene in Jack Haley Jr’s Jacqueline Susann adaptation, The Love Machine (1971). While in America the pair appeared on high profile talk show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
The Collinsons final credit came in She’ll Follow You Anywhere (1971), also known as The Passion Potion, a comedy starring Keith Barron and Kenneth Cope as a pair of perfumers who accidentally create a fragrance with aphrodisiac propensities. Collinson and her sister are briefly seen in a bedtime romp with Barron and Cope. It is Twins of Evil, however, where the Collinsons made their mark
Mary Collinson was born in Sliema, Malta. The sisters’ father was a married British naval officer who had already disappeared by the time Mary and Madeleine arrived, and they grew up with their mother in humble surroundings. In an extensive interview with Times Malta, Collinson’s daughter Natasha Manfredini recalled her mother telling her how she and her sister had to resit a school exam after they gave identical answers, despite sitting on opposite sides of the room
Aged seventeen, Mary came to the UK in search of a new beginning with “only an agency contact address and no idea what I was doing”. Madeleine followed shortly after. An early engagement set the tone of films to come, as they played twin maids who seduce a visitor in the knowingly named Halfway Inn (1970), a thirteen minute short made by glamour photographer Harrison Marks for the Super 8 market.
The Playboy spread came about after the Collinsons met the magazine’s European boss Victor Lownes at a party. Manfredini told Times Malta how her mother and aunt flew to Chicago for a test shoot, and lived in the Playboy Mansion, where the magazine’s publisher Hugh Hefner called her mother “my bambini”.
Collinson continued to model following Twins of Evil, and in 1978 settled in Milan.
She took an active role with animal charity, Our Disappearing Planet, which her sister was also involved in before she died in 2014, aged 62. Collinson raised funds for the organisation by attending conventions and selling prints of vintage publicity stills from Twins of Evil, immortalising her cult image for a worthy cause.
She is survived by her two daughters, Natasha and Adelaide.
The Herald, December 18th 2021