Years active 1902–1964
|Name Ray Collins|
Role character actor
|Full Name Ray Bidwell Collins|
Born December 10, 1889 (age 75) (1889-12-10) Sacramento, California, U.S.
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
Spouse Joan Uron (m. 1926–1965), Margaret Marriott (m. 1909–1924)
Books Embracing Cyprus: The Path to Unity in the New Europe, Deep Canyon Rising, Character Assassination
Parents William C. Collins, Lillie Bidwell
Movies and TV shows Perry Mason, Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Bachelor and the B
Similar People William Talman, William Hopper, Barbara Hale, Raymond Burr, Wesley Lau
Died July 11, 1965 (aged 75), Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Ray Bidwell Collins (December 10, 1889 – July 11, 1965) was an American character actor in stock and Broadway theatre, radio, films, and television. With 900 stage roles to his credit, he became one of the most successful actors in the developing field of radio drama. A friend and associate of Orson Welles for many years, Collins went to Hollywood with the Mercury Theatre company and made his feature-film debut in Citizen Kane, as Kane's ruthless political rival. Collins appeared in more than 75 films and had one of his best-remembered roles on television, as the irascible Lieutenant Arthur Tragg on the long-running series Perry Mason.
Life and career
Ray Bidwell Collins was born December 10, 1889, in Sacramento, California, to Lillie Bidwell and William Calderwood Collins. His father was a newspaper reporter and dramatic editor on The Sacramento Bee. His mother was the niece of John Bidwell, pioneer, statesman, and founder of society in the Sacramento Valley area of California in the 19th century. Collins was inspired as a young boy to become an actor after seeing a stage performance by his uncle, Ulric Collins, who had performed the role of Dave Bartlett in the Broadway production of Way Down East. He began putting on plays with neighborhood children in Sacramento.
Collins made his professional stage debut at age 13, at the Liberty Playhouse in Oakland, California. In July 1914, he and his first wife and their young son moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Collins worked as an actor. In 1922, he was part of a stock company called Vancouver's Popular Players which enacted plays at the original Orpheum Theatre. He operated his own stock company for five years at his own theatre, the Empress Theatre in Vancouver. Collins toured in vaudeville and made his way to New York.
Collins worked prodigiously in his youth. Between the ages of 17 and 30, he was said to have been out of work as an actor for a total of five weeks. In 1924, after he opened in Conscience, he was almost continually featured in Broadway plays and other theatrical productions until the Great Depression began. At that point, Collins turned his attention to radio, where he was involved in 18 broadcasts a week, sometimes working as many as 16 hours a day. He also played parts in Short films starting in 1930, notably in a Vitaphone Varieties series based on Booth Tarkington's Penrod stories.
In 1934, Collins began a long association with Orson Welles that led to some of his most memorable roles. They met when Welles joined the repertory cast of The American School of the Air, his first job on the radio. In 1935, Welles won a place in the prestigious company that presented the news dramatization series The March of Time—an elite corps of actors that included Collins, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, Paul Stewart, and others who would soon form the core of Welles's Mercury Theatre.
On radio, Collins was in the distinguished repertory cast of the weekly historical drama Cavalcade of America for six years. Collins and Welles worked together on that series and others, including Welles's serial adaptation of Les Misérables (1937) and the popular series The Shadow (1937–38).
Collins became a member of the repertory company of Welles's CBS Radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air (1938) and its sponsored continuation, The Campbell Playhouse (1938–40). Through the run of the series, Collins played many roles in literary adaptations, from Squire Livesey in "Treasure Island", to Dr. Watson in "Sherlock Holmes", to Mr. Pickwick in "The Pickwick Papers". Collins' best known (albeit uncredited) work on this series, however, was in "The War of the Worlds", the celebrated broadcast in which he played three roles, most notably the rooftop newscaster who describes the destruction of New York.
Along with other Mercury Theatre players, Collins made his feature film debut in Citizen Kane (1941), in which he portrayed ruthless political boss Jim W. Gettys. He appeared in Welles's original Broadway production of Native Son (1941) and also played a principal role in Welles's second film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). His ongoing radio work included Welles's wartime series, Ceiling Unlimited and Hello Americans (1942), and the variety show, The Orson Welles Almanac (1944).
Having returned to his native California, Collins appeared in more than 75 major motion pictures, including Leave Her to Heaven (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Crack-Up (1946), A Double Life (1947), two entries in the Ma and Pa Kettle series, and the 1953 version of The Desert Song, in which he played the non-singing role of Kathryn Grayson's father. He displayed comic ability in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), and The Man from Colorado (1948), and played a supporting role in Welles's Touch of Evil (1958).
On television, Collins was a regular in The Halls of Ivy (1954–55), starring Ronald Colman. He appeared as Judge Harper in a 1955 TV adaptation of the holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street, starring Thomas Mitchell, Teresa Wright, and MacDonald Carey. In 1957 Collins joined the cast of the CBS-TV series Perry Mason and gained fame as Los Angeles police homicide detective Lieutenant Arthur Tragg.
By 1960, Collins found his physical health declining and his memory waning, problems which in the next few years brought an end to his career. On the difficulty he was beginning to encounter in remembering his lines, he commented, "Years ago, when I was on the Broadway stage, I could memorize 80 pages in eight hours. I had a photographic memory. When I got out on the stage, I could actually — in my mind — see the lines written on top of the page, the middle, or the bottom. But then radio came along, and we read most of our lines, and I got out of the habit of memorizing. I lost my natural gift. Today it's hard for me. My wife works as hard as I do, cueing me at home."
In October 1963, Collins filmed his last Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Capering Camera", broadcast January 16, 1964. Although clearly Collins would not return to work on the series, his name appeared in the opening title sequence through the eighth season, which ended in May 1965. Executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson was aware that Collins watched the show every week and did not wish to discourage him.
On July 11, 1965, Collins died of emphysema at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, at age 75. Masonic services were held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.
Ray Collins played 900 roles on the legitimate stage.