Ray Bidwell Collins (December 10, 1889 – July 11, 1965) was an American actor in film, stage, radio, and television. One of Collins' best remembered roles was that of Lt. Arthur Tragg in the long-running series Perry Mason.
Life and career
Collins was born in Sacramento, California to Lillie Bidwell and William C. Collins, a newspaper reporter and dramatic editor on theSacramento Bee. He started acting on stage at the age of 14. In 1922, he was part of a stock company called Vancouver's Popular Players which enacted plays at the original Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver, B.C.
Collins worked prodigiously in his youth. It is said that between the ages of 17 and 30 he was 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 much as 16 hours a day.
In the mid 1930s, now an established stage and radio actor, Collins began an association with Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre that led to some of his most memorable roles. Having already worked on radio with Welles on The Shadow (a regular as Commissioner Weston) and in Welles' serial adaptation of Les Misérables from 1937, Collins became a regular on The Mercury Theatre on the Air and its sponsored continuation, The Campbell Playhouse. Through the run of the series, he played many roles in literary adaptations, from Squire Livesey in Treasure Island, to Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes, to Mr. Pickwick in Pickwick Papers. Collins' best known (albeit uncredited) work on this series, however, was in the infamous The War of the Worlds broadcast, in which he played three roles, including Mr. Wilmuth (on whose farm the Martian craft lands) and the newscaster who describes the destruction of New York.
Collins played small parts in films starting in 1930, primarily in a series of shorts based on Booth Tarkington's Penrod stories. Along with other Mercury Theatre players, Collins made his first notable screen appearance in Citizen Kane, as ruthless political boss Jim Gettys. He also played key roles in Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil. Collins appeared in more than 90 films in all, including Leave Her to Heaven (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives and Crack-Up (1946), A Double Life (1947), two entries in theMa and Pa Kettle series (as in-law Jonathan Parker), 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).
He may be best remembered for his work on television, playing Lieutenant Tragg on Perry Mason in the 1950s and 1960s. He was also a regular as John Merriweather on the television version of The Halls of Ivy starring Ronald Colman. In 1955 he appeared as Judge Harper in The 20th Century-Fox Hour remake of the classic 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street, starring Thomas Mitchell as Kris Kringle, as well as MacDonald Carey and Teresa Wright.
By 1960, while immersed in the Perry Mason series, Collins found his physical health declining and his memory waning, problems which in the next few years brought an end to his career. Although he received credit through the 1964-1965 season, he made his last appearance in the January 16, 1964 episode, "The Case of the Capering Camera." 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."
On July 11, 1965, Collins died of emphysema at the age of 75.