Actor Ray Collins

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 (1941), as Kane’s ruthless political rival. Collins appeared in more than 75 films and had one of his best-remembered roles on television, as Los Angeles homicide detective Lieutenant Arthur Tragg in the CBS-TV 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 December 1912, Collins and his first wife Margaret Marriott were a vaudeville team, who performed at the Alhambra Theatre in Seattle. In July 1914, the couple and their young son Junius 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, he and Marriott divorced. That same year, he opened in Conscience, and after that, he was almost continually featured in Broadway plays and other theatrical productions until the Great Depression began. In 1926, he married Joan Uron. At the start of the Depression, 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.:404

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 in radio.:331 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.:332–333

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:141 and others, including Welles’s serial adaptation of Les Misérables (1937) and 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 nonsinging 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.

Personal life

Collins supported Thomas Dewey in the 1944 United States presidential election.

Theatre credits

Ray Collins played 900 roles on the legitimate stage.

Date Title Role Notes
June 23 – July 5, 1924 The Blue Bandanna Gentleman Jim Delano Vanderbilt Theatre, New York
September 11, 1924 – January 1925 Conscience Jeff Stewart Belmont Theatre, New York
March 26, 1925 – Eve’s Leaves Theodore Corbin Wallack’s Theatre, New York
September 28 – October 1925 The Bridge of Distances Captain Aylmer Herryot Morosco Theatre, New York
August 30 – December 1926 The Donovan Affair Nelson Fulton Theatre, New York
September 18 – October 1928 The Big Fight Majestic Theatre, New York
November 9, 1928 – January 1929 On Call John Q. Smith Waldorf Theatre, New York
September 16 – October 1929 A Strong Man’s House Allen Ambassador Theatre, New York
February 26–28, 1931 Paging Danger Kenneth Holden Booth Theatre, New York
March 24 – June 28, 1941 Native Son Paul Max St. James Theatre, New York

Radio credits

Date Title Role Notes
1930 – The American School of the Air Repertory cast :28
February 9, 1931 – The Eno Crime Club Mystery drama series:232
March 6, 1931 – The March of Time Repertory cast
January 16, 1933 – Just Plain Bill Serial drama:378–379
July 25, 1936 Five Star Theatre “Behind That Curtain”, conclusion of a Charlie Chan mystery
July 14 – September 22, 1935 America’s Hour Repertory cast Patriotic documentary drama:30
1935–41 Cavalcade of America Repertory cast Weekly anthology drama series:141
March 22, 1936 Terror by Night “The Bells”:656
February 23 –
September 16, 1936
Peter Absolute Augustus Crabtree Weekly dramatic serial
Collins plays a strolling tragedian in this story of a boy’s adventures during the early days of the Erie Canal:26
June 1, 1936 – Wilderness Road Daniel Boone Frontier serial drama:722
July 25, 1936 Columbia Workshop Repertory cast “Broadway Evening”
August 1, 1936 Columbia Workshop Repertory cast “Cartwheel”
September 2, 1936 – August 1937 The Heinz Magazine of the Air John Serial drama segment, “Trouble House”:314
September 12, 1936 Columbia Workshop Repertory cast “A Voyage To Brobdingnag”
July 23 – September 3, 1937 Les Misérables Seven-episode weekly series
First drama by Orson Welles’s nascent Mercury Theatre radio company:338:391
August 30, 1937 Shakespearean Cycle “Twelfth Night”
September 26, 1937 –
September 11, 1938
The Shadow Commissioner Weston
Repertory cast
December 3, 1937 Grand Central Station Starring Martin Gabel
December 23, 1937 The Kate Smith Hour “Blessed Are They”
July 11, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Russian Captain “Dracula”:343:50
July 18, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Ben Gunn “Treasure Island”:344:50
July 25, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Prosecutor “A Tale of Two Cities”:344:51
August 1, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air “The Thirty-Nine Steps”:344
August 8, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air “My Little Boy”, “The Open Window”, “I’m a Fool”:345
August 15, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air “Abraham Lincoln”:345
August 22, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air “The Affairs of Anatol”:345
August 29, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Abbé Faria “The Count of Monte Cristo”:345:51
September 5, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air The Professor “The Man Who Was Thursday”:345:51
September 25, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Dr. Watson “Sherlock Holmes”:346:51
September 29, 1938 Columbia Workshop “The Lighthouse Keeper”
October 9, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air “Hell on Ice”:346
October 16, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Mr. Parcher “Seventeen”:346:52
October 23, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Detective Fix “Around the World in Eighty Days”:346:52
October 27, 1938 Columbia Workshop “Air Raid”:165–166
October 27, 1938 –
August 26, 1939
County Seat Doc Will Hackett Serial drama:182
October 30, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Mr. Wilmuth
Mr. Harry McDonald
Announcer from Broadcasting Building roof
“The War of the Worlds”:346
November 6, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Marlow “Heart of Darkness”, “Life with Father”:347:52
November 13, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air “A Passenger to Bali”:347
November 20, 1938 The Mercury Theatre on the Air Samuel Pickwick “The Pickwick Papers”:347
December 9, 1938 The Campbell Playhouse Frank Crawley “Rebecca”:348:32
December 15, 1938 Columbia Workshop “A Trip to Czardis”
December 16, 1938 The Campbell Playhouse “Call It a Day”:348
December 23, 1938 The Campbell Playhouse “A Christmas Carol”:348:52
December 30, 1938 The Campbell Playhouse “A Farewell to Arms”:348
1938 No Help Wanted The story of the WPA, produced for BBC broadcast by the radio division of the Federal Theatre Project:268–269
January 6, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Counsellor-at-Law”:349
January 13, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Thomas Birkitt “Mutiny on the Bounty”:349
January 20, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Hibbard “The Chicken Wagon Family”:349
January 27, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Faye “I Lost My Girlish Laughter”:350:53
February 3, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Professor Gottlieb “Arrowsmith”:350:52
February 10, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Dr. Traherne “The Green Goddess”:350:54
February 17, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Burlesque”:350
February 24, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “State Fair”:350
March 10, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Royal Regiment”:351
March 10, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Shad O’Rory “The Glass Key”:351
March 17, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Beau Geste”:351
March 24, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Oliver Webb “Twentieth Century”:351:54
March 31, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Windy “Show Boat”:351–352:54
April 2, 1939 Americans All, Immigrants All 26-episode CBS cultural documentary drama series produced by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the WPA:29–30
“Contributions in Science”
April 7, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Les Misérables”:351–352
April 9, 1939 Americans All, Immigrants All “Contributions in Arts and Crafts”
April 14, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “The Patriot”:352
April 15, 1939 Arch Oboler’s Plays “Three Plays of the Ways of Men”
April 16, 1939 Americans All, Immigrants All “Contributions in Social Progress”
April 23, 1939 Americans All, Immigrants All “A New England Town”
April 28, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Black Daniel”:352
April 30, 1939 Americans All, Immigrants All “An Industrial City”
May 5, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Wickford Point”:352
May 7, 1939 Americans All, Immigrants All “Grand Finale”
May 12, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Our Town”:352:55
May 19, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Uncle Phipps “The Bad Man”:352:55
May 26, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Repertory cast “American Cavalcade: The Things We Have”:352–353:56
May 12, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Victoria Regina”:353:56
July 20, 1939 Columbia Workshop “John Brown’s Body”
September 10, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Governor “Peter Ibbetson”:353:56
September 17, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Nat Miller “Ah, Wilderness!”:354:56
September 24, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Willy Cameron “What Every Woman Knows”:354:56
October 1, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Caderousse “The Count of Monte Cristo”:354
October 8, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Slimane:222 “Algiers”:354
October 15, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Murdered Cop
Forgiving Judge
Unforgiving Farmer
October 29, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Fred Amberson “The Magnificent Ambersons”:354:58
November 5, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Father Paul “The Hurricane”:355:58
November 12, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Mr. Raymond “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”:355:59
November 19, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Lt. de Trevignac “The Garden of Allah”:355:59
November 26, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Tubby “Dodsworth”:355:59
December 3, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Lost Horizon”:356
December 17, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse Nicky Shayne “There’s Always a Woman”:356
December 24, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “A Christmas Carol”:356:60
December 31, 1939 The Campbell Playhouse “Come and Get It”:356
January 14, 1940 The Campbell Playhouse Jed Waterbury “Theodora Goes Wild”:358:60
January 21, 1940 The Campbell Playhouse The Rector “The Citadel”:358:60
January 22, 1940 – Life Begins Alvin Craig Serial drama:394
January 28, 1940 The Campbell Playhouse “It Happened One Night”:358
April 18, 1940 Columbia Workshop “Three Strikes and You’re Out”
May 29, 1940 Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons “The Case of the Woman Who Wasn’t Needed”
June 5, 1940 Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons “The Case of the Woman Who Wasn’t Needed” (conclusion)
August 4, 1940 – Crime Doctor Dr. Benjamin Ordway Weekly crime drama:185–186
December 22, 1940 Columbia Workshop “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas”
April 6, 1941 The Free Company Bill Knaggs “His Honor, the Mayor”:362–363
May 9, 1941 Great Moments from Great Plays “Ceiling Zero”:201
June 9, 1941 Salute to Canada Lee Nationwide Mutual Network program that concludes with Canada Lee and Collins performing the last scene from Native Son
Cast: Paul Robeson (emcee), Eddie Anderson, Ray Collins, Duke Ellington, Canada Lee, Hattie McDaniel, Bill Robinson, Richard Wright
July 2, 1941 The Pursuit of Happiness Episode dramatizing John Peter Zenger’s fight for freedom of the press”
July 6, 1941 Columbia Workshop “Between Americans”
July 25, 1936 Columbia Workshop “Ann Was an Ordinary Girl”
August 24, 1941 Columbia Workshop “Job”
September 22, 1941 The Orson Welles Show The Devil Segment titled “The Right Side”:366
September 29, 1941 The Orson Welles Show Segment titled “The Interlopers”:367
October 6, 1941 The Orson Welles Show :367
October 20, 1941 The Orson Welles Show With cast members from The Magnificent Ambersons, which begins shooting the following week:367
November 3, 1941 The Orson Welles Show :367
November 10, 1941 The Orson Welles Show :367
November 16, 1941 Red Cross Roll Call Hour-long program on all major radio networks to benefit the American Red Cross
Cast: Judith Anderson, Lionel Barrymore, Roy Collins, Raymond Massey, Paul Muni (“Narrative in Red and White”)
December 1, 1941 The Orson Welles Show :368
December 15, 1941 Cavalcade of America “The Great Man Votes”, broadcast from Hollywood
December 22, 1941 The Orson Welles Show :368
January 12, 1942 The Orson Welles Show Phil “The Apple Tree”:369
January 19, 1942 The Orson Welles Show “My Little Boy”:369
April 20, 1942 Cavalcade of America “In This Crisis”
May 25, 1942 Cavalcade of America “Young Tom Jefferson”
June 14, 1942 Towards the Century of the Common Man UN Flag Day program
November 9, 1942 Ceiling Unlimited “The Flying Fortress”:374
November 22, 1942 Hello Americans “The Andes”:374
November 23, 1942 Ceiling Unlimited “The Navigator”:374
November 29, 1942 Hello Americans “The Islands”:375
January 31, 1943 Hello Americans “Bolivar’s Idea”:376
April 27, 1943 Suspense “The Diary of Saphronia Winters”
September 9, 1943 Suspense “Marry for Murder”
January 26, 1944 The Orson Welles Almanac :381
August 17, 1944 Suspense “The Diary of Saphronia Winters”
November 27, 1944 Cavalcade of America “Witness for the People”
December 19, 1944 This Is My Best Santa Claus “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas”:387
April 10, 1945 This Is My Best “The Master of Ballantrae”:390
November 13, 1945 This Is My Best “Colonel Paxton and the Haunted Horse”
May 14, 1946 This Is My Best “Tugboat Annie Sails Again”:501

Film and television credits

Year Title Role Notes
1930 Scotch Love Short:54
1930 The Substitute Short:55
1930 The Pest of Honor Short:60
1930 Masquerade Short:64
1931 Snakes Alive Mr. Schofield Penrod short:74
1931 The Season’s Greetings Mr. Schofield Short
1932 His Honor, Penrod Mr. Schofield Penrod short:78
1932 Hot Dog Mr. Schofield Penrod short:79
1932 The Side Show Mystery Short:81
1932 Murder in the Pullman Short:81
1932 The Transatlantic Mystery Short:84
1932 Lonesome Manor Short
1932 If I’m Elected Short:82
1932 You’re Killing Me Short:82
1940 Citizen Kane trailer Himself, Jim W. Gettys Short:360
1941 Citizen Kane Jim W. Gettys Feature film debut
1942 The Magnificent Ambersons Jack Amberson
1942 The Big Street Professor B
1942 Highways by Night Uncle Ben
1942 The Navy Comes Through Captain McCall
1943 Commandos Strike at Dawn Bergesen
1943 The Human Comedy Mr. Matthew Macauley
1943 Slightly Dangerous Snodgrass
1943 Crime Doctor Dr. John Carey
1943 Salute to the Marines Colonel Mason
1943 Whistling in Brooklyn Grover Kendall
1944 Madame Curie Lecturer’s voice
1944 See Here, Private Hargrove Brodie S. Griffith
1944 The Hitler Gang Cardinal Faulhaber
1944 The Eve of St. Mark Deckman West
1944 The Seventh Cross Ernst Wallau
1944 Barbary Coast Gent Johnny Adair
1944 Can’t Help Singing Senator Martin Frost
1945 Roughly Speaking Mr. Randall
1945 The Unseen off-screen Narrator uncredited
1945 The Hidden Eye Phillip Treadway
1945 Leave Her to Heaven Glen Robie
1946 Up Goes Maisie Mr. Floyd Hendrickson
1946 Miss Susie Slagle’s Dr. Elijah Howe
1946 Badman’s Territory Colonel Farewell
1946 Night in Paradise Leonides
1946 Boys’ Ranch David Banton
1946 Three Wise Fools Judge Watson
1946 Crack-Up Dr. Lowell
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives Mr. Milton
1946 Two Years Before the Mast Mr. Gordon Stewart
1946 The Return of Monte Cristo Emil Blanchard
1947 The Red Stallion Barton
1947 The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer Dr. Matt Beemish
1947 The Senator Was Indiscreet Fred Houlihan
1948 The Swordsman Mac-Ian MacArden
1948 Homecoming Lt. Col. Avery Silver
1948 Good Sam Reverend Daniels
1948 For the Love of Mary Harvey Elwood
1948 Command Decision Major Desmond Lansing
1948 The Man from Colorado Big Ed Carter
1949 Hideout Arthur Burdette
1949 Red Stallion in the Rockies Matthew Simpson
1949 It Happens Every Spring Professor Greenleaf
1949 The Fountainhead Enright
1949 Free for All Mr. A. B. Blair
1949 The Heiress Jefferson Almond
1950 Francis Colonel Hooker
1950 Paid in Full Dr. Fredericks
1950 The Reformer and the Redhead Commodore John Balwind Parker
1950 Summer Stock Jasper G. Wingait
1950 Kill the Umpire Jonah Evans
1951 Vengeance Valley Arch Strobie
1951 You’re in the Navy Now Rear Adm. L. E. Tennant
1951 Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm Jonathan Parker
1951 Reunion in Reno Judge Thomas Kneeland
1951 The Racket Mortimer X. Welsh
1951 I Want You Judge Turner
1952 Invitation Dr. Warren Pritchard
1952 Young Man with Ideas Edmund Jethrow
1952 Dreamboat Timothy Stone
1953 Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation Jonathan Parker
1953 The Desert Song Gen. Birabeau
1953 Column South Brig. Gen. Storey
1953 The Kid from Left Field Fred F. Whacker
1953 Bad for Each Other Dan Reasonover
1953 Cavalcade of America Daniel Webster TV episode “The Last Will of Daniel Webster”
1954 Rose Marie Inspector Appleby
1954 Athena Mr. Tremaine
1954 Lux Video Theatre Barton Keyes TV episode “Double Indemnity”
1954–1955 The Halls of Ivy Merriweather TV series:308
1955 The Desperate Hours Sheriff Masters
1955 Texas Lady Micah Ralston
1955 Climax! Jerome Harris TV episode “The Champion”
1955 You Are There P. T. Barnum TV episode “P. T. Barnum Presents Jenny Lind”
1955 Science Fiction Theatre Milton Otis TV episode “The Frozen Sound”
1955 Science Fiction Theatre Hugh Fredericks TV episode “Target Hurricane”
1955 The 20th Century Fox Hour Judge Harper TV episode “The Miracle on 34th Street”
1956 Ford Star Jubilee Oliver Webb TV episode “Twentieth Century”:420
1956 Front Row Center Crocker TV episode “The Challenge”
1956 Never Say Goodbye Dr. Bailey
1956 The Solid Gold Cadillac Alfred Metcalfe
1956 Science Fiction Theatre Dr. Paul Sinclair TV episode “Sound That Kills”
1956 Zane Grey Theatre Evan Gracie TV episode “The Long Road Home”
1956 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Herbert Brenner TV episode “Conversation Over a Corpse”
1956 The Joseph Cotten Show Corbett TV episode “The Trial of Mary Surratt”
1957 Spoilers of the Forest Eric Warren
1957 Playhouse 90 Harris Clayton TV episode “Invitation to a Gunfighter”
1957–1964 Perry Mason Lieutenant Arthur Tragg TV series:590
1958 Touch of Evil Adair
1960 I’ll Give My Life John Bradford

External Links

Actor Ray Collins – Wikipedia

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