Orson Welles fans know Ray Collins (1889-1965) from Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Touch of Evil (1958) as well his various radio shows, and the 1941 Broadway production of Native Son. But there is much in back of that which sheds light on why Welles thought so highly of him.
Collin’s middle name (Bidwell) honored his maternal uncle John Bidwell, a California pioneer and one-term Congressman. His father William Calderwood Collins was drama critic for the Sacramento Bee; his uncle Ulric Collins was a Broadway actor, best known for appearing in the original production of Way Down East. Ray began acting professionally as a teenager.
In 1909 he married actress Margaret Marriott, with whom her performed in a team in vaudeville and in stock companies until their divorce in 1924.
He appeared in seven Broadway plays between 1924 and 1931, beginning with The Blue Bandana and ending with Paging Danger. Broadway took a hit with the advent of the Great Depression, but fortunately he had begun acting in Vitagraph shorts in 1930, helping to bridge the gap. The best remembered of these were a series of Penrod shorts, adapted from the Booth Tarkington books, a prescient development in light of his later casting in Ambersons. He also began working heavily in radio. His professional involvement with Welles on the air began in 1934.
The Welles films led to nearly 100 additional screen credits, including The Human Comedy (1943), Whistling in Brooklyn (1943), Up Goes Maisie (1946), Badmen’s Territory (1946), Crack-Up (1946), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (1947), The Fountainhead (1949), The Heiress (1949), Francis (1950), Kill the Umpire (1950), Summer Stock (1950), a couple of the Ma and Pa Kettle movies, and The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956). In the 50s, he also worked a lot in television, culminating with a regular role on Perry Mason, on which he appeared from 1957 until his death in 1965.
To learn more about vaudeville, where Ray Collins got his start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous
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