Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In Memoriam: Ray Collins

The reason for the post being a day early this week is that it was on July 11th, 1965, when Ray Collins passed away.

While pondering on exactly what sort of content this post should have, I’ve been re-reading some biographical information. Wow, he was one amazing man! By all accounts, he kept very busy from the time he first started acting on the stage, at age 14. And later on he had quite a career in radio, too, performing in various adaptions of literary classics and other things.

There are many movies he was in that I have yet to see. And some I saw so many years ago that I remember very little of them now and have need to see them again.

I’ve been thinking on Lieutenant Tragg of late, too. Upon re-watching The Loquacious Liar I discovered that I have been mis-stating the number of years Tragg says he’s been on the police force. I have no idea how I remembered thirty years as almost twenty-five. Nor do I have any idea exactly how I am going to repair all such references in stories. I’ll be very subtly trying to change it here and there in past stories, since no one else seems to have noticed or commented on the mistake.

Tragg’s life before he was on the force is a closed book. I think the mention of him being around for thirty years might be the most background information we ever have on him. That, and his sad admission that after all this time, informing someone of a loved one’s death has never gotten easier. While Tragg has a lot of great screentime in The Clumsy Clown, I love that little scene in The Loquacious Liar most. It’s certainly one of his best and most compassionate scenes, along with scenes in The Fugitive Nurse from season 1 and The Hateful Hero from season 6.

I might go so far as to say that those four episodes, and also The Moth-Eaten Mink, may just be the five best Tragg episodes across the entire series. But then again, there’s so many wonderful episodes with Tragg in seven seasons that it’s difficult to narrow it down! Tragg is prominent in The Moth-Eaten Mink, The Fugitive Nurse, and The Clumsy Clown, but The Hateful Hero is really Andy’s episode, and I don’t recall if The Loquacious Liar featured Tragg more than usual. So perhaps those latter two would instead count among a list of the best Tragg scenes, rather than Tragg episodes overall.

Come to think of it, Tragg never really got a spotlight episode, per se. I should give him a spotlight story. I try to rotate among the cast, and the Andy/Amory Fallon mystery is still planned to be next. Tragg will certainly play a large part in that, being as close to Andy as he is, but I should also have one where Tragg is the central character.

I became advised of the existence of a Perry computer game made in 1985 (possibly to promote the first reunion film, I wonder?), and yesterday I looked it up. Perry Mason: The Case of the Mandarin Murder is a fascinating early effort at a mystery and detective game along the lines of the popular Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes games today. It deserves an in-depth post all its own, so for now I will just focus on what’s seen of Tragg in what I saw of someone’s walkthrough of the first sixteen minutes of the game. (That’s viewable on YouTube, for anyone interested in having a look!) I will also mention that the time period was clearly moved to the present-day of that time (the 1980s, but what I saw could also double as our present-day), and without harming characters or plot, much to my delight!

The game seems to be a curious mixture of the books and the television series. Having seen very little of the game (I wonder if that person will upload his walkthrough of the rest of it), I base that opinion mostly on the description of Lieutenant Tragg. The only thing that really sounded like Ray Collins’ Tragg was the inclusion of his whimsical smile. Otherwise, it sounded like a Tragg I don’t really know. He was mentioned as being as tall as Perry, with a suit five years out of style and yellowed teeth from years of cigar smoking.

Tragg smoking cigars? That’s an image I’m having a hard time calling to mind—so much so that it’s amusing me more than anything else. It sounds so very out-of-character for Ray’s Tragg. I can’t recall him ever lighting a cigar.

(None of the characters smoke at all in my stories, by the way. Despite the present-day setting I give them, I tried to move everything of the time period over from the series, right down to the fedoras. But smoking cigarettes is about the one thing I refused to bring over. Yes, trying to picture Tragg with a cigar amuses me because it sounds so ridiculously out-of-character, but the general act of anyone smoking cigars or cigarettes doesn’t amuse me one bit.)

And a suit five years out of style? Well, I suppose as a modern viewer I wouldn’t be a good judge, but I always thought Tragg was a snappy and up-to-date dresser. I just can’t see him wearing something so long out of style. Although on the other hand, Tragg is stubborn and wants his own way, and if he had a suit that he thought was especially neat, I can picture him insisting on continuing to wear it whether it went out of style or not.

As for being as tall as Perry, well, I’m pretty sure that does come from the books. In addition to being around Perry’s age (a notation not mentioned in the game).

As Hamilton begins questioning Tragg, he asks how long Tragg has been on the police force. Tragg says it’s been twenty years, and also mentions that he has been the Chief of the Homicide division for some time.

(Can a lieutenant be the chief of a division? I’m curious. I thought the captains were the ones over the divisions. Upon looking up the query here:, it seems the game’s answer was likely incorrect, or at least, very simplified at best.)

Concerning the twenty years bit, I suppose one could decide that the game’s events simply take place long before the events of the TV series, since in the first episode all of the Core Five (Perry, Della, Paul, Hamilton, and Tragg) already know each other quite well. But considering how the game’s Tragg just doesn’t quite gel with Ray’s, I’d be more inclined to say that the game created a separate “universe” to play in, not fully part of either the book or the television universes.

The game Tragg actually sounded fairly similar to Ray’s Tragg when he spoke at an earlier point in the game. It was mainly the descriptions that threw me off.

Despite liking Dane Clark’s Tragg, of course it’s Ray’s interpretation that instantly comes to mind when I think of the character. Ray Collins was iconic in that role.

So much so that on his headstone, it even bills him as Lt. Tragg under his name.

I know you’re shining wherever you are right now, Ray. And down here, we still love and miss you. You will always be our Lieutenant Tragg.

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