Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Memoriam: Ray Collins

I have just become aware that the many novels in The Saint series are being republished. About half are out now, with the other half due at the end of the month. With so many, it was definitely a good move to publish in chunks instead of just one or two at a time.

Armed with this intriguing news, I started wondering if there might possibly be some activity on the Perry Mason book front as well. So I went to look. It seems some of the books are now available as Kindle editions to be downloaded? If anyone likes the idea of E-books and has a Kindle, it would be worth looking into. Me, I still prefer traditional books.

Some of them appear to be available in hardback editions in addition to E-books, and they seem to be shiny and new, as they are offered by Amazon proper and not just in the Marketplace. The paperback versions, unfortunately, do not seem to be getting republished. Hardbacks are lovely, but so expensive! I did see at least one paperback that appears to be available new, The Horrified Heirs. It’s an edition from 1995. The title amuses me more than it probably should.

I believe I heard that The Saint television series adapted every one of the original novels in some way. That information might be incorrect, but in any case I’ve been curious more than once over why Perry didn’t do the same thing. The Horrified Heirs is one that was never a television episode, as are quite a few others.

Not that I’m complaining, really; I greatly enjoy most of the screenplays that were not books first. But I just wonder why they didn’t want to adapt all of the Perry books.

With the 11th as the anniversary of Ray Collins’ death, I have been planning a Tragg post. It’s been a great deal of fun re-watching his scenes in season 1. He is one of the best things about the early episodes: snarky and cynical, always with a hilarious quip or two for Perry. But, being a very three-dimensional character, he also shows a very gentle and compassionate side when needed. The Fugitive Nurse is one of my favorite examples of that, as is season 4’s The Loquacious Liar. He speaks so kindly to the widows of the murder victims, showing definite awareness of their feelings and their fragile states.

I find it interesting how often Perry turns to Tragg when he needs help from the prosecuting side. At this point in time, he apparently knows or at least feels that he cannot go to Hamilton for such help. Perhaps he honestly doesn’t want to, either, as I recall him saying in one season 1 episode that he deliberately left Hamilton guessing about the identity of the murderer because he wasn’t about to admit that Hamilton had been right about something. I think it might be the footprints episode? That one should be coming up soon, but I can’t remember its name.

Anyway, it shows an interesting bit of apparent pride on Perry’s part. He’s not just a squeaky-clean victim of Hamilton’s wild accusations. Sometimes the accusations are at least partially deserved, and sometimes, it would seem, Perry can be a bit petty and just doesn’t want to do anything that nice towards Hamilton (although I suppose it could be argued that Perry’s reasoning is that he thinks if he admits Hamilton was right on something, Hamilton will become all the more overconfident). But the problems between them are on both sides.

Tragg is right in the middle of it all. On the one hand, he works closely with Hamilton on putting the cases together. He’s on the prosecuting side and to that end, is Perry’s adversary. On the other hand, even when Hamilton isn’t that willing to associate with Perry any more than he has to, Tragg will sometimes just drop in for a little visit during or after a case. He respects Perry and is intrigued by how his mind works, whereas Hamilton is endlessly frustrated by such—albeit even in some early episodes he shows a certain interest for how Perry solves some of the cases.

Perry reciprocates by trusting Tragg at multiple times and sometimes taking him into a confidence. A large part of The Silent Partner involves Perry and Tragg working together on the puzzling case. Of course, there’s also the epic climax of The Moth-Eaten Mink, with Perry telling Tragg of his suspicions off-camera and bringing Tragg back to the office to wait for the confrontation with the murderer. And there are several other occasions in the early episodes where Perry drops in at Tragg’s office or calls him for assistance on a particular matter or to present a theory to him.

One of my favorite elements of the series has always been Perry and Hamilton’s friendship. But Perry and Tragg really have a great one too, and one that shines quite some time before we see Perry and Hamilton’s really begin to grow.

It’s true—Tragg’s quiet disappearance from the series left quite a lonely gap. The episodes are definitely missing something without him there. Perry doesn’t match wits and barbs with the other police like he does with Tragg. I love the others dearly, but naturally they can’t fully replace such a unique and wonderful character. I’m still very glad the writers didn’t even attempt such a thing and took a different path for the others. Really, there can only be one Tragg for this version of Perry Mason. Ray Collins just took on the role so beautifully and immortalized the character.

Dane Clark did very well when he tried playing Tragg in the 1970’s remake, making the character his own. Luckily, he didn’t struggle to emulate Ray Collins. That would have been a disaster. Ray Collins was one of a kind, a true individual. And when Perry fans think of our beloved Lieutenant Tragg, it is almost always Ray Collins’ interpretation in our minds.

Ray Collins left us on July 11th, 1965, but the characters he brought into existence live on.


  1. Anon 2

    Nice tribute ,LL.

    I only saw one or two or the re-makes of Perry. I will always wonder why Gail Patrick Jackson and her hubby took that leap as soon as they did. It was doomed to failure, and it didn't help that Burr's presence loomed still very large on tv when they launched the re-make as he had a hit on his hands with "Ironside." I'd love to know the inside scoop on the Jacksons' decision to go ahead with the re-make. Maybe it's as simple as a network saying it was a "go," and producers rarely turn down a chance to make money as the chance might never come around again. From what I remember reading, both the producers and the network felt that the actors and the planned characterizations were sufficiently different from the original cast and their portrayals that they felt it had a real chance to be seen as a different vehicle. For instance, I remember Monte Markham saying "his" Mason would be much more a man-on-the-go and "athletic," a dig, I thought at the time, at Burr's Mason, who was urbane and later, portly.

    Forgive my digression. Your mention of Dane Clark sparked a memory. He was good, but that didn't surprise me at the time because he was a superb actor. I recall as a kid watching many, many Dane Clark performances, both in movies and on tv. It reminds me that actors of that era (I've read this many times too, from directors) were really trained actors with talent, not at all like many of the people in movies and on tv shows today.

    We've spoken before of how the loss of Collins affected the show from the audience's standpoint, but thinking about my own experience in working with the same people for many years, I would imagine his absence was felt acutely by the other four main actors, felt in a very personal sense. In some ways, I wonder if that affected the energy that they once brought to their roles, diminished it in some ways. Maybe some of the fun went out of it all, for a time, at least. It was a family, and they lost a family member. They definitely entered a new stage when they lost his presence.

    From what I understand, Collins was a bright, engaging, fun gentleman. As I understand it, they felt he would get well and come back, but at some point, it became obvious he couldn't. I recall my father saying, "I miss Tragg."

    1. Thank you!

      Yes, I would be very interested to know why the remake happened so soon as well. It seems a very ridiculous move. But the characterizations were fairly different, it's true, so I could believe that they thought that would help.

      Interesting that Monte Markham felt his Perry would be so different. When I saw the remake, he seemed to be trying so hard to channel Raymond's Perry that it was extremely cringe-worthy. Although his desire to be more athletic probably wouldn't have affected the actual dialogue very much, so he could have wanted to be more on-the-go while trying to keep Raymond's dialogue and delivery.

      Dane Clark really was good, though. I definitely believe that actors were mostly more capable in the past. There's a few modern actors I like these days, but not a whole lot.

      Oooh yes, very good point. I'm sure it was like losing a family member. That's even sadder that for a while they thought Ray Collins would still be able to come back.

    2. They say you never truly die if someone remembers you.Nice tribute Ladybug.
      Monte Markham took several swipes at Burr for reasons unknown.I can't imagine it helped him at all.He said he would remember his lines rather than use a teleprompter and also that his opinion of Burr wasn't a favorable one.Whatever that meant.

    3. Thank you! :)

      Yikes. I had no idea. That is strange that he appeared to be trying to emulate Raymond's delivery of the dialogue, then. I didn't like his attempt to portray the character at all; it felt so stiff and unbelievable.

    4. anon 2,

      to marsha mellow...interesting that Markham took "several swipes at Burr." I had concluded that a natural question tv writers would have asked Markham prior to the show's premiere was, "How is your Mason going to differ from Burr's?"

      I figured that Markham's "dig," as I called it, was probably the result of an ill-advised defensiveness he might have felt if the world of Hollywood and its writers were pressing him about how he'd distinguish himself and his character from Burr and the character that the nation still associated with Burr. I figured he must have felt some real pressure. If nothing else, his remarks seemed ungracious.

      Markham was a familiar face to tv watchers. I never liked him. It's one of those things that's simply personal. I had a viscerally negative reaction to his voice, the expressions of his face, etc. I also remember that he was literally stiff-necked. :) Yes, even his ramrod neck and his posture left me cold.
      It just goes to show that one can never discount the individual and unconscious and/or just-beneath- the-surface reactions we have to other people/actors.

      On Saturday nights, as a kid, I sometimes spent the night at my best friend's house. Her parents watched Lawrence Welk rather than Perry (oh my, my dad would NEVER have watched Welk--remember, this was the era of one tv homes). One such Sat. night, my friend asked if we could watch "Perry Mason" rather than listen to another polka, and my friend's dad, whom I dearly loved, said, "I can't stand that guy!" I was mortified, but of course, said nothing. I learned early on that not everyone loved Raymond Burr and Perry. :)

    5. Oh yes, ungracious is definitely a good word for it.

      I pretty much could take or leave Monte Markham; I liked some of his characters and didn't like some of his others. I'm not sure I'll like him too much now, though. He definitely could have been more courteous.

      LOL. Yes, unfortunately, there are always haters out there. Some are just more diplomatic than others.

  2. Not only Markham but others connected with the show.One producer said "with all due respect to Raymond Burr he did not create Perry Mason"It may true he didn't write the books but he certainly brought him to life for a generation of people.
    I totally understand your surprise about not everyone liking Raymond Burr.I discovered him as a child when Ironside was in it's first run and loved the show.I couldn't imagine anyone not liking it .

    1. Indeed, for many people Raymond Burr is the quintessential Perry Mason.

      Well, it's not so much surprise that Monte Markham didn't like him, but that he was so harsh about it.

      Ironside is definitely awesome too.

  3. By the way, did any of you know that Mr. Collins headstone actually reads "Lt. Tragg" as well. That is so sweet.

    If you search for Ray Collins on, you'll find a picture of the headstone. I came across the picture while researching Mr. Collins and couldn't stop grinning for the next half an hour or so.

    Maybe that's the beauty of it all: that people who are long gone left something behind that can still brighten our lives.

    1. Yep, I've seen that picture too. :) That really is neat!

      I definitely agree with that. It's lovely that Ray Collins brightened so many lives as Lieutenant Tragg that it would be part of his memorial.