Saturday, July 11, 2015

In Memoriam: Ray Collins

And so we come to another July 11th, the anniversary of Ray Collins’ death. The problem of figuring out new things to say remains, but my respect and admiration of this highly talented and warmhearted man persists as well.

Every time we finish another run of Perry and switch to the early episodes, what I look forward to the most is seeing Tragg again. All the other characters seen at the beginning are still there at the end, albeit more mature and wise than they were to start with, but Tragg is very sadly absent. It’s always a joy to see him in the early episodes and hear those hilarious, snarky comments once again.

The first three-ish seasons have that special bond between the Core Five that was never duplicated in later seasons, even when they were together again after the real-life scandal that split the group up. By mid-season 4, when William Talman was finally restored to his rightful place in the cast, Ray Collins’ health was already deteriorating. The search for what to do began in season 4, not 5, as I have noted in another post.

Perhaps in some way, the real-life sorrows that plagued the actors had carried over to the characters at that point. There’s a certain innocence in those early seasons, as though the characters and the actors all think that everything is well and although there are problems to get through, they will all come out just fine in the end. That innocence was shattered for the actors when William Talman was suspended, and only grew worse when Ray’s health began to fail. Naturally, even after the actors and characters were all reunited, they could not fully be the same people they had been in the beginning. While Hamilton had not been suspended in the scripts, and Tragg was still healthy as far as we knew, the actors’ problems and sorrows were new, subtle elements to the characters. The innocence of the early seasons was gone; sometimes things didn’t turn out alright, or when they did, there were still scars left behind.

Tragg, of course, continued to be awesome right up through his final episode, season 7’s The Capering Camera. Always snarky even while he respects Perry, some of Tragg’s most amusing comments were among his last. I think of the scene in The Reluctant Model when Perry receives the call from “a client who no longer wants to be a client.” Tragg’s dry response is, “My heart bleeds for you.” Heh! And his final episode includes the classic scene where Andy comes to him for advice and Tragg suggests that Andy consider Perry his prime suspect and follow him around for a while, if he’s so uncertain that the apparent suicide is really suicide.

Yet even in these scenes, there’s still a definite sense that things are changing. Tragg seems somewhat worn-down in The Reluctant Model; in past seasons, he might have been perkier and cheerier, with some nice comment for Della in specific or some note of goodwill for both of them, despite his annoyance with whatever Perry might be holding back this time. And in The Capering Camera, during that scene where he advises Andy, he’s sitting down at his desk. It also definitely looks like the reins are being turned over to Andy, since he is the one in charge of the case and Tragg is not involved (although he becomes involved later).

Still, they wanted to show that Tragg is still a very active and important member of the police force. He’s very busy at his desk, with plenty to do, and in the majority of his other scenes in the episode, he’s standing up. He gets out in the field and does some investigating and picking up of suspects later on, and the final time we see him, he’s again standing, in the courtroom.

That’s a good memory to take with us of Tragg’s last episode. I still like to picture him carrying on through the remainder of the series, even though we don’t see him onscreen. Ray Collins brought to life such a wonderful, colorful character for us to enjoy and celebrate again and again, and I will continue to do just that.
Thank you, Ray, for all the happy memories and each episode that features Lieutenant Arthur Tragg. Ray played many amazing characters in films, but Tragg will always be the most iconic of all of his characters.


  1. I enjoy your intelligent, insightful comments. Perry Mason was a fantastic show and Lt. Tragic was my favorite character.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment! Lt. Tragg was a great character indeed. There will never be another like him.