Thursday, December 10, 2015

Birthday Post: Ray Collins

I couldn't let December 10th pass by without acknowledging Ray Collins' birthday. It was on this day in 1889 when this amazing person and actor came into the world. He was inspired at an early age to want to become an actor and showed that he definitely had the talent for it. He was only rarely out of work once he began his long career, working on the stage and in radio as well as in movies and on television. He was widely respected and well-liked.

I was looking over his Wikipedia page before coming here, and I read something I have never heard before. Apparently, the reason his name was kept in the credits after he could no longer return to the show was because Gail Patrick Jackson knew he watched the show each week and she didn't want to discourage him by removing his name from the credits. That is awesome and very moving. It doesn't quite explain why his name was left there for the rest of season 8, even after his death, but I suspect my original idea, that it was out of respect and sadness. They probably couldn't stand to take his name away when the grief was too fresh. And they wanted to continue to acknowledge the great impact he had on the show. In any case, I'm sure he continued to be there in spirit.

As season 4 marches on, I continue to enjoy Ray's wonderful work as Lieutenant Tragg. He portrayed the character so brilliantly, with a mixture of grouchiness, sarcasm, intelligence, and caring, and he made it work each and every time. Lieutenant Tragg is larger-than-life, but at the same time he feels three-dimensional and real. He isn't just a cardboard cut-out character that gets trounced by Perry all the time.

Sadly, the writing was already on the wall that something wasn't right. While Sergeant Brice is absent for most of the early season 4 episodes, he returns the same time Hamilton does, in The Fickle Fortune. In both that and the next episode, The Waylaid Wolf, Brice takes part much more than he generally did before. He and Tragg are both present in the first of those episodes, but Brice still handles a lot of the needed conversations and both of them are questioned in court. Brice even sits in the gallery for the rest of the court scenes, something he doesn't often do. The next episode has him carrying it alone, including the court scenes. This happens several more times in season 4.

Although I love Sergeant Brice and delight to see him gain more screentime, I'm saddened by the reason why it happened. We've entered the point in the show where Tragg is being gradually, quietly phased out, and it's never quite the same afterwards.

There are still occasions where Tragg has a lot of screentime, however. The next episode, The Wintry Wife, features him in a lot of the investigation scenes along with Victor Chamberlin, in what is probably his highlight episode. This isn't the time to discuss Chamberlin (maybe next time), but I will mention that they made a fun team and it was enjoyable seeing Chamberlin get out in the field for a while . . . even though I of course would have liked it even more if it had been Hamilton with Tragg. (Or Sampson. Sampson in the field would have been epic.)

My dad complained while watching The Married Moonlighter several months ago that Tragg is often quite rude. I'll admit that that particular episode probably isn't his best moment; the scene where the husband is arrested and the wife is so upset and crying is quite haunting. At the same time, though, I could relate to Tragg looking to the wife but saying nothing. Sometimes it's so difficult to know what to say in such situations. What there is to say can seem so trite. Perhaps Tragg just didn't know how to say anything that might help, so he felt it was better to say nothing at all. In other episodes he usually does try to say something to the one left behind; maybe his experience in this episode made him decide that finding something to say was better than silence.

Dad was no doubt also referring to Tragg's many sarcastic cracks throughout the series. On that matter, I have to say that I love his snark and always look forward to what sort of comment he'll make next. Out of everyone in the main cast, Tragg is most likely the funniest. The way he says things, like responding to Adam West being Captain Obvious in The Bogus Books, is classic. "Oh, why thank you. I might never have figured that out!" Even Perry seemed to find that one amusing.

Tragg counters that irony with genuine concern and caring for people. One of my favorite serious Tragg scenes is in The Loquacious Liar, when he comes into the boat company's meeting room and tries to soberly and kindly tell the victim's wife that her husband is dead. He also expresses concern for Perry in the same episode, telling him he hopes Perry's old war injury isn't anything serious. His friendship with Andy is also something special. Despite being short, the scene in The Hateful Hero where Tragg comes to tell Andy of Otto Norden's death is quite poignant and powerful. Tragg is completely serious and sad, knowing how bad Andy will feel. His voice even cracks slightly as he tells him to get his hat and come. This is likely unintentional as part of the script and was an error in delivery, possibly due to Ray's sadly waning health, but it really works and makes the scene feel so much more real than if the delivery had been entirely polished.

Tragg is such a fun and multi-faceted character. There is always something new to discover about Ray's perfect portrayal of this gruff veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. Happy Birthday to the wonderful actor and human being who brought him to life as no one else ever could! You will always be remembered and loved.

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