Friday, February 15, 2013

Richard Collins R.I.P.

Richard Collins, screenwriter and later producer on the TV show Bonanza, died at age 98 on 14 February 2013. The cause was pneumonia.

Richard Collins was born on 20 July 1914 in New York City. He attended Stanford University in Stanford, California briefly before returning to New York City. In 1936 while he joined the Young Communist League while taking classes at the New Theatre League. He returned to California where he took a job at Bloomingdales in Los Angeles as he sought work in the film industry.

Mr. Collins started his career in film as a script reader at Columbia Pictures. It was not long before he became a writer at Fox. His first credited screenplay was Rulers of the Sea, co-written with Frank Cavett and Talbot Jennings, in 1939. In the early Forties he wrote or co-wrote the sceenplays of the films One Crowded Night (1940), Lady Scarface (1941), Journey Into Fear (1943), Thousands Cheer (1943), Song of Russia (1944), and Little Giant (1946).

Unfortunately for Mr. Collins, his former Communist ties would come to light in the Forties. In 1947 he was one 19 screenwriters called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). At the time he was not asked to testify before the committee, but his career stalled nonetheless. He was called before HUAC again in 1951, at which time he named more than 20 former friends and colleagues as sympathetic to Communism. It was an action that he would late regret.

Regardless, Richard Collins' career would resume in the Fifties. He wrote or co-wrote the stories or screenplays of such films as China Venture (1953), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954), Cult of the Cobra (1955), Kiss of Fire (1955), My Gun Is Quick (1957), Spanish Affair (1957), The Badlanders (1958), and Pay or Die (1960). Mr. Collins did uncredited work on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He also broke into television in the Fifties, writing episodes of Gruen Guild Playhouse, General Electric Theatre, Maverick, Wagon Train, The Third Man, The Detectives, Bat Masterson, and Route 66.

In the Sixties Richard Collins shifted to television. He wrote for such shows as The Untouchables, The Roaring Twenties, 87th Precinct, Cheyenne, Daniel Boone, and It Takes a Thief. He broke into television production in the Sixties. He produced the short lived series The Breaking Point  and two episodes of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre before becoming the line producer on Bonanza for many years. From the Seventies to the Nineties he wrote episodes of such shows as Bonanza, Remington Steele, Spenser: for Hire, Matlock, and Diagnosis Murder. He served as a producer on such shows as The Family Holvak, The Oregon Trail, and Matlock.

Richard Collins' testimony before HUAC seems unforgivable and indefensible. I must admit that it is something I find reprehensible myself. That having been said, it is easy for those of who did not live through those times to condemn those, such as Mr. Collins, as well as director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg, for naming names. At that time one refusal to testify before HUAC and refusal to name names could well mean the end of one's career or even prison. As it was, some who cooperated with HUAC, however reluctantly, such as Larry Parks, found themselves blacklisted nonetheless. I then think it could be difficult for any of us would do in such a position.

Regardless of what one thinks of Richard Collins' testimony before HUAC, the fact remains that he was a good screenwriter and producer. His work in Hollywood was solid for the most part, including such films as Thousands Cheer and Journey into Fear. As a television producer he churned out several good seasons of Bonanza and, while I would not call it a classic, Matlock was an entertaining show. Regardless of what one might think of his activities during the Red Scare, Richard Collins had talent as a producer and writer.

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