Sometime in the early 2000s I was taking a writing class through the fabulous UCLA Writing Extension program. Since it was LA and a writing course, I encountered all kinds of people. I remember in one class I was talking to two attractive blonde women – one was an ex-model and the other owned a production company. In short, they were two people I had absolutely nothing in common with. I’m not sure exactly why it came up, but in a desperate attempt to make awkward conversation I mentioned how cute I thought Gary Collins was. The two women smiled and nodded, then they both replied, “I like Gary too.” And we bonded.
I think Gary had that effect on a lot of women. I grew up watching him in just about everything. From TV movies to episodics to B flicks to the host of Hour Magazine (and then The Home Show), Gary was a welcoming constant in my life. I think I was most smitten with his gorgeous voice, which I hear so clearly now as I write this. He also had a sweet and gentle manner on film, and contrary to popular belief, I am often drawn to the good guys.
Gary was born in Venice, CA in 1938 and he got his start in entertainment while he was serving in the armed forces (his first performance was in a production of Stalag 17). He was in a few movies before he landed a small part in a 1965 Kraft Suspense Theater episode titled The Rise and Fall of Eddie Carew. Gary’s character was named “1st Newsman.” From there he began to build a solid resume on the small screen and by 1966 he we co-starring alongside Dale Robertson in The Iron Horse. It was during his run on this series that he married Mary Ann Mobley who was a former Miss America (she took the crown home in 1959). They stayed married until his death and had one child, a daughter (he had two other children from a previous marriage). The couple made many appearances together and were often seen side by side on games shows and even touring musicals! Gary talked about doing summer stock with his wife in an interview once. He said, “We have a great time. Mary Ann and I and the baby go all over. That’s a fun time of year for us. You always go someplace nice, there’s always a swimming pool, and the baby gets brown as a berry. It’s great fun.”
Gary continued to appear on television throughout the 70s and is probably best known for his role in The Sixth Sense, which was a midseason replacement on ABC during the 1972 season. The series was about a professor and his assistant who pursued cases of the paranormal. It was actually an extremely retooled spinoff of the excellent tele-film Sweet, Sweet Rachel. The shooting schedule was intense and Gary commented, “It’s an hour show, you know. It’s supposed to take six days but we have yet to do it in six. The closest we’ve ever come was six days working very late at night, and another half day for special effects. Special effects take up a lot of time on a show like this.” Gary felt like the first episodes were not what the series was aiming for, but he remarked that eventually they got “to shoot the shows they were aiming at.” Unfortunately, The Sixth Sense was met with lackluster ratings and only 25 episodes aired. It was eventually edited into a fairly confusing half hour program that aired in syndication with Night Gallery episodes. After The Sixth Sense, Gary continued to work steadily on television, appearing on pretty much everything. My favorite performance of his is from The Thriller episode Dial a Deadly Number.
He enjoyed a career makeover in 1980 when he became the host of Hour Magazine, and honestly, this is where I got my groove-on for Gary. I was a pretty big fan of the show, and found he was an affable host with a terrifically strong and sexy voice. He was a natural at it and said in an interview, “I find there is a truth that will prevail if you are able to just go with it. By that, I mean you acknowledge what is going on without trying to control the discussion.” He was a runaway success and Hour Magazine ran for 9 years. During his tenure there, he hosted his first Miss America Pageant in 1982. His stint as MC lasted for almost a decade.
Gary went from actor to television personality and then back to actor in the 90s when he appeared in the Danielle Steel adaptation Secrets, which aired in 1992. He wasn’t actually looking for acting work, but was a friend of Steel and she had envisioned him in the part. He thoroughly enjoyed moving back into the position of actor and said in an interview, “It was surprising how comfortable I felt playing a role again There was no anxiety about whether I was doing a terrific job to advance my career. I was relaxed and easy. There was no craziness as there was when my living and future depended on each role I played.” I’d have a hard time pinning down a fixed list of my favorite Danielle Steel adaptations, but Secrets would be close to the top, next to Daddy. There, I said it.
From that point, Collins continued to appear sporadically on television and his last role was in 2010 on Dirty Sexy Money. Gary’s last few years were tumultuous and littered with problems. I have had a hard time not thinking about his troubles, but I'd like for Made for TV Mayhem to be a place of celebration, and as an actor and a continuous presence in my life, he is someone who deserves to be rejoiced.
Someone once asked Gary about his longevity and likability. He responded, “A sense of humor is important, and you have to have an innate curiosity about things. And, somewhere in the back of your mind, some element of service; some commitment to an ideal that you want to help people.” If by helping people he means giving us years of entertainment, then Gary was an immense success. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Goodbye Gary, I already miss you.