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Happy Birthday, Tom Collins!

Happy Birthday, Tom Collins!

Posted by Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. on Jun 7th 2021

When actor Walter Paterson committed suicide in 1942, One Man’s Family creator Carlton E. Morse made the decision to eliminate Patterson’s character of “Nicholas Lacey” (the husband of Claudia Barbour) from Family’s storyline by having Nicky die in Europe during WW2. (Paterson also portrayed “Reggie Yorke” on Morse’s I Love a Mystery, so Reggie disappeared from that show as well.) A few years after Walter’s passing, however, Carlton E. was determined to bring Nicky back with a dramatic flourish…so he conducted four weeks of extensive auditions to find the most suitable replacement. Morse eventually chose the thespian born Beryl William Collins in Chicago, Illinois on this date in 1913. Professionally, we know him as Tom Collins…and the management at Radio Spirits has requested that I dispense with any and all cocktail jokes for the rest of the essay.

Graduating from Austin High School in 1930, Tom Collins enrolled in the University of Illinois. However, he left after one year to join the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman School of the Theater in Chicago. It was in the Windy City where Tom got his first taste of radio acting, appearing in the radio serial Kitty Keane, Inc. Collins also played E.W. Hornung’s famous gentleman thief Raffles on a program that featured actress Cathy Lewis in the supporting cast and J. Donald Wilson (creator of The Whistler) as director. That series was cancelled after 26 weeks.

Besides, Tom Collins had bigger fish to fry in Hollywood. He signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938 and began appearing in two-reel shorts (Money to Loan [1939]) and programmers (Tell No Tales and 6,000 Enemies, both in 1939). His lasting contribution to MGM was playing “Dr. Joiner” in four of the films in the Dr. Kildare franchise—his last feature at the studio, in fact, was Dr. Kildare’s Crisis (1940). Tom started to gravitate more and more towards the aural medium. (He guested on Good News of 1939 to perform scenes from Fast and Loose [1939] on a February 16, 1939 broadcast.) He would make appearances on Big Town, Dr. Christian, Free Company, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood, and Southern Cruise.

Tom Collins not only had an ideal speaking voice for radio he was quite adept at accents and dialects—a major help in getting the One Man’s Family gig (not to mention taking over as Reggie Yorke on I Love Adventure, the follow-up program to I Love a Mystery). Collins made himself quite well known on multiple daytime dramas; he was “Niles Novak” on Dear John, “Captain John Blanding” on The Gallant Heart, “Barclay Bailey” on The Romance of Helen Trent, “Ned Corbett” on Front Page Ferrell, and “Inspector Malloy” on Stella Dallas. Tom also made appearances on Aunt Mary, Backstage Wife, Lorenzo Jones, Modern Romances, My Secret Story, The Right to Happiness, True Story, and Whispering Streets.

One of Tom Collins’ most high-profile radio jobs came about from a selfless act on the actor’s part. According to Radio Spirits’ own Martin Grams, Jr., Collins was assigned an acting role on a Cavalcade of America broadcast…and was then asked to switch parts with that week’s celebrity guest because Tom had the larger role. Tom was most obliging, and because of this, Cavalcade producer Jack Zoller offered him the job of announcer…which guaranteed him a steady paycheck week after week. Collins’ best-remembered radio work was playing the titular master of legerdemain known as Chandu the Magician, a “reboot” of the popular 1930s radio adventure serial that aired over Mutual and then ABC from 1948 to 1950. The success of Chandu won Tom starring gigs on the syndicated The Adventures of Frank Race (although he was replaced by Paul Dubov after 22 shows) and The Greatest of These (as wealthy attorney Harvey Desmond).

Tom Collins’ bid for television stardom was nipped in the bud when producers decided that, rather than allow him to reprise his Nicholas Lacey role on a TV adaptation of One Man’s Family, they would cast actor Lloyd Bochner to play the part. (Lloyd Bochner? Seriously?) Collins had moved his family to New York in anticipation of getting the job…and having been rebuffed, found it difficult to mix with NYC’s insular radio community. Tom worked when he could and, in addition to the shows already mentioned, boasted a radio resume that included The Adventures of the Saint, The Amazing Mr. Malone (Murder and Mr. Malone), Box Thirteen, Crime Fighters, Dark Venture, Dear Margie, Doctor Sixgun, Ellery Queen, Favorite Story, Hearthstone of the Death Squad, Intrigue, The Lux Radio Theatre, Martin Kane, Private Eye, Mr. Chameleon, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, The New Philip Morris Program, Press Club, Radio City Playhouse, Screen Directors’ Playhouse, Stars Over Hollywood, The Theatre of Famous Radio Players, This is My Story, Top Guy, Under Arrest, The Whistler, and X-Minus One. Tom Collins died at the age of 60 in 1973.

To celebrate Tom Collins’ birthday, Radio Spirits offers up the actor’s signature radio role of Chandu the Magician—a 6-CD set of vintage Mutual broadcasts that includes the first half-hour episode of the series, “The Origin of Chandu.” Check out Mr. Collins on our Box Thirteen and The Whistler: Root of All Evil CD collections as well. In our digital downloads store, Tom is represented on Great Radio SpiesThe Whistler: Eleventh Hour, and X-Minus One: Volume Two. Happy birthday, Tom!