Saturday, October 13, 2012

Gary Collins, RIP

Gary Collins was one of those  actors like Monty Markham and Laurence Luckinbill, who were handsome leading-men types, but despite starring in several series, never had a hit. This would doom him to guest-star parts in "The Love Boat," or "Murder She Wrote."

I remember him from "The Sixth Sense" TV series. In the early 70s a big ESP fad was sweeping the country. I can imagine an ABC executive seeing an ESP story on the cover of Time, and getting a producer on the phone, "Get me a ESP detective show!"

So Collins played a psychic university professor who used his psychic abilities to solve psychic crimes. The character is a wonderful necessity of paranormal and science fiction movies. There's always a pipe-smoking professor who has some scientific explanation for the fantastic plot, and though the explanation would never stand up to any scrutiny, it's a way of giving the viewer permission to go along for the ride.

Tokyo newspaper reporter: 

Doctor Suzuki, a 90-foot sea monster just rose from the sea.

Dr. Suzuki (stroking his beard):

 Yes, recent nuclear testing in that area could have released a 90-foot sea monster lying dormant for 65 million years.

Good enough for me! Let's see the monster stomp through Tokyo!

This time though, instead of being an extraneous character, the professor was the star.

A typical episode would be Collins being called to some Gothic mansion in a small town, where a damsel has been having horrible, violent visions. Collins would show up, and he too would suffer from these visions. And, as it turns out, the damsel is first in line for a big inheritance, and her uncle, who was next in line for the money was using his psychic powers to drive his niece mad by projecting these visions.

And by typical episode, I mean every episode.

This show was a victim of the early 70s Universal television practice of super padding. Collins and the damsel would have a psychic episode and that would include the camera zooming in on Collins' eyes, the camera zooming in on the damsel's eyes, psychedelic scenes of fire, the camera spinning round and round, negative images of everything I just said, all repeated again and again, interminably.

The series would be chopped up and repackaged into "Night Gallery" syndicated reruns. And the psychic segments were still too long.

To its credit, it was the first paranormal investigation show. "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" would come along a little later and though not a hit either, it was a much better show. It had a more interesting leading character, a different monster every week, a lot of cynicism, and...a sense of humor.

This would lead to "The X-Files," which was "Kolchak" with money and time to develop the characters and its own mythology.

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