The character of a young American struggling to operate a small airline in a remote corner of the world is one that Stephen Collins may have been destined to play. At the time of his birth his father was an executive with Panagra Airlines, a small American carrier operating out of Lima, Peru. Stephen was born in Des Moines, Iowa, where his parents, Cyrus and Madeline Collins, were visiting his mother's family. He lived in Peru until age six months, when his family, which includes two older brothers, moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, a small town north of New York City.
Steve's first passion was baseball. A reticence to appear before crowds kept him on the sidelines during his Little League years, but in tenth grade he found the courage to aim for the junior varsity. He made the team. He harbored a secret desire to act as well, but the same shyness kept him off the stage. The role of Stephen Collins Foster in a grade school production was his only acting experience until his junior year in high school when he cleverly wrangled a private audition for a production of "OUR TOWN". He won the role of Emily's father, Mr. Webb, then went on to play the lead in his senior year.
At the same time, Stephen's first venture into music laid to rest any vestiges of audience phobia. Although he had never played an instrument, a friend asked Steve to help form a rock 'n' roll band. He learned to play bass guitar by rote and was hooked. Music carried Stephen into his first years at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he played in bands with such evocative names as Tambourine Charlie and the Four Flat Tyres, The Flower and Vegetable Show and The Naugahyde Revolution.
Although tagged as a musician, he broke into the college theatre when he was cast as the Last Templar in a production of T.S. Elliot's verse play, "Murder in the Cathedral". "Never, from that time on, have I not been either rehearsing or performing," Stephen explains. He appeared in 22 more plays at Amherst, winning an acting award for his portrayal of Kilroy in "Camino Real". At the close of his senior year, an innovative student production of an original rock musical based on Brecht's "Baal" brought to Amherst Joseph Papp, producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival and the then fledgling Public Theatre. At a backstage party Stephen confided to Papp a dream to perform Shakespeare in Central Park. Papp asked for a picture and résumé and to Stephen's astonishment, called personally ten days later to offer the small role of Valentine in "Twelfth Night". Stephen graduated Amherst an employed New York actor.
At the summer's end he was cast opposite Barbara Rush in the first national touring company of "40 Carats". The tour took him to Los Angeles where he made his television debut in a bit part in Burt Reynold's series, "Dan August". He returned to New York and after several short runs off-Broadway he was cast in his first Broadway production, Michael Weller's "Moonchildren". He played MacDuff in Joseph Papp's production of "MacBeth" at the Lincoln Center, then created the outrageous role of Detective Michael Brick in the Tony Award-winning comedy, "The Ritz". During its run he was cast for his first motion picture role, Hugh Sloan in "All The President's Men".
At the end of filming, Stephen elected to remain in Hollywood for a while. He made his first telefilm, "Brinks: The Great Robbery", and guest starred on several series. In March of 1977, in what he describes as "one of the most wonderfully fulfilling moments of my life," he simultaneously opened in the delicious character role of a stuffy, fat judge in "The New York Idea" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music under the direction of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Frank Dunlop; opened on the screen in the counter-culture feature "Between the Lines"; and saw his starring role in MCA TV's novel for television, "THE RHINEMANN EXCHANGE", air on television. He later returned to the Brooklyn Academy to play Andre in "The Three Sisters".
Stephen's subsequent motion picture and television credits are a testimony to his versatility as an actor. Sharing roles with two monumental stars, he played William Holden's character in Billy Wilder's "Fedora", and the young Joshua Turner, Henry Fonda's character in the television dramatic special, "Summer Solstice". He starred as the heroic Decker in the box office hit "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and in a completely different vein as a cynical alcoholic in the telefilm, "The Henderson Monster". He portrayed Edith Wharton's lover in the PBS biography, "Edith Wharton: Looking Back" and was Shirley MacLaine's adulterous partner in the romantic film comedy, "Loving Couples".
Prior to filming the pilot of TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY, Stephen starred in Christopher Durang's off-Broadway comedy "Beyond Therapy", then participated in Robert Redford's month-long workshop for independent filmmakers at the Sundance Institute in Utah. Nearly unrecognizable in a bald pate, he played villain James Larrabee in the Williamstown Theatre production of "Sherlock Holmes" which was taped for cable television. In the fall he moved to snowy Munich to portray Karl Hanke, the blindly enthusiastic Nazi organizer who recruited Albert Speer, in the chilling mini series, "Inside the Third Reich".
While he continues to rack up achievements as an actor, Stephen Collins may never fulfill his fantasy of batting in the winning run for the Mets in the seventh game of a World Series -- unless he does so for the camera. He remains a staunch fan of the New York team and of rock music. A practitioner of Transcendental Meditation for the last six years, he recently lectured at Maharishi International University in Iowa. Steve maintains residences in both New York City and Los Angeles.
Excerpted from the Tales of the Gold Monkey Annual, © 1982, Universal City Studios, Inc., published by Grandreams Ltd., London
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