William Collins, 87, critic

William B. Collins
William B. Collins
Posted: May 16, 2014

William B. Collins, 87, of Jenkintown, a longtime Inquirer theater critic, died Thursday, May 8, of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Keystone Hospice in Wyndmoor.

Mr. Collins retired in February 1991 after a long career as an Inquirer writer. He was hired in May 1959 as a rewrite man. But he moved from news to the features department, where he wrote theater criticism from 1968 to 1991.

"Bill Collins was a great theater critic and an equally excellent colleague. Writing under the byline William B. Collins, he wrote thousands of incisive, delightful, and perceptive reviews," said Inquirer editor William K. Marimow.

"Bill ranged far afield, casting a discerning eye on plays from the Arden and the Annenberg to the Forrest Theater and Broadway. Reading his work was always a pleasure, and it gave theatergoers the kind of expert guidance they needed in choosing what to see."

His reviews typically began with a burst of energy or hyperbole to get the reader's attention.

" Sarafina!, the black protest musical from South Africa, swept into the Forrest Theater last night on a tide of history that has transformed the show into an act of exuberant prophecy," he wrote in March 1990.

In January 1989, he wrote: "It was more than another opening, another show, at the Shubert Theater last night. It was a homecoming for the two master showmen who travel as Penn & Teller, an entertainment unlike any other on the face of the Earth."

And he wasn't afraid to pan a play: The Inuit, which opened at the Annenberg Theater in May 1990, was to him an "Arctic expedition that is, I'm afraid, beyond rescue."

When the playwright Bill Bozzone objected to that review as "incredibly nasty" and failing to promote the arts, Mr. Collins responded:

"A reviewer evaluates a play and its production not for the highfalutin purpose of advancing the arts but the more modest one of giving the reader an idea of the quality of the work at hand ...," Mr. Collins wrote. "It is not the reviewer's function either to hurt or to sell tickets."

Born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, Mr. Collins received his bachelor's degree from the University of Cincinnati. He spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in Paris studying French theater. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Before joining The Inquirer, Mr. Collins was a copy boy, or newsroom clerk, and later a reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer from 1951 to 1959.

In retirement, Mr. Collins embarked on an acting career. He appeared in character roles in Arden Theatre Company, Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, Act II Playhouse-Ambler, Villanova Theatre, Theatre Exile, and Fringe Festival productions.

Surviving are his wife, Arminta; son John; and daughter Alice.

No service is planned, at his request.

Donations may be made to the Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St., Philadelphia 19106, or contact Genvieve Goldstein at ggoldstein@ardentheatre.org.



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