Actress Gina Collens Dies at 90

Gina Collens Hollinger Headshot - P 2014
Courtesy of Hy Hollinger

Gina Collens Hollinger Headshot - P 2014

She starred in "The Rose Tattoo" on Broadway and in the world premiere of Christopher Hampton's "Tales From Hollywood" at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

Actress Gina Collens, who appeared in Tennessee WilliamsThe Rose Tattoo on Broadway and in Christopher Hampton’s Tales From Hollywood at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, has died. She was 90.

Collens died May 31 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, her husband of 61 years, Hy Hollinger, told The Hollywood Reporter. Hollinger is a former Paramount Pictures publicity advertising executive who went on to become a top-notch reporter and editor for THR and Variety.

Collens was an early member of the Circle Theater in Hollywood, the legendary theater group that was formed in 1946 by UCLA students Sydney Chaplin, William Shallert, Kathleen Freeman and others. The Circle is credited with launching legitimate theater in L.A.

On Broadway, she appeared as Flora in the 1966 revival of The Rose Tattoo, starring Maureen Stapleton and Harry Guardino and directed by Milton Katsales. She reprised the role at the Buffalo Studio Arena Theater, this time with Olympia Dukakis toplining.

At the Taper in 1982, Collens played famed theater director Bertolt Brecht’s wife in the world premiere of Hampton’s Tales From Hollywood, a tale of German artists and intellectual refugees trying to make it in show business. It was directed by Gordon Davidson and starred Paul Sorvino.

After appearing in the Jerome Kass off-Broadway comedy Saturday Night in 1968 at the Sheridan Square Playhouse, reviewer Dan Sullivan in The New York Times wrote that “Gina Collens was perfectly grand as overweight Ellie, comfortable as a sofa cushion but sharp (when required) as a potted cactus.”

She later appeared in the 1970 Otto Preminger film Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, starring Lisa Minnelli, and in 1978 she stood out in two episodes of Valerie Harper’s hit CBS sitcom Rhoda.

Born Geraldine Elaine Silverman in Omaha, Neb., she arrived in Hollywood with her family as a 3-year-old. Her parents operated a Hollywood midnight market at Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue, and at age 4 she started singing on a radio show.

Following her graduation as a music major from UCLA and a year’s extra work at USC, she joined the Circle Theater. She appeared under the stage name of Jere Silvern in the group’s first show, Ethan Frome, as well as in the Marc Blitzstein musical The Cradle Will Rock.

After attending several rallies for 1948 presidential candidate Henry Wallace (Franklin Roosevelt’s former vice president), she believed she was blacklisted and headed to New York, where she changed her stage name to Gina Collens.

In New York, she studied with Herbert Berghof, Uta Hagen and Harold Clurman and received a master’s degree in theater arts from Hunter College, where she won a prize for writing the one-act plays Things as They Are and Losing Oneself, both based on short stories by V.S. Pritchett. The plays were directed by Collens and presented at the Theater of the Americas in New York, and she won a Dramalogue award.

Collens was active in many off -Broadway and Equity Waiver productions as an actor and director. In L.A., she acted and directed at the Hollywood Court Theater at the landmark church at Franklin and Highland avenues.

In addition to her husband, Collens is survived by their daughter Alicia, a digital artist and writer.

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