Famous childhood actress visits Destin

Erin Franczak
Walton Sun

DESTIN — Cora Sue Collins, a childhood actress who starred in major roles during the ’30s and ’40s, visited Destin this week to talk about her life and acting career.

Cora Sue, known for her roles in the “The Scarlet Letter,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Unexpected Father,” began her acting career at 3 years of age. Part of her visit to Destin included a speaking event Friday afternoon titled “A Conversation with Cora Sue Collins” that took place at Pelican Beach Resort.

Cora Sue received her first role because she was at the right place at the right time, she said.

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Her mother, Clyde Collins, discovered that her father bought his secretary a mink coat. After confronting her husband, Clyde moved her two daughters to Hollywood.

The three were on their way to enroll Cora Sue’s sister into school when Clyde was approached by a woman in the acting business.

“Would you like to put your little girl in pictures?” the woman asked.

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Clyde enrolled her eldest daughter into school, and then took Cora Sue to the audition, where she received a role in “The Unexpected Father.”

After her debut, she went on to star in other prominent films, but Cora Sue said working on the film “Queen Christina” was an opportunity to meet and work with Greta Garbo.

Garbo played Christina as an adult, and Cora Sue was the queen as a child.

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“She was my life-long friend until she died,” Cora Sue said.

Collins said she never had any roles or parts she found particularly difficult. But there was one role she enjoyed. During the filming of “Two Sinners,” her character squirted a fellow cast member with a seltzer bottle.

She purposefully flubbed her line so she could spray the actor a second and a third time. Finally, the director called her over. The director said the actor only had one more dry suit.

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“I thought I had gotten away with it,” Collins said. “He knew exactly what was going on.”

At the age of 17, she left the business after her mentor and father figure told her she had to sleep with him for a part.

“I would have given my right arm to play that part, but not my virginity,” she said.

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The prominent screenwriter was furious. Cora Sue walked out of her mentor’s office and she went to Louis Mayer’s office.

After telling Mayer about the proposition for sex, he said “You’ll get used to it, sweetheart.”

Cora Sue refused.

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Mayer said she would never work on a sound set again. She left acting and never looked back.

“Today, that’s the best single decision of my life,” she said. “It’s a rotten business and I’m glad I got out of it.”

Several years later, she was leaving church with her children. One of her two daughters, Melinda, slipped away and was approached by Eddie Mannix.

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He asked Melinda if her mom was Cora Sue. By then Cora Sue had caught up. Mannix told Cora Sue about the perfect role for Melinda.

She lied, saying her husband wouldn’t let them work even though her husband was already dead.

Cora Sue said she advised her children to pursue college and spend time abroad before working in acting.

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Ultimately, one of her children went into acting.

Because of the workload of full-time acting, Cora Sue said she missed out on her own childhood. So, as an adult she did all the things she missed out on.

“I can imagine these people saying ’Oh god this crazy lady is coming back with her three children and she’ll do everything they do.’”

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She said she has come to appreciate her childhood.

“So, considering I thought I had a terrible childhood, I really had a pretty great childhood in retrospect,” she said.