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Ford Center Names Mary Ann, Gary Collins as Studio Theatre Dedication Recipients

By Katherine Glenn and Jack Glosson
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After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1958 and becoming the first Miss America hailing from Mississippi in 1959, Mary Ann Mobley Collins enjoyed a lucrative career as a renowned actress and filmmaker. She became one of the most accomplished Miss Americas in the entertainment industry.

She and her late husband, Gary Collins, will forever be embedded in the framework of Ole Miss after their names were placed above a studio theatre in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts earlier this year.

Members of the Ford Center theatre department recently dedicated the Studio Theatre to Mary Ann Mobley Collins. Photo by Katherine Glenn.

“The height of her fame was in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and through that she always stayed connected with Mississippi,” said Kate Meacham, marketing director of the Ford Center. She loved Mississippi and she loved Ole Miss. She felt like it changed her life and the experiences she had here had a lasting impact on her life.”

Mary Ann Mobley Collins appeared in several classic films, including two with Elvis Presley. Photo from IMDb.

Born in Biloxi, Mississippi, Mobley Collins’ credits include singing the theme song for “Get Yourself to College Girl” (1964), appearing in Jerry Lee Lewis’ comedy, “Three on a Couch” (1966), appearing in the Broadway production of “Nowhere to Go But Up” (1962), and signing a five-year contract with MGM. In addition to appearing in dozens of televisions shows, she also appeared in two movies with Elvis.

Mobley Collins certainly left her mark on Ole Miss during her lifetime. She was the University of Mississippi’s first Carrier Scholar and the first woman to be inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame. Though she may be famous for her Miss America crown and role in various films, her induction into the Hall of Fame is also in respect to the humanitarian work she and her husband enjoyed so much. 

She and her husband were active humanitariasn who supported research for Crohn’s Disease, cerebral palsy, and helped fight world hunger. Mobley Collins was also a strong advocate for breast cancer research, the very disease that took her life in 2014 at the age of 77. Her philanthropic efforts landed her the Outstanding Young Woman of the Year Award in 1966.

Being a lover of the arts, she left finances in her will to go toward an unrestricted endowment at the Ford Center. Although Mobley Collins did not specify where she felt the gift should be spent, the University and her daughter, Mary Clancy Collins, decided it best that the Ford Center and the theatre department receive the gift to accurately reflect her love and admiration for the fine arts.

The nearly $2 million endowment, directed by daughter Clancy, was split between the Ford Center and the theatre department. The theatre department used its portion to create a scholarship that will allow theatre students more time to work on perfecting their craft, Meacham said. 

Haley Parker, a theatre major from Olive Branch, Mississippi was recently named the first recipient of the new scholarship. 

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said having the late actors’ names on the studio theatre makes the university very proud. 

“We are deeply grateful to Clancy Collins White for directing this marvelous gift to the University of Mississippi, enhancing our vibrant cultural arts offerings,” Vitter said. “They were both such loyal, passionate ambassadors.

“The scholarships will be life-changing to our theatre and film majors.”

For more information about the dedication, please visit this link. 

Tina H. Hahn of University Communications contributed to this report

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