Hollywood screenwriter, director, producer, Colin Patrick Higgins was born on July 28th, 1941 in Nemea, New Caledonia, a French territorial island in the South Pacific. His mother was Australian and his father American. Colin spent his childhood in a suburb of Sydney Australia. The Higgins family grew to six sons, including a set of twins. As Colin’s father, a purser on the Matson Steam Ship Lines, was at sea for months at a time, Colin’s mother had her hands full. She often took the boys to live musicals and American movies. Colin often said the seeds of his film career were planted then. In the late Fifties, the Higgins family moved to Redwood City, California. Colin won an English scholarship to attend nearby Stanford University.
In the fall of 1959, his freshmen year, Colin performed in a student written musical comedy show and was such a hit, he became a star on campus overnight. Being an English major, he had always thought writing would be a natural goal. But now he was drawn to acting as well. Uncertain as to a career, Colin dropped out of Stanford in his sophomore year. He hitchhiked across the country to New York and studied acting at the Actor’s Studio for a few months. With the Vietnam war heating up and facing the draft, Colin volunteered for service in the U.S. Army. He served three years in Germany and wrote for the military’s Stars and Stripes weekly newspaper.
Honorably discharged in 1965, Colin lived in Paris for six months, studying at the Sorbonne. That fall, returning to Stanford, Colin majored in creative writing. He paid for his tuition by working at night as a professional actor in theatres in the San Francisco area.
In 1967, Colin received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Stanford. Looking for an adventurous way to earn some money, Colin signed on for a six-month hitch as a merchant seaman on a freighter bound for the Orient. Fired in Guam for laughing at something while the Captain was speaking, Colin had to pay his own way back to the States. Broke, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, he hitchhiked to Montreal, Canada for the Exposition/ World’s Fair. There the imaginative films presented at several of the pavilions inspired him. He decided to become a filmmaker.
In the fall of 1968, he entered U.C.L.A. Film School. Three years later, Colin’s Master’s thesis script was Harold and Maude. Over a weekend, it was sold to Paramount. Colin was supposed to have directed but ended up being one of the producers. Hal Ashby directed, Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort starred, Cat Stevens wrote the music. Harold and Maude was rushed into distribution, as The Godfather was not ready for the Christmas week release. With no stars, or advance publicity, Colin’s debut film bombed at the box office and was quickly yanked from distribution. Colin, however, wrote a novel version for Lippincott and was commissioned to write a stage version by French director, Jean-Louis Barrault. The play of Harold and Maude ran in Paris for seven years in repertory and continues to be revived around the world.
In 1974, while Colin was in Paris, British theatre director, Peter Brook asked him to adapt for the stage an anthropological study of a displaced African tribe. Brook’s theatre company toured that play, The Ik, which Colin co-wrote, throughout the U.S. during the 1976 Bicentennial Year as a gift from the French government to the American people. That same year Colin’s screenplay for Silver Streak went into production with Arthur Hiller directing and starring Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Jill Clayburgh. Released that summer, it was an enormous box office hit. That commercial success led to Colin’s first directing assignment. In 1978, he directed for Paramount Foul Play from his original screenplay. It stared Goldie Hawn with Chevy Chase in his first film role, and Dudley Moore. In 1980, Colin co-wrote and directed Nine to Five starring Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin. In 1982, Colin adapted the stage musical Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and directed it with Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton. All of Colin’s films proved to be major hits, generating close to a billion dollars in worldwide box office. Colin’s last project was co-writing and co-producing with Shirley MacLaine a 1986 television min-series based on her book, Out on a Limb.
In August of 1988, shortly after his 47th birthday, Colin passed away from AIDS related illnesses. His legacies, however, will be lasting – the laughter of his films, plus his on-going charitable Foundation. These alone will insure that Colin Higgins will long be remembered, not just for his heart-warming films, but also for his extraordinary humanity.