Helen Collins was the first child born to James P. Collins and Elizabeth A. McCann Collins in the Corona borough of Queens, New York not long after the turn of the 20th century. James Collins was a New York City police officer. At the time, police officers in the city stayed overnight at the precinct while on duty. Elizabeth had given birth to 9 children by the time she turned 35 and even while Helen’s father was alive, Helen had to assist her mother in caring for the siblings.
James Collins was deemed to have died in the line of duty when he suffered a heart attack. Government officials in the city offered their support to the widowed Mrs. Collins and when one asked if there was anything that the department could do, the enterprising Mrs. Collins asked to be allowed to work at the precinct preparing meals and doing laundry for the officers for tips. The department allowed her to do this and oftentimes Mrs. Collins brought home more in tips than a typical officer made in wages. Elizabeth’s brother, Williams McCann, was a clerk at Pennsylvania Station and moved in with his sister and her children to also assist with the children and the finances.
Helen, being the oldest of the children, in large part took on the role of caring and rearing her siblings, especially as Mrs. Collins and Mr. McCann worked outside the home. Years later, when asked if she did not want children of her own, Helen Collins would quip that she had raised enough children already with her brothers and sisters. Photos in the Morelli collection show a young Helen, often surrounded by family and friends, enjoying trips to the shore or to a favorite get-away, “Miller Place”. Indeed, the Collins and McCann family was a close-knit group with Helen in later years acting as the matriarch.
By all accounts, Helen and Antonio were soul mates who complemented each other well. Both were deeply religious and appreciated the visual and performing arts. The two married at the Actor’s Chapel in New York in an unannounced ceremony after a three-year courtship. The announcement of their marriage indicates that Helen was working for Harry Rogers when she met Antonio, who was working in the production department for the talent manager. Indeed, it seems that Helen was a successful woman working in advertising even as Antonio traveled the country in pursuit of his career.
In fact, according to an oral history by Helen Collins Morelli, for the first two years of Antonio’s work at the Sands, Helen remained in New York to work the balance of her contract in advertising. When Helen did move to the burgeoning Las Vegas Valley, she became active in the community and was always the gracious hostess to visitors at the Morellis’ home.
After Antonio’s death, Helen eventually sold the home on Country Club Lane to move into an upscale mobile home community. As she grew older and lost her sight, she made the difficult decision to leave Las Vegas and return to New York to be near the extended Collins family. When her sight was almost completely gone, Helen would listen to the radio to check the progress of her investments and have her sister check the paper to make certain she had all the correct data.
Helen is entombed next to Antonio in the downtown Palm Mortuary grounds.