Joan Collins had a mushroom caught in her throat on the set of ABCs Dynasty last spring just as she was saying to Lloyd Bochner, Well, this is a kinky breakfast Im inviting you to. She had plucked the mushroom from a pizza and was eating it as Bochner - Cecil Colby - poured pink champagne. Collins, playing Alexis Carrington, couldnt go on. The mushroom had done her in - just as virtually any character in the series might like to do Alexis in. Alexis is a baaaaaaad woman. The worst. Indeed, Cecil Colby suffered a massive heart attack the moment he leaped into bed with Alexis Carrington. (And Lloyd Bochner may be gone from the show.)
But Collins is a star - because, alas, bad women make good women seem dull. Thats something clever soap-opera writers have always known. Without an invidious lady or two to make trouble, the average soap opera would be as boring as your average good girl. Thus, while the glamorously trashy Dynasty limped along for a bit, featuring merely sulky and sullen sirens, it was clear the series needed a good jolt of the truly despicable, bold adventurous - a woman so wicked that her eyes brighten in voluptuous contemplation of the iniquities she will perform. And has performed. Enter Joan Collins. Dark. Sultry. Worldly-looking. a British actress and B-movie queen with a bodily chronicled past of her own, Collins has, in some 50 movies and endless television, specialized in seductive, sexy, naughty women.
Collins was living in England at the time she was offered the part of Alexis. But. . . .Im no dope, she says. I could see the possibilities of Alexis. Shes an evil, conniving bitch. Shes larger than life and thats what I like about her.
So Collins and her husband (Producer Ron Kass) and their daughter Katy and a housekeeper now live in a house in Beverly Hills for however long the series might last.
There was another reason for taking Alexis, the Sexy Termagant. Two years ago, Katy, then 8, was struck by a car in England when she ran into the street. She suffered a severe brain injury, and her parents were told she probably wouldnt survive. Collins and Kass refused to accept that verdict, moved into a trailer parked next to the hospital and worked around the clock with their child- singing, reading, talking (she was in a coma for 48 days)- until she recovered. She is now well and back in school. Dynasty provides a good opportunity for Katy to enjoy a milder climate, her mother says.
Collins and Kass had left Hollywood in 1981- permanently, they thought.
We moved back to England. We said: This is it. America didnt have anything to offer us. Until Dynasty changed their minds. If not their hearts. Collins worries about losing her English accent. I dont sound American, do I She asks, saying that friends whom she rings up in England complain about her vulgar Americanized speech.
If anything, Collins appears to be quite classically British in certain ways. Her manner is formal, even icy at times. A question about her former husband Anthony Newley brought forth a frigid stare and a gelid response: I dont know and I dont care. (She recently won $22,500 in back child support from him for their children, Tara, 19, and Sacha, 17.) A general air of haughtiness pervades Collins very being; one perpetually expects the royal we to spring from her lips. When asked about the extraordinary sameness of the roles she has played through the years, Collins bridles: I am an actress playing the role to the best of my ability, she said, in talking about their film The Stud. The role happened to be a man-eating nymphomaniac, so a lot of people think, Hey, she must really be like that. Well, it isnt so.
In her amusingly scabrous autobiography, Past Imperfect, Collins reveals herself to be nervous, shy, insecure and vulnerable. Worried about her looks. Worried about getting fat. Worried about men. Her book details her numerous love affairs with famous and not very famous men. Warren Beatty. Ryan ONeal, Nicky Hilton. She says she even spent a night - on the rebound from a sad love affair with a married man - cuddling up to Raphael Trujillo, the son of the then-dictator of the Dominican Republic. He gave her a $10,000 diamond necklace. She was also given an engagement ring by Warren Beatty (In a carton of fresh chopped liver). Despite her self-proclaimed headlong hedonism, Collins does not depict herself in her book as a happy woman. The men in her life treated her badly, she writes - her first husband, Maxwell Reed, regularly beat her up - and while she was always a semistar, she never made it to first rank.
Nor was her book published in the US. When it was published in England, I went through misery, sneer and jests, she says. If this is how my own countrymen reacted, how would Americans react I couldnt face it. I turned back a $100,000 advance, she says.
Her male-induced miseries are most evident in a chapter called, A Very Married Man. Blindly, she fell in love with a married man - he was married to a well known actress - who had children. Naturally, he was a Hollywood producer: The prototypical vile producer. She calls him The General.
The General and I she says in her book, saw each other four or five times a week; either we lunched at out-of-the-way restaurants - usually near the airport where the sound of jet engines drowned out conversation - or he came to my little apartment for dinner. I never really knew until the last minute when or if I would see him as he had about 47 different projects going on at the same time . . . Although I went out on dates which I kept platonic, I would never commit my evenings until I knew if he was available. It was hell. I was back street wife personified. The worst times were when he said he would be over at 8 and didnt show up until 10 or 11 and sometimes not at all, only a hurried phone call Sorry Babe - cant make it tonight, have to catch you tomorrow.
:I would go to bed forlorn and miserable trying to understand his problems and trying not to get upset. In the beginning it was easier, but as the weeks passed and his promises of trial separations from his wife came to nothing, I began to et immensely depressed.
Just think: Here was Joan Collins. Beautiful. Twenty-two. Rejected.
In person, however, there is little sign that a moments insecurity reigns in the Collins breast. She is self-assured, smooth and impatient. At 47, her genuine beauty is little impaired she is as remarkably preserved as a Jomerit artifact. And her figure, perfected by dedicated exercise and diet, is as young, curvy and slender as when she played an Egyptian princess in one of her first Hollywood movies, Land of the Pharaohs, and wore a skimpy costume and a fake ruby in her navel.
Two of her costars in Dynasty, Linda Evans and Pamela Sue Martin, agree that Collins has a commanding presence.
She may seem arrogant but she is not, says Evans. Its protection. People then dont know shes vulnerable. If people are about to attack, it [the cool manner] throws them off.
Joan Collins was born in London and raised in a show-business environment. Her father was a theatrical agent. I grew up around pople in the variety side, Collins says. Comedians, soubrettes, jugglers, actors, acrobats. My father was a gregarious man, and theyd come to play poker once a week. My whole childhood was surrounded by outgoing people. From the time she was 6, she wanted to be an actress. At school it was elocution in the morning, geography in the afternoon. At 9, she played a boy in Ibsens A Dolls House, and at 15 she passed the examinations for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
I got discovered when a photographer came to RADA and asked to see the 10 most beautiful girls in school for modeling in womens magazine. Her chose me, Collins says. An agent way her picture in a magazine and asked Collins if shed like to be in movies. She was 16. At first she refused. Like all serious performers, she wanted to work on the stage, naturally;films were beneath her. But her father, who had been discouraging about her career, changed his mind and told her to snap up the offer from the And Organization. She was signed to a contract at 17.
The papers were flooded with me in bikinis, and Britains Bad Girl was born, she recalls.
When she was 18, she married actor Maxwell Reed, 34. After seven months of marriage, she was back living with her parents. The break came, according to Collins book, when Reed tried to sell her to an Arab sheik for about $30,000 for a single night of Collins favors. She refused and went home to her mother and father.
Eventually, 20th Century-Fox wanted Collins/ I was bought like a side of beef. Rank sold me to Darryl Zanuck, she ways. Thus began Collins first Hollywood career, which spanned the years between 1955 and 1961 (when she went back to London).
I was just finished with the relationship with Warren Beatty - we were engaged but he didnt want to get married, she ways.
While in London, she and Robert Wagner, an old friend, went to the theater to see Anthony Newley in Stop the World - I want to Get Off. Dazzled by his talent, Collins soon fell in love. I became a camp follower. I followed him to New York, to wherever he was playing. This time, Collins wanted to marry and have children. Once Newley was divorced from his first wife, he married Collins and they proceeded to have a family. For a while, after the Newleys came to Hollywood - He thought hed be a movie star- Collins mothered her babies, lunched with other rich, pampered, unemployed women, did her nails, shopped and appeared in an occasional Mission: Impossible. As her marriage began to fail - Newley, she wrote, had a penchant for other women, among other problems - Collins began to ponder. I wondered what the hell I was doing with my life. And so she traveled, yet again, to London in 1970.
I became queen of the horror flicks: I got good at screaming. She also met Kass, a music producer and formerly president of the Beatles company, Apple Records. They were married in 1972 after her divorce from Newley and Kasss divorce from his wife. In 1977, Collins was able to convince the backers to star her in a movie called The Stud based on a book by her sister, Jackie Collins. The Stud and a sequel The Bitch frequently revealed Collins in the buff. Both were commercial successes.
And suddenly I was a big star in England again, she says.
Scenes from her films appeared in Playboy over the years. So much for demureness and wanting to be regarded primarily as a serious actress.
I have had it with exploiting my body, she says now. Which brings her up to Dynasty and Alexis.
Alexis is vaguely based on a friend of mine whole modus operandi was always yachts, Givenchy and the top restaurants, Collins says.
A most triumphant and convincing transmutation. Collins was driving down the street recently and another car approached, filled with 10-year-old boys and girls. they waved. Collins waved.
Alexis, Alexis, They chanted, we hate you, we hate you.
A genuine tribute to both Collins and Alexis.