May 23, 1933 – Joan Collins:
“The problem with beauty is that it’s like being born rich and getting poorer.”
In 2019, Collins purposefully entered the Met Gala themed “Camp”, all in white, looking like a wedding cake, all feathered in a Valentino gown dripping in diamonds upon diamonds. She did what few others did that evening, she did Camp. She got camp. She is the queen of camp.
On the pink carpet, Collins declared: “I’m Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan, and I’m wearing Valentino Haute Couture for the Met Ball“, because that is just what Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan would do.
When Collins was cast in Ryan Murphy‘s American Horror Story: Cult, she must have been pleased also, because a role on the popular series will be much more rewarding than a walk-on in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016). Older female actors should be absolutely thrilled by this news, because American Horror Story has provided provocative, challenging roles for actors of a certain age: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Frances Conroy, and Angela Bassett all did some of their best work in ages. I mean, what could be more astonishing than seeing an esteemed Tony Award and Oscar-winner belt out a David Bowie song in a broad German accent to a two-headed woman on American Horror Story: Freak Show (2014-15)? More roles for older actors, please!
Collins fans should be pleased, not only that she is working in front of the cameras, but we will all have opportunity to witness more of her haughty, disdainful press junkets. Collins appears in a short film 2020: The Movie where she plays Maggie Keenan, the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. She stars as Adelaide of Maurienne in the historical television series Glow And Darkness opposite Jane Seymour and Denise Richards, set to be released in late 2021.
In my world, Wednesday nights in the 1980s were dedicated to killing a couple of bottles of champagne while watching Dynasty (1981-1989); in fact, for me, the decade was framed by the sudsy ABC series. It was created by Richard and Esther Shapiro and produced by the great Aaron Spelling, and revolved around the wealthy Carrington family of Denver. It starred John Forsythe as oil billionaire Blake Carrington and Linda Evans as his new wife Krystle.
At the end of the first season, Blake is arrested and charged with the murder of his perpetually angry closeted gay son Steven’s lover Ted. After Steven testifies against his father, a surprise witness for the prosecution appears wearing a veil and Steven’s sister Fallon gasps in recognition: “Oh my God, that’s my mother!!!”
In the first episode of the second season, titled Enter Alexis, the mysterious witness removes her sunglasses and lifts her veil to reveal Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington, Blake’s first wife. We all screamed! Collins proved to be bigly popular and the addition of Collins to the cast brought huge ratings to the already popular Dynasty.
Alexis marries three times during the next eight seasons and a four-part reunion special in 1991. She eventually becomes Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan. Her third marriage, to the perfectly named Dex Dexter (hottie Michael Nader), ends in divorce after she catches him in bed with her adult daughter Amanda (Catherine Oxenberg). She is widowed twice, prompting Alexis’ cousin Sable (Stephanie Beacham) to remark that for Alexis:
“Death is always a simpler solution than divorce.“
I just lived for Alexis’ cat fights with Evans’ Krystle, and they proved a favorite of other fans as well. In fact, Spelling and the writers found ways to have more brawls for her, including with Dominique Deveraux (Diahann Carroll) and cousin Sable.
Alexis was somehow missing from the Season Six opener which followed the infamous Moldavian Massacre cliffhanger at the end of Season Five. That was because Collins was in a tense contract renegotiation with the show, seeking a much-deserved bigger salary. As a result, it had to be rewritten to explain her absence. She got her way and signed a $60,000 per episode contract and she was back in the season’s second episode.
During the series, Alexis enjoys affairs with: oil tycoon Rashid Ahmed; Krystle’s first husband Mark Jennings, a tennis pro; the King of Moldavia; shipping tycoon Zach Powers; Congressman Neal McVane; Blake’s brother Ben Carrington; twins Dirk and Gavin Maurier; her brother-in-law Jason Colby, and even an amnesiac Blake. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore.
“We didn’t write Joan Collins; she played Joan Collins. We wrote a character, but the character could have been played by 50 people and 49 of them would have failed. She made it work.“
LGBTQ people love Collins and she loves us back. Some of our affection comes from Alexis having a gay son. Collins:
“That had an effect on very young gay men. We received a lot of mail about it.“
But, it is more that. She represents a look and an attitude that LGBTQ respond to. Collins:
“I think that gay people love me maybe because I’m a survivor and because I don’t take life too seriously. Maybe because I have had a lot of ups and downs. But… I think the glamour has a lot to do with it as well.“
Collins’ first film role was in the apt Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951). For the next three decades, she had a string of B-movie roles including Empire Of The Ants (1977), along with frequent television guest roles and photo shoots. Collins had to audition for Dynasty in 1981 after film legend Sophia Loren turned down the role of Alexis, but Collins’ career completely changed after landing the part.
Collins was born in London. Her father was an agent whose clients included Tom Jones and The Beatles. She was so pretty as a baby, that her mother hung a sign on her pram warning admirers, “Do Not Kiss”.
Collins moved to Hollywood in the 1950s as young girls did in those days. She wanted to become a film star; who didn’t? She became a Hollywood fixture, driving around in her signature pink T-Bird and enjoying liaisons with handsome leading men like Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty, and Harry Belafonte. She was introduced to Beatty by Princess Margaret. In her memoirs, Collins says of him:
“He was so pretty but just too exhausting in the bedroom…“
She starred in film adaptations of her sister Jackie Collins’ novels The Stud (1978) and The Bitch (1979). In 1978, she published her own book, a memoir, Past Imperfect, which included details about her affairs. It was a bestseller.
For her work on Dynasty, Collins was nominated six times for a Golden Globe, winning in 1983. She also received an Emmy nomination for her performance on the show. Fans so identified Collins with her unapologetically bitchy character, that three decades later, people identify her on the street as Alexis. Collins:
“I found myself with the reputation of being a swinger and a home-wrecker. But, Dynasty was an opportunity to take charge of my career rather than waiting around like a library book waiting to be loaned out.“
Collins’ real life was rather a soap opera. She married her first husband, Irish actor Maxwell Reed, in 1952 and divorced him in 1956 after he raped her and attempted to sell her to an Arab sheik for a one-night stand. She married her second husband, composer/singer/actor Anthony Newley, in 1963 and had a daughter and a son with him before they divorced in 1970. Her third husband was Apple Records president Ron Kass, who she married in 1972 and divorced 11 years later. Her fourth marriage, to Swedish pop singer Peter Holm, ended after a year with a messy divorce in 1987. In 2002, Collins married her fifth husband, theater company manager Percy Gibson, who is 32-years her junior. Asked about her much younger husband, Collins quips:
“If he dies, he dies!“
After Dynasty, Collins continued to act, plus she wrote self-help beauty books and romance novels. She has published 19 books, including four volumes of tell-all memoirs. In 1996, she had a legal battle with her fiction publisher Random House, which accused Collins of breaking a two-book contract worth $4 million. A jury found in Collins’ favor, but it was a much-gossiped about public trial, where her writing talents were disparaged in court.
In 1997, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Collins an Officer Of The Order Of The British Empire, and in 2015, she became Dame Joan Collins, an honor bestowed on her by the Queen and presented by Prince Charles. The same year, she lost her younger sister, Jackie, to that damn cancer. Jackie had been fiercely private about her illness, only telling her sister two weeks before her death. In her last interview, Jackie Collins said:
“It would have really affected her. I just felt she didn’t need it in her life. She’s very positive and very social but I’m not sure how strong she is, so I didn’t want to burden her with it.“
“She was my best friend. I admire how she handled this. She was a wonderful, brave and a beautiful person and I love her.“
Collins played Joan Collins, a role that she had been perfecting for 65 years, in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, and she had a recurring role on the E!‘s The Royals starring Elizabeth Hurley.
She starred in Time Of Their Lives (2017) a road comedy film where she plays a former Hollywood movie star who rides to her ex-husband’s funeral in France with the best friend, played by Pauline Collins.