May 23, 1933– Joan Henrietta Collins:
“I’ve never yet met a man who could look after me. I don’t need a husband. What I need is a wife.”
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 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. She proved to be bigly popular and the addition of Collins to the cast brought huge ratings to the already popular series.
Alexis marries three times during the next eight seasons and the 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.”
Alexis’ catfights with Evans’ Krystle were a favorite of the fans. 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 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. Although, Fox’s Empire comes close. Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie Lyon is sort of the Alexis Carrington of this era.
“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 Joan 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 they 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 very B-movie roles, 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 on May 23, 1933, in London, England. 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, to become a film star. She became a Hollywood fixture, driving around in her signature pink T-Bird and enjoying liaisons with handsome leading men like Dennis Hopper, Harry Belafonte and Warren Beatty. 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’ life was rather soap opera like off-camera. 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 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 in 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 and she wrote self-help beauty books and romance novels. She has published 18 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.”
Last year, Collins played Joan Collins, a role that she had been perfecting for 65 years, in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, and she has a recurring role on the E! network’s The Royals starring Elizabeth Hurley.
Up next, Time Of Their Lives a British road comedy film where she stars as a former Hollywood movie star who rides to her ex-husband’s funeral on the west coast of France with the best friend, played by Pauline Collins.
Still working, and still beautiful at 84-years-old, I think she is really swell.