In April, The Spectator reported Joan Collins’ dis of Twitter. “It is the most banal and boring pastime ever invented,” she told the British magazine. So when rumors circulated later this year that the actress had taken to tweeting, some reporters were plenty skeptical. After all, there’s more than one Collins account out there, including one peppered with a few too many obvious “dahlings.” But the inaugural tweet from “joancollinsobe” sounded authentic enough: “Well, I finally gave in, joined the 21st century! I have an iPhone, iPad so now I’ll start tweeting. This IS me…aka Alexis! Stay tuned!” Her official Web site linked to the feed. She had messages from the verified account of sister Jackie. For the record, Collins was in Saint-Tropez when she entered the Twitterati ranks.
It was Collins. The “obe” stood for Order of the British Empire, which she had received from the Queen in 1997. Soon the world discovered that, on Aug. 27, Collins watched an old episode of “Dynasty.” On Sept. 24, she felt “sorry for Demi and Ashton.” She launched an official Facebook page on Oct. 22. (There were already six others claiming to be Collins.) Two days later, it was “just a regular Sunday for me!” And on Nov. 1: “It’s over 80 degrees [in L.A.] who knows what to wear?”
This story first appeared in the November 15, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Joan Collins’ life is an open book. Again.
The actress, best known for her campy, vampy role as Alexis Morrell-Carrington-Colby-Dexter-Rowan on Eighties prime-time soap “Dynasty,” has already written two tell-all memoirs, the first in 1978. There was no polite lacquering of events; she detailed everything from her stream of ex-husbands, including the first, Maxwell Reed, who tried to sell her to an Arab sheikh for one night, to her 1983 Playboy cover, sales for which reportedly pushed the men’s magazine into the black. In 2006, Collins performed a candid autobiographical one-woman show on the London stage; tomorrow night, she brings that show stateside. “One Night With Joan,” directed by her husband, Percy Gibson, debuts in the ballroom of Feinstein’s at Loews Regency and runs till Nov. 27.
“It’s the story of my life,” the L.A.-based Collins says, in her crisp English lilt. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I’m known for being extremely honest, so I don’t hold back, but this isn’t an ‘Oh, poor me, crybaby.’ It’s done in a humorous, anecdotal way.” So while she covers episodes such as her 1996 battle with Random House — she submitted a manuscript, the publisher sued to get the $1.2 million advance back because it was “unreadable,” she won — Collins also delves into the juicy stuff, including her myriad divorces and affairs. “It’s like a movie with me onstage,” she continues. “Behind-the-scenes stories of Richard Burton being lecherous, Bette Davis being spiteful, Bing Crosby being grumpy…I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business, you know?”
At the age of 77 (or 79, depending on the source; Collins herself won’t tell), the London native is still in a work-centric state of mind. Last week, she made a cameo on the CBS sitcom “Rules of Engagement” and, next month, headlines in “Dick Whittington” at the Birmingham Hippodrome in Birmingham, England. There, audiences can watch Collins sing live — as she plays Queen Rat in the British folktale. The actress also has two television projects in the pipeline, which she declines to disclose until all the details are buttoned up. She adds that there’s been talk of bringing her 2009 makeover special, “Joan Does Glamour,” to the U.S. “I’d like to come back to prime-time television, absolutely,” she says.
Collins is also currently writing a book — her 12th in a lineup that includes those memoirs, as well as novels and beauty guides. “The World According to Joan,” slated for a September release in England, will feature Collins’ musings on a whole host of subjects, from food, fame and manners to men. “I have a lot to work with,” she responds with a chuckle, when asked about the last topic. “But I haven’t started that chapter.” (Famous paramours include Warren Beatty, Charlie Chaplin Jr., Dennis Hopper, Robert Quarry and Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr.) She will say this, however, of fame: “It’s the most ridiculous thing in the world. People crave fame, they think it’s going to change their lives; it doesn’t.”
And there’s actually one more field, which she’s flirted with in the past, that Collins would still like to work in: fashion. “I would love to do a collection now,” she says, noting that “women over 50” would be her target customer. “There is so very little out there. You end up looking either like a frump or mutton dressed as lamb. It’s definitely not going to be ‘Oh, look at me, isn’t this outrageous’ [clothing]. I was at [the Carousel of Hope charity ball in October] and — I’m not mentioning any names — but some of the women there should not be wearing sleeveless, backless, cleavaged…they just looked ridiculous.” Collins wore a dress by St. John.
Her ideal collaborators? Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg and Michael Kors. “But I’m sure they would not want to work with me — they’re doing very well, thank you very much,” she notes. “I think it would have to be a manufacturer…why don’t you mention it in Women’s Wear Daily?” Collins, who played a Nazi-survivor-turned-model-turned-fashion-designer-turned-fashion-editor in the 1986 miniseries “Sins,” is also keen enough to know she doesn’t want to start with accessories. “Everybody does [that],” she explains. “I’m not into the ‘It’ bag of the day. I don’t think a bag should wear you. The bag is there to stuff your stuff in.”
Few people know that Collins grew up wanting to be a designer. “It was when I was very young, like 11, 12 or 13,” she recalls. “I would draw, read the magazines and design things for my aunts and my mother. Occasionally they would have them made by the dressmaker.” Even as Collins opted for the celluloid life, she continued to fine-tune her fashion savvy. “I spend quite a lot of time planning what I’m going to wear,” she says, while pointing out that she’s never used a personal stylist and does her own hair and makeup. On Thursday’s shoot for this story, Collins, apparently dissatisfied with the first frame — “my hair is all wrong,” was the complaint — excused herself and teased up her do.
Today, Collins continues to follow the trends — “But I would never wear harem pants or kitten heels” — despite not attending the collections like she once did. “The shows today, they’re not so much fashion shows as cabarets now,” she remarks. “It is a sort of celebrity circus. I also found that it’s very difficult to see what’s happening on the runway, because photographers are tripping over your leg. I’d rather stay home and watch it on the fashion TV.”
As for modern glamour girls, don’t even get Collins started on that. This October, she told Hello! magazine that the current crop of stars weren’t all that attractive. “I mean, there’s Angelina Jolie and there’s…Angelina Jolie,” she said. “Jennifer Aniston is cute, but I wouldn’t call her beautiful.” The press slammed her for the comment. “I will never, ever mention the name of another actress ever,” Collins remarks. “I’ve been in such trouble with that. First of all, I don’t think glamour really exists anymore. If you look at all those photographs of actresses from the Thirties to the Sixties — Ava Gardner, Greer Garson, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich — nobody looks like that anymore. Those women were my icons.”
But then, so is Collins, thanks to a certain Eighties late-night phenomenon. Despite her diverse, six-decades-long oeuvre — Hollywood ingenue, pinup girl, Seventies B-movie queen, “Star Trek” guest star, Broadway performer — it’s her turn in “Dynasty” that ultimately defines her career, and much of that clout is channeled in the fashions. Her clothes are ogled and obsessed over even today — consider the “fashion tributes” to Alexis Carrington on YouTube — while Collins’ name has become virtually synonymous with glamorous Eighties excess and the decade’s stock power silhouette. The actress now reveals she was behind that iconic image.
“I designed most of my own clothes and worked in complete collaboration with [“Dynasty” costume designer] Nolan Miller,” she explains. “When I came [to the show in the second season], the look for women was slacks, silk shirt and a lot of flowy hair. Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent had just brought out this whole new look in Paris — big shoulders, tiny waist — and I said to Nolan, ‘Why don’t we start doing this?’ I don’t want to be like all the other women on the show in their gabardine pants and silk.”
But the decade had its misses as well as its hits, and Collins cops to her share of “Dynasty” fashion regrets. “There were some dreadful things — some hideosity with enormous purple shoulder pads and too much jewelry and too-big hair,” she remembers. “In the beginning, Alexis was quite chic. But as Aaron [Spelling, the producer] brought other actresses in, they wanted to have this look. So he said, ‘Well, Alexis has got to be more over-the-top than them.’ At the end, some of the clothes got a bit too ridiculous.” But the show did allow the aspiring designer to cross over to the commercial side, albeit briefly; “Dynasty” spawned a slew of licensed products — hosiery, shoes, women’s apparel, home furnishings, belts and ties. Collins, meanwhile, had her own perfume, Spectacular, lingerie, blouses, sunglasses and a collection of hats.
She was a busy product promoter, too. Collins cut the ribbon at Sir Philip Green’s first Topshop store in the Seventies, for instance. But not all the merch she plugged was exactly in sync with her glamourpuss image. In her mid-Eighties ads for Sanyo Electric Co., she hawked kitchen appliances while spoofing her tony Alexis persona. Draped in diamonds and dressed in a ruffled lilac gown, Collins breathlessly remarks, “If I were ever to cook, I would use this wonderful Sanyo food thing.” She’s talking about the microwave in front of her. “I could bake things,” she continues, “like that long garlic muffin.” A nearby chef corrects her: “meatloaf, madame.” When she babbles on about instantly melting frozen foods, another cook adds, “Defrost, madame.” She goes on to call a turkey “a giant pheasant.” “It’s so amazing, I almost feel the urge to cook,” she concludes, before deadpanning, “I’m sure it will pass.” More recently, she was the face of Alexis Bittar for his fall 2009 and spring 2010 ads, a jewelry designer she continues to hype still; she wore his baubles on “Rules of Engagement” (paired with Michael Kors separates) and on the WWD shoot.
“I think I could be the spokesperson for lots of things,” Collins says. “I think all advertising is so geared towards women under 40. The fact of the matter is that women over 55 have more disposable income. It’s shocking, really.”
On that subject, would Collins like to come clean about a certain figure?
“I refuse to be defined by my age,” she replies. “Why do you have to [write] down anything?”