She didn’t like Bing, but she loved Bob – Joan Collins spills the beans to Lorne Jackson about her 60-year career as she takes to the stage here.
Everybody has a question to ask, everybody has an opinion. Everybody offers advice.
When it slips out that I’m interviewing Joan Collins, friends and colleagues froth into a fervour.
Nonchalance? Not a chance.
“Ask her about that terrible movie she made,” chirrups one bloke. “You know, the one where she gives birth to a demon baby, then it punches people from its cot.”
“What about all the men she’s been with?” titters a female journalist. “Actually, forget all the men. I just want to know about Warren Beatty. And take a tape measure, so she can qualify her statements.”
My mother is impressed enough to order me to get a hair cut.
I don’t bother. However, I do wear a new pair of socks. This is Joan Collins I’m meeting, after all. More than a mere actress, she is Hollywood royalty.
Though her regal bearing didn’t prevent her from stripping naked for a couple of raunchy 70s movies, The Stud and The Bitch, both written by sister, Jackie.
Blue blood demeanour mixing with blue movie daring. Only Joan.
It’s been a strange career, in the round. For one so iconic, there have been few memorable starring roles.
Dynasty provided her with a career high. In the 1980s she swanned into the ailing American soap – close to cancellation in its second season – and gave it some cut-glass English oomph.
Scene stealing magnificently as supervixen, Alexis Colby, she was the very devil in shoulder pads.
Shoulder pads? More like shoulder plateaus.
Now Joan has agreed to bring her larger than life persona to Birmingham this winter, where she will star as Queen Rat in the Hippodrome panto, Dick Whittington.
And here am I – with only my new socks as a line of defence – bracing myself to meet Queen Joan.
There isn’t much Hollywood glamour to welcome her to the city. A relentless drizzle of Midland rain splashes on the shoulders of a tramp, who shelters himself by hunkering into the side wall of the Hippodrome.
He sloshes and slurps from a bottle, filled with the sort of cheap cider that’s probably brewed using the same brand of apple that put Snow White in a coma.
Inside the theatre, things rapidly turn glamorous when I meet Joan’s agent.
A little old man in a very big suit, he reminds me of those old-style operators, who ran Hollywood from behind fat cigars during the Golden Era of the cinema.
He ushers me to Joan, who is in a plush, velvety, shaded room. She is surrounded by acolytes, or flunkies, or maybe even friends.
One grinning man seems to be there for no other reason than to be shouted at by Joan. He does his job with the eagerness of a school swot.
Joan wears high heels, tailored trousers and a leopard-print top that plunges at the neckline.
A large head bobbles on her tiny frame, and everything is dwarfed by eye-lashes and hair.
The 77-year-old seems to be held together by make up and memories. Many memories. Names drop from her ruby lips like the rain outside.
I ask her about her early days as a Hollywood starlet in the 50s.
“I was so young, so innocent, and so naïve,” she says. “I was in awe of everyone. I called everybody ‘mister’. And I was always known as the girl. ‘Put the light on the girl.’
“There were some egos. Bette Davis, huh! There was an ego! Yeah, she was pretty terrifying, I have to say.
“But I didn’t go home and cry at night. I dealt with it by keeping out of her way. There were six of us, playing her ladies in waiting, in a film called The Virgin Queen.
“She played Elizabeth I, and she had this shaved head, and a huge red wig.
“We were between 18 and 20 years old, her ladies in waiting. And she hated all of us. She used to stalk around, criticising the way we were giggling in corners, because we were young girls, and were always giggling about boys, or clothes, or what ever it was.”
The anecdote concludes with a sideways snarl from Joan, who is displeased with the acolytes.
“Everybody is very noisy, y’know?” she warns in a steely voice. “We’re trying to do an interview here! Could you cool it?”
Silence ensues. Memories continue.
Another star Joan had no time for was Bing Crosby, who she sang with in a movie.
“I didn’t like him much, to be perfectly honest. He wasn’t a very nice man. Read his son’s book and you’ll find out what I’m talking about.
“Bob Hope, who appeared in the same film, was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous! Fine, funny and warm. But Bing was cold and aloof. The crew didn’t like him. That’s always a good sign for knowing when somebody is a bit of a monster.”
Joan is no monster, of course. Though she is formidable, and can be frightening. Especially if you’re an acolyte.
Her voice is sharp and clear. Sometimes sultry. Sometimes simmering.
While we’re talking, the school swot – hiding in a corner 15ft away – rather recklessly attempts to open a packet of biscuits.
“Wanna make more noise?” Joan snarls sarcastically.
“I’m trying to open them as quietly as possibly,” he bleats.
“It’s like an audience in here,” grumps Joan. She pats the cushion next to her, and signals to me. “Sit here. Much more intimate.”
The actress is in town to talk about Dick Whittington, where she will appear opposite Nigel Havers as her husband, King Rat.
Camp comedian, Julian Clary, also has a part.
Does playing a panto villain mean resurrecting the demonic diva from Dynasty?
“Oh God, yes!” she replies with relish. “I’m going to play Alexis... and then some. That’s the whole point. To be as wicked as possible. It will be the return of Alexis. Which should be a hit with the audiences, as Alexis is still very popular. I don’t understand why – she’s so evil.”
Her co-star, Havers, has recently been appearing in Coronation Street.
I wonder if Joan would star in one of Britain’s more down-market weekly soaps. Could her glitz and glamour be turned into grime and grunge?
“You know, I hate to admit it, but I’ve never seen either Coronation Street or EastEnders,” she says. “I’ve stopped and watched maybe five minutes, here or there.
“But I don’t really enjoy soap opera, particularly.”
A strange admission from one of the great stars of the form. But Joan goes further, and reveals that she didn’t even watch Dynasty in its heyday.
However, it’s now being repeated on TV in America, where she mostly lives, and she has found herself tuning in.
“I’m kind of fascinated by it, because I’d actually forgotten most of it,” she says. “That’s because it was so fleeting, what I did.
“I would learn the lines in the car and the make-up room, and go on set and do what I had to do. Then we’d get changed and do another scene. So it was really like having a brief conversation with somebody. The kind of conversation that vanishes from your mind exactly one moment later.
“Though I do have plenty of memories of the fight scenes.”
Ah, those fight scenes. One of the highlights for Dynasty fans was sitting back and enjoying one of the numerous scraps between Joan and her bitter rival in the show, Krystle Carrington, played by Linda Evans.
Those ultra rich, expensively groomed ladies of a mature age adored a rollicking good punch up. They fought in swimming pools. They battled and bitch-slapped on staircases. They rolled around on perfectly manicured lawns.
Forget the simmering tensions between the USA and USSR in the 1980s. Alexis and Krystle were hotter than any Cold War.
Though Joan found the scraps demeaning, and rather painful, as well.
“That’s because I got bruised and hurt so much!” she pouts. “Anyway, it was so out of character for Alexis. She would have used her tongue, not her fist.
“Linda loved fighting, though. Which meant that I ended up in accident and emergency quite a few times. I put my neck out, and suffered a concussion. And a broken finger. Working in Hollywood is a very dangerous business. I don’t think people realise what we all put ourselves through.”
With that said, Joan’s agent makes a cut-throat sign from the shadows, bringing the interview to an end.
I’m guided away from the glitter of Old Hollywood, back to the rain, cider and damp-tramp dinginess of present day Brum.
As I leave, Joan’s agent is haranguing a PR about another interview that has been arranged.
The hack in question is late, which is why the elderly Hollywood player in the oversize suit is now snarling that there will be no interview.
Time and tide – and Joan Collins, it would seem – wait for no man.
Keep Queen Joan twiddling her fingers? Now, that really takes the biscuit! In fact, it’s almost as bad as opening a pack of ‘em in her regal presence.
* Joan will be appearing in Dick Whittington at the Hippodrome from December 18 until January 30