Full disclosure dictates that I begin this article by outing myself as the biggest Joan Collins fan ever. Even before she starred on Dynasty — playing the nasty Alexis Carrington on the primetime soap made her a household name — I loved her B-movie queen entries, from The Empire of the Ants to The Bitch.
Collins soon came to personify both camp and the excesses of the Reagan era of the 1980s — her Alexis was greedy, calculating and slutty. She was the scheming brunette to Linda Evans’ disarmingly sweet blonde, and the two battled it out in numerous catfights. The role earned her gay-icon status, something we can all revel in this month with the release of the second season of Dynasty (in which Collins made her debut) on DVD.
I caught up with Collins to dish and to pose that age-old question: Is glamour innate or is it learned behaviour?
MATTHEW HAYS: The image of what a beautiful woman is has changed so much over the years.
JOAN COLLINS: Oh, totally. I love watching movies from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, when women looked like women. Look at Marilyn, she had a waist and a bosom and a bust. That’s what women are supposed to look like. These celebrity magazines suggest that we should all diet ourselves down ridiculously. I know a lot of the designers myself, and I think their ideal woman is hipless and bosomless and tall and skinny.
HAYS: You’ve done another book on beauty.
COLLINS: Yes, The Art of Living Well. It’s not just about beauty, it’s about philosophy, health and exercise, all kinds of Martha Stewart-like advice on how to give a great wedding, how to throw a great children’s party. I’ve got three children — I must have thrown 30 children’s parties in my life. There’s also how to do a buffet, how to cook, how to dress on a budget. All wonderful advice, she said modestly [laughs].
HAYS: You dress on a budget?
COLLINS: No, I don’t, but I can. I can go out and buy fabulous things and look fabulous on very little money, if I want to.
HAYS: You’re not just beautiful, Joan, you’re glamorous. I’m wondering, do you think glamour is something you’re born with or can you develop it?
COLLINS: I think you can develop it. It’s something that comes with a certain amount of mystery. I think it has to do with not letting it all hang out. I think it also has to do with grooming. It has a lot to do with putting the right clothes together. I don’t think you can be glamorous with a shiny face and no lipstick and lank hair. I have to say that I think that hair that is lank and rat’s-taily is not glamorous.
HAYS: I would agree.
COLLINS: Well good, Matthew! It’s true for men, too.
HAYS: Why do you think gay men have such a connection with you and your Dynasty character, Alexis?
COLLINS: Me, a gay icon? [laughs]
HAYS: Oh god, yes!
COLLINS: I think that gay guys — and I have many, many gay friends — they like the clothes, the attitude, the ballsiness. Alexis had a man’s attitude. She took no prisoners in terms of sex. If she had to use her sexual wiles to get a business deal she did that, too. She was tough in business, but looked good in a negligee.
HAYS: Do you have a sex scene that is your favourite from throughout your career?
COLLINS: Most of the sex scenes were hard to do as it was hard to stop laughing. Particularly the one in which I’m bonking Cecil Colby to death. His toupee kept sliding off. Everybody remembers that scene.
HAYS: That was a racy scene. I remember when I saw it, I wondered how they got it on primetime television.
COLLINS: We broke a lot of barriers. We had the gay son, and I think that was the first time a primetime show had had a regular character like that. Alexis totally accepted him, unlike Blake, who was homophobic.
HAYS: Did you have a favourite catfight scene between you and Linda?
COLLINS: I liked the mudslide one, because I didn’t have to do it! My standin did it! But I think my favourite one was where I was dressed as Queen Elizabeth I and I can’t remember what Linda was dressed as, but we had a fight over a mud bath. That was very funny.
HAYS: Are you ever weirded out by how fans have trouble telling you and Alexis apart?
COLLINS: No, I’ve come to accept it. There’s nothing I can do about it. The one thing I will do is if someone stops me on the street and says, “Hi Alexis!” I won’t answer them.
HAYS: They do that? That’s pretty obnoxious.
HAYS: Your husband is quite a bit younger than you are, and the press has noted that. It’s a real double standard, because if it were a man of your age with a younger woman, no one would bat an eye.
COLLINS: I agree. They do make a lot of things about Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, too, though, probably more about them than they do Percy and me. They’ve totally accepted Percy and me now as a couple. I do look younger than my age, and I act and feel a lot younger too. It doesn’t bother us in the slightest degree, so I don’t know why anyone else should care. MYOB, as we say in England.