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    Television
    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    At 90, Joan Collins recalls dealing with ‘misogynist crap.’ But she’s living in the present

    When Joan Collins walked on stage at the Emmy Awards last month, she wasn’t sure at first why the star-studded audience was on its feet.

    “I was quite surprised to get the standing O,” says Collins, who was there with actress Taraji P. Henson to present the Emmy for best limited series. “In fact, Taraji said, when we walked on, ‘Oh, this is for you.’

    “I said, ‘No, it’s not,’” she says. “And she said, ‘Yes.’ And then I realized they were playing the ‘Dynasty’ theme. So you know I was very honored and happy. It’s been exciting.”

    And why wouldn’t the Emmy audience cheer for Collins, whose career spans more than seven decades?

    She’s a star unlike almost any other around today, and that old-school glamour — a bejeweled blue gown matched with baby blue satin gloves? Please! — and her radiant beauty had viewers gaga for Dame Joan during the ceremony and the following days.

    “Did the #Emmys teleport the 80s Joan Collins because that woman has not changed at all,” one wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

    “Ageless. Timeless. Gorgeous,” wrote another. “Joan Collins is that pop culture icon who never grows old.”

    Last fall, Collins published her 19th book, another memoir, this one titled “Behind the Shoulder Pads: Tales I Tell My Friends.” We’d reached out to chat with her even before her Emmy appearance, and found her at home in Los Angeles, where she and her husband Percy Gibson spend time away from London each winter.

    “We usually come out here for the first three months of the year because the weather in Europe is pretty bad,” Collins says on a stormy Monday. “But it’s exactly the same as this now.”

    “Behind the Shoulder Pads” is an entertaining, eye-opening, funny and at times heartwarming story of an old-fashioned star with an eternally youthful spirit. At 90, Collins says her goal is to find the joy in life each day, even when life knocks you down.

    “I don’t think there’s anything I’m ashamed of,” she says, speaking of the new book in particular, but her whole life in general. “I think I make fun of myself a lot of the time. I mean, when you get swept out to sea in a Chinese junk in the middle of a storm” — as she describes in one chapter — “I think that’s quite funny.

    “I have a kind of mantra, which is that every day I want to achieve something, writing or whatever it is. I want to enjoy it, whether it’s just my first cup of coffee And I want to learn something.

    “I try to do that every day, and I really try to live life as fully as possible.”

    In an interview edited for length and clarity, Collins talked about her life in Hollywood, both good and bad, the misogyny and sexual harassment she experienced, a personal trauma she’s seldom discussed until now, and more.

    Q: If these are ‘Tales I Tell My Friends,’ why did you decide to share them with strangers now?

    A: The thing is, I’m always writing. In England, I write a lot for the Spectator. And for Harper’s Bazaar and the Daily Mail. And I write diaries. The one that came before this (‘My Unapologetic Diaries”) did very well. So my agent said, ‘Why don’t you try to do another book?’

    I said, ‘I’ve written so many memoirs,’ and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you do a collection of these incidents and funny things that happened to you in your lifetime? Talk about when you arrived in Hollywood.’ I said, ‘But I’ve already done that’ — this is Collins’ 19th book in more than 40 years — ‘everybody knows that.’

    He said, ‘Everybody doesn’t know that. Everybody doesn’t know what it was in this 1950s paradise. Write a book.’

    And to be perfectly honest with you, it was a paradise. I try to express that in the book. My Alice in Wonderland, little girl, goggly-eyed, ‘Wow, this is like the movies that I really enjoyed.’ So I started writing.

    Q: That period of Hollywood in the ‘50s is one of the most glamorous times, and you capture that. But there’s also a dark side to that.

    A: Oh, my gosh, yes. I did go into the things that young women, in all professions, not just in the acting profession, are expected to put up with. The most misogynist crap from men who just expect the girls to take it. This happened a lot to me, first, in my first film in England when I was 17.

    I put this story in the book. I went to an older actress, and I told her about it. And she said something like, ‘That’s what this is like. If you don’t like it, you better get out.’ So I found ways to deal with it. Mostly laughing at men. That’s the biggest killer of a man who’s got the hots. It really is.

    I would love to see this end, you know. The kind of thing that happened to a lot of women, when it all came up, when the #MeToo movement started a few years back. I certainly sympathize with them.

    Q: The misogyny that you describe in the book, with some very well-known studio bosses or even some of your fellow actors, is appalling.

    A: But you know, I pushed it to the back of my mind. I didn’t dwell on it. That’s one of my instincts

    Q: What were the joys of being a young woman from England in sunny Hollywood in the ‘50s and early ‘60s?

    A: You just said it. I mean, every day the sun shined, it seemed like. The studio took care of everything. They found me a car. They found me a financial advisor, who actually ended up ripping me off later, something that’s happened to me many times in my life. They told me what to wear. But I didn’t mind all that because I’d come from England and my father was reasonably strict.

    I was at the studio every day, which I was plunged into immediately after I arrived. I did ‘The Virgin Queen’ with Bette Davis, and I did ‘The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing’ two months later. Then I was loaned to MGM for ‘The Opposite Sex.’

    And of course, there was fun. I was dating. I was in my 20s; you date, you try out different men and relationships. And you have as much fun as possible. We would go out to dinner, go to nightclubs, go dancing. Go to each other’s houses and play charades and play poker, or learn some new dance step. It was a carefree time, which is what your 20s should be, I might add.

    Q: One of the most intense chapters, and one that got a lot of coverage when the book came out, is when you write about having an abortion when you were engaged to Warren Beatty. Is this the first time you’ve talked about that openly?

    A: I think so. I’d think about it but I never expressed how I felt at the time. And I’m sure a lot of people will think I’m a heartless bitch. But I was only 26 then. I was so innocent and green. You know, we didn’t know, young girls. I was very protected by my parents, so I was very young for my age.

    And I realized — I did confide in some of my girlfriends — and they all said, ‘This is the end of your career,’ you know, which was burgeoning. Whatever you do, it’s a stigma. It’s never a stigma on the man, of course. I mean, look what happened to Ingrid Bergman. So I just went ahead with it.

    And he (Beatty) was complicit, he was fine with it. Well, we were both nervous. But we did it. And I got over it. Two days later, I pushed it to the back of my mind, which is how, one of the reasons, I think, that I survived.

    Q: Was it difficult to revisit for the book?

    A: No, it wasn’t difficult. It was no more difficult than (writing of) fighting off a predatory man who would take you to your hotel room and try to rape you. I’m not pulling punches here. That happened. Several times. You know, you’re making me think about it now and, well, I did when I was writing it.

    But after I did, I’m not going to dwell on it. You know the world is in a very sad place today, and I want to try to enjoy it.

    Q: Let’s shift to something lighter. When and how did you realize that your role as Alexis Carrington on ‘Dynasty’ was going to be more than another TV job, but in fact, perhaps the one you’re most often remembered for?

    A: I think I realized it when I was driving down Sunset Boulevard and a carful of young kids stuck their heads out the windows and said, ‘Alexis! Alexis!’ I said, ‘Oh, hi, how are you? Do you like me?’ And they said, ‘No! We hate you!’ And then they all laughed and said we love you.

    It was gradual, but it happened quickly. I think the Daily Mirror in England had it on the front page, with a picture saying something about ‘Sophisticated Joan about to oust JR,’ which was Larry Hagman (in ‘Dallas’). It happened in the first six months or so. It was very flattering.

    Q: I saw a picture of you when you were 17 in your first film. When you think back to that how big did you dream that your life would be? And would you tell her anything today?

    A: I don’t think back to that girl. She was totally different to the way I am now. And I never had dreams of anything. That’s an American thing. We did not dream.

    I remember thinking that, well, at the turn of the century I’ll be an old lady in a wheelchair with a cane. This was in the ‘50s, and we’d talk about what was going to happen in 50 years, you know, the millennium. And I said that I might not even be alive.

    I never thought really too much about having children or anything. (Collins has three. A daughter and son with her second husband, actor-singer Anthony Newley, and a daughter with her third husband, businessman Ron Kass.) Because I lived in the present. I still do.

    What is it they say? Yesterday … oh, my God, it’s something like, ‘Tomorrow’s a mystery, yesterday’s history, but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.’ Something like that. And it is.

    I live in the present.

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