‘The first time I met Bette Davis... no, I won’t talk about that one. I will tell you the one about Paul Newman...”
I hear the unmistakable, clipped tones of the actress Joan Collins through the telephone. She is in Los Angeles. I am in Northampton.
And I know I’m not going to hear THAT story about the first time she met Bette Davis on this particular day.
But that does not mean that the Queen of glitz, glamour and 80s’ shoulder pads won’t share it with Northampton audiences when she arrives at the Royal & Derngate next month to do her one woman show, One Night With Joan.
She explains: “The show covers a very public divorce and a very famous court case I had with Random House, when they sued me about a big advance they gave me. Then there are some hopefully amusing anecdotes about people like Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Bette Davis, Gene Kelly and, of course, Linda Davis. And there are quite a few clips from practically everything I have done.”
So what was that story about Paul Newman?
Joan explains: “There was a comedy called Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys that the studio wanted Jayne Mansfield for, but Paul and his wife, Joanne Woodward, wanted me and the studio said ‘no no no, you have to have Jayne because blondes are funny, brunettes are not funny’, but they insisted and I got the role. Anyway, we had a drunk scene where we didn’t get drunk but we had to laugh hysterically all day long and finally the director, Leo McCarey, said ‘stop all this laughing rubbish, kids, we are trying to make a comedy here for goodness sake’.”
Then there was the time Joan did a screen test to play Cleopatra in the film; a role eventually taken on by Elizabeth Taylor.
With typical wit, Joan recalled: “My screen test was with actors who to say they were wooden would be unkind to trees, and there is a clip of my screen test for Cleopatra which is pretty bad, I have to say, but quite funny. Elizabeth Taylor was cast in it and she became very ill, they thought she was going to die. So they started rushing around testing people to take over and luckily Elizabeth recovered and went on to play Cleopatra with Richard Burton.”
But there is one role for which Joan will always be known...that of the villainous Alexis Carrington in Dynasty.
I ask Joan if she thinks she played Alexis rather too well, as, given the Joan Collins diva stereotype, it could be that people have confused her real character with that of Alexis.
“I think I always tried to play my characters as well as I possibly can,” she said. “Dynasty was hundreds of hours in which I played the same character and that is why that character has stuck in people’s minds. But I think there were a lot of people who liked the character of Alexis as I tried to make her as likeable as I possibly could. I read once that Laurence Olivier said you can’t play an evil character really well unless you like them yourself and I found a lot of things about Alexis that I did like.”
As to a possible revival of Dynasty in the future, Joan is less than hopeful.
“I don’t think so. Everyone is very confused about who owns the rights and there is a lot of backstage bickering over who owns them. And this is a very cut-throat business. No, Aaron Spelling is dead and John Forsythe is dead. I don’t think there is much chance of Dynasty ever making it back on to the small screen.”
It was undoubtedly the diva-like image which led to the comical send-up of herself she played in the latest advert for Snickers. She said: “If you can’t fight it, go along with it. I find it quite fun to do. It’s a send-up and I think most intelligent people will realise it’s a send up and certainly people have seen me enough on talk shows to know what I really am like and when they come to see my show they will get more of a glimpse of that.”
Joan’s acting career started when she was nine-years-old and took on a West End role in Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House. Then, at the age of 16, she won a place at RADA and by 20 she was on a plane to Hollywood to set up a movie career.
“It was frightening,” she remembered. “I was only 20 and I had to get on a plane and leave my parents and go to this big strange place called California. And it wasn’t like today, that you can get on a plane at Heathrow and be at LAX 12 hours later. The whole thing took two days. It was very far away, telephone communications were not good in America in the mid-50s, so it was scary. I didn’t know anybody so I was quite lonely for about 10 minutes.”
Despite being 79-years-old, Joan has not lost her striking looks. But what is her secret?
“My mother was blonde and blue eyed; my father was black haired and brown eyed. They were both very attractive specimens... I hate that word. So, from an early age my mother encouraged me to take care of my skin, which I have done from a very early age, and to eat properly. My mother was giving us supplements and vitamins when the rest of the world hadn’t even heard of them. It was very much a question of ‘eat your greens, otherwise you don’t get any sweets’. I had about six or seven aunts, all of whom were very glamorous, and my grandmother, who was a dancer. So I was surrounded by all these women who were very good-looking and aware that, unless you take care of what you have, ‘it ain’t gonna last’.”
She continued: “That sex symbol thing was always a bit of a joke, I never took it seriously. But then I never take anything said about me too seriously because some people will write really nice things and some people will write really nasty things and if you let it bother you, you better get out of the business, frankly, because you have to be used to rejection and criticism and that is something that comes with the territory.”
I ask Joan if she ever plans to retire.
“Retire, what is that? I don’t know the word, dear. I have two movies coming out which I’m excited about, one of which is called Molly Moon: The Hypnotist and another one called Saving Santa which is an animated film, in which I do a voice over. I’ve got my one woman show and I have my book, Passion for Life, I’m still working on actually. I can’t think of anything worse than not working. I’m a very active person. My mother used to call me Miss Petrol Motion, because I couldn’t keep still.” One Night With Joan will be at the Royal & Derngate on Saturday, April 6. To hear an audio of this interview, see www.northamptonchron.co.uk