15 September 2014

Joan Collins

Glamorous English actress Joan Collins (1933) is one of the great survivors of the cinema. She began in the early 1950s as a voluptuous starlet of British film. 20th Century Fox brought her to Hollywood as their answer to Elizabeth Taylor. In the 1970s she was the ‘Queen of the B-pictures’, but in the 1980s Joan became the highest-paid TV star, thanks to Dynasty.

Modern Girl
German postcard by FHAK.

Joan Collins
Canadian postcard in the Fan Club Postcard Series, no. 2.

Joan Collins
Italian postcard by Ed. Ris. Rotalfoto S.p.A., Milano (Milan) in the series Artisti di Sempre, no. 295.

Joan Collins
German postcard.

Perennial Starlet

Joan Henrietta Collins was born in Paddington, London, in 1933 (some sources say 1931 or 1935). She was the daughter of Elsa (née Bessant), a dance teacher and nightclub hostess, and Joseph William Collins, an agent whose clients would later included Shirley Bassey, The Beatles and Tom Jones. She has one sister, the author Jackie Collins, and a brother, real estate agent Bill Collins.

Joan was educated at the Francis Holland School and then trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). In 1951, she made her feature debut in a small role as a beauty contestant in the comedy Lady Godiva Rides Again (Frank Launder, 1951). The next year she left RADA and starred in the crime drama Cosh Boy (Lewis Gilbert, 1952), and appeared as a juvenile delinquent in I Believe in You (Basil Dearden, Michael Relph, 1952).

The Rank Organisation then took an interest in Collins and gave her a contract. Rank set about moulding Joan into their idea of a well-groomed film star. They entrusted her to Cornel Lucas, their top stills photographer. Lucas, who was married to Belinda Lee at the time, produced the first really glamorous photographs of Joan. Collins was a popular magazine pin-up in the UK throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s.

The Rank Organisation also cast Joan in a succession of undistinguished films, plus the interesting thriller The Good Die Young (Lewis Gilbert, 1954) in which she starred opposite Laurence Harvey. Rank loaned her out to Howard Hawks, who was making Land Of The Pharaohs (1955) in Rome. Joan played the star role as a scheming, unscrupulous Egyptian Princess.

This assignment led to a contract with 20th Century-Fox, where despite a few good dramatic parts, in particular Girl on the Red Velvet Swing (Richard Fleischer, 1955) and the grim western The Bravados (Henry King, 1958), she was written off by critics as decorative but nothing more.

In the 1960s she was perilously close to ‘perennial starlet’ status, but she made notable guest appearances on American TV series as Batman (1967), Mission: Impossible (1969), and Star Trek (1967).

By the 1970s she was the uncrowned queen of European B-pictures like the thriller Revenge (Sidney Hayers, 1971), the SF-mystery Quest for Love (Ralph Thomas, 1971) and the horror film Dark Places (Don Sharp, 1973) with Christopher Lee.

Then she starred in the film versions of her sister Jackie Collins' racy novels The Stud (Quentin Masters, 1978) with Oliver Tobias, and The Bitch (Gerry O'Hara, 1979). Both films were smash hits in England, but also despised by the international critics.

Joan Collins
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 773. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Joan Collins
British collectors card. Publicity still for Turn The Key Softly (Jack Lee, 1953).

Joan Collins
Yugoslavian postcard by Studio Sombor, Beograd, no. 160.

The British Open

Early, Joan Collins had developed a reputation for being adventurous and gamesome in her private life. In Hollywood she was affectionately known as ‘The British Open’ because of her liberal lifestyle.

She first married Irish actor Maxwell Reed in 1952, and the couple divorced in 1956. In 1959, she embarked on an affair with an as-then-unknown Warren Beatty, four years her junior, which would last for two years.

In 1963 she married actor Anthony Newley. They had two children, a daughter Tara Newley and a son, Alexander Newley. Collins and Newley divorced in 1970.

In 1972 she married her third husband Ron Kass, who had been the president of Apple Records when The Beatles reigned. During their marriage Collins had her third and final child, daughter Katyana Kass.

In 1981, Collins was offered a role in the then-struggling new prime time soap opera Dynasty (1981-1989) playing Alexis, the vengeful ex-wife of tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe). The role successfully relaunched Collins as a powerful sex symbol and icon of independence.

Her performance is generally credited as one factor in the fledgling show's subsequent rise to a hit rivaling Dallas. In 1985, Dynasty was the #1 show in the U.S., and Collins became the highest-paid TV actress at the time.

As Alexis, Collins was nominated six times for a Golden Globe Award, winning once in 1983. Delighting the audience in attendance at the ceremony, Joan thanked Sophia Loren for turning down the part of Alexis.

Collins' marriage to Kass ended in divorce in 1983, although they remained very close until his death from cancer in 1986. At the height of Dynasty's popularity in 1985, Collins married Swedish singer Peter Holm. They were divorced two years later.

With Dynasty at the height of its success, Collins began producing and starred in two CBS miniseries, Sins (Douglas Hickox, 1986) with Timothy Dalton and Jean-Pierre Aumont, and Monte Carlo (Anthony Page, 1986) with George Hamilton.

She also appeared on the cover of and in a twelve-page layout shot by George Hurrell for Playboy magazine at the age of 49. She remained with Dynasty until its 1989 cancellation.

Joan Collins
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, no. S 789. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for The Opposite Sex (1956) (David Miller, 1956).

Joan Collins
French postcard by Editions du Globe, no. 561. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / International Press.

Joan Collins
British postcard by L.D. LTD., London, in the Film Star Autograph Portrait Series, no. 60. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Pearl Slaghoople

Joan Collins left Los Angeles and returned to London where she lived with art dealer Robin Hurlstone for over a decade. In the 1990s she made several guest star appearances on TV series such as Roseanne (1993), The Nanny (1996) and Will & Grace (2000).

In the meantime she starred in British films like Decadence (Steven Berkoff, 1994) and In the Bleak Midwinter (Kenneth Branagh, 1995). In 1994 she launched her exercise video Joan Collins Personal Workout, at the age of 60.

She also appeared successfully in stage plays by Noel Coward. In 1990, she played Amanda in a revival of Coward's Private Lives in the West End. The following year she appeared in Coward's Tonight at 8:30 and played eight different women in a series of one-act plays written by Coward. In 1992, she made her Broadway debut in an adaptation of Coward's Private Lives.

She also appeared in films including The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (Brian Levant, 2000) as Pearl Slaghoople, and the Dutch comedy Ellis in Glamourland/Alice in Glamourland (Pieter Kramer, 2004).

In 2002, Collins married theatrical company manager Percy Gibson, a man 32 years her junior. He directed her in An Evening With Joan Collins (2006), a one-woman show in which she detailed the highs and lows of her roller coaster career and life.

Joan Collins has also established herself as an author. In addition to her bestselling novels, including Prime Time, Love & Desire & Hate, Infamous, Star Quality, and Misfortune's Daughters, she has written five lifestyle books and memoirs. To date she has sold over 50 million copies of her novels which have been translated into 30 languages. She also writes occasionally columns for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and Harper's Bazaar.

In 1997, Collins was granted the title of OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II in honour of her contribution to the arts and ongoing charity work.

Recently, Joan Collins appeared in the TV film Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (Andy Wilson, 2009) and the short film Fetish (Matthew J. Pellowski, 2010).

Joan Collins
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 155.

Joan Collins
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Joan Collins
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Trailer for Empire of the Ants (1977). Source: sideshowcarny (YouTube).

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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