The Bitch

Joan Collins

first appears in my life in 1981 as a vengeful and scheming ex-wife of a billionaire in the soap opera, Dynasty. I immediately disliked her.  

That is until last night, watching her latest feature film (2017), The Time of Their Lives. Before renting the film, a gut-check, “Do I really want to see a movie with Joan Collins? I hate Joan Collins. But, I love her co-lead in the film, British actress, Pauline Collins!” So, I decide to rent it. 

Any good actor will tell you, if you successfully play the role of a vile and despicable character, people will actually catcall you on the street, and admonish you for your horrid behavior, assuming that you are in fact like the character. It pains me to admit that I have been precisely that person, regarding Joan Collins, for almost forty years as a “bitch” and holding contempt for a British actress, who I’ve never met, and know nothing about. 

In the film, The Time of Their Lives, Joan Collins plays a character that would be easy for anyone to despise: narcissistic, manipulative, and an outright thief! The difference in this performance is that we experience the character’s humanity, vulnerability, and a smidge of Joan Collins’ own obvious amusement, in the similarity of her life and her character’s life. However, unlike her character in the film, a has-been actress who is penniless and without work, Joan Collins is certainly very much alive and her career is still thriving at eighty-six-years-old.

The moment of vulnerability I experienced in her performance, both changed my view of her as an actress and gave me an interest to search online about her life. The first cache of photos that appeared for Joan Collins continued to fuel my usual sense of nausea. Over-the-top couture gowns, augmented breasts that seem to compete for attention with her ostentatious diamond jewelry. Bigger than life, her undeniable brand, as large and vulgar as our own President’s … in your face— I’m a rich bitch!  I almost ended my search, too disillusioned by the unsettling pageantry. Until a very unexpected image caught my eye, as rare and quiet as any delicate Amazonian creature on the forest floor—an image of a young Joan Collins, no branding, no gritty Hollywood machine grind marks, or life scars—undeniably in the moment, a beautiful moment. It was love at first sight.

My interest grows exponentially and I consult Wikipedia for some facts about her life.  Her first stage appearance was at nine-years-old.  He British mother, Elsa, was a dance teacher. Her father, Joseph, a South African of Jewish ancestry, was a successful talent agent in the music industry with legendary acts such as: Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, and The Beatles. 

After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, she begins to work in the British film industry in 1951. After a mere four years later, she lands a contract with 20thCentury Fox in 1955, and immediately receives equal billing in a lavish historic drama with Bette Davis and Richard Todd. Her brand as “the bitch” may have begun in 1956 when MGM borrowed Collins (like a cup of sugar!) for the film, The Opposite Sex,in which she was cast as the gold digging Crystal. 

In 1959, Joan was cast at the temptress out to seduce Paul Newman away from Joanne Woodward, in the Leo McCarey comedy, Rally Round the Flag, Boys.  By 1960, Joan is disillusioned with her studio, as she was originally cast as Cleopatra, and was replaced by another studio buxom brunette beauty, Elizabeth Taylor.

Around this time she marries Anthony Newley, a British actor, singer, and songwriter, perhaps best known for composing the 1964 title song for James Bond film, Goldfinger, and the score of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Before they split-up in 1971, they had two children, her only offspring among her five marriages, and Joan slows down her film career. She begins to make more appearances on television. 

In the 1970s, she returns to England and enjoys a comeback with a series of thrillers and horror films. Back then, when the ingénue was beginning to age, they sent her off to slaughter, by casting her in a horror films. Not the end for Joan Collins. 

Joan makes a huge rise playing the lead role in a 1978 film, written by her sister Judy Collins, entitled, The Stud!  This unremarkable film about a woman who owns a London disco was made for $600,000 and grossed $20 million at the box office. And, at the end of the day, it’s all about the profit in the industry!

At this time, Joan launches an autobiography, Past Imperfect, and it soars to number one on all the bestseller charts! She then appears in the sequel film to The Stud, also written by her sister, entitled, The Bitch.

Laugh if you like, however in 1981, the year I first learn of Joan Collins, she is offered the role of Alexis Carrington, in a new ABC primetime soap opera, Dynasty, which catapults her into international stardom. 

While appearing in Dynasty, she continues to appear in numerous motion pictures, performs on Broadway, and stars in several television movies. Her busy career and involvements continue today, and show no sign of ending.

I was surprised to learn that politically she is a conservative monarchist, and agrees with leaving the European Union. She said on the BBC in 2004, “I do feel that my country – I am English – is losing a lot of what I grew up with. I feel we are eroding ourselves to Brussels.” 

Her charitable work over the last thirty years is very impressive: appearing before Congress in 1982 to urge an increase in funding for neurological research; a patron for the International Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities; In 1994, she was awarded the lifetime achievement award from the Association of Breast Cancer Studies in Great Britain; and in 2003, she became a patron of the Shooting Star Chase Children’s Hospice in Great Britain. 

After, my brief Internet-search to learn more about Joan Collins, I was left with an overwhelming appreciation for her as a woman. Nay, a true love for her. In fact, I was transformed in just minutes, from an almost four decade long disdain, to an undeniable multi-level appreciation. Her enormous courage, as a beautiful young woman from England, to take on, not just the bias and conventions of her own society, but also to enter the belly of the whale in Hollywood of the 1950s (an all-male chauvinistic power elite), and come out victoriously—however circuitous— through the spout, and on-top!  

Joan Collin’s invincible tenacity makes me burst with admiration, praise, and respect. In fact—I love the bitch!

by Lane Rockford Orsak
July 21, 2019


Vive La France!