What’s Wrong With Me?—Joan Collins
Four years ago, a young, unknown British actress named Joan Collins stepped off a giant Constellation airliner at Los Angeles International Airport with a 20th-Century Fox contract in one pocket and a ticket to Hollywood in another. She had all the trimmings to make a star—so the predictions went: good looks, talent, youth, and, what’s more, a series of top productions scheduled for her.
She went immediately into a film. Her first, a colorful period piece called “The Virgin Queen,” had her co- starring with pro Bette Davis. However, while it showed her as attractively feminine, it hid her acting talents behind an only fair swashbuckling plot. Her second, “The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing,” was touted before-hand, and as the biography of Ziegfeld beauty Evelyn Nesbitt, it had, in talent scout lingo, the makings of winging Joan Collins into velvet stardom. It didn’t.
But Joan was kept busy, and she was a boon to the press. Known around Hollywood as somewhat of a mystery girl, she captured columnist eyes. Quick, wisecracking, funloving, she felt happiest in torreador pants, jazzy t-shirts and sweaters. She also managed, at her swift pace, to make, in five years, almost one dozen films.
Joan’s probably one of the “most seen young personalities” on the screen today, with three of her pictures showing the past few months: “Island in the Sun,” “The Wayward Bus,” “Seawife,” and “Stopover Tokyo” in the can, awaiting release.
Yet, after receiving three “most promising actress” awards, she raised eyebrows not too long ago by stating: “I’m afraid I’ll be a has-been before I’m finished being promising.” How come? we asked her recently. Here’s what she said:
“Right now, my career is in crisis. I can go up or I can go down. I can’t stand still. I think, in a way, the times are against me. The days of star-building, as they used to be, are over. The real way to build a female star, the way it was done, is to put her in a succession of pictures with big names like William Holden or Greg Peck. Naturally, I don’t consider myself a star, and I feel someone on the way to somewhere needs the moral support of a boxoffice male lead. That’s why Grace Kelly—not that she wasn’t wonderful—was so fantastically lucky. She rarely had to carry a picture alone.
“I’ve been bothered for a long time by the variety and range of my parts. Not that variety isn’t good. It is, once you’re an established star. But I feel that for me there must first be a more constant identification in the minds of audiences with Joan Collins, Personality. And this I haven’t yet established.
“I’ve played a nun, a respectable English girl, a broken-down nymphomaniac, a Follies girl gone astray and a thirty-five-year-old alcoholic. None was particularly sympathetic, and none was precisely me. Of all my parts, the one in ‘Island in the Sun’ was closest to what I’d like. I like playing girls my own age—twenty-four—and hate doing ingenues. I’d love to have the kind of parts Susan Hayward did fifteen years ago, or Ava Gardner. The roles in ‘East Side, West Side,’ or ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ or ‘The Hucksters.’ And, of course, there’s something irresistible about the role of a bad girl. I think most actresses feel that.
“Getting back to establishing a personality. For instance, take hairdos. With all the different kinds I’ve worn, and this is important, I’ve never become associated with any particular kind of role. No one would recognize me in two pictures in a row. Then, too, I’d like to get on the right foot with a screen personality that is part of my own, and then use that for propulsion. Offhand, the closest I can think of would have been the part of Myra in “Oh Men, Oh Women”—the one Barbara Rush played.
“It wouldn’t have to necessarily be a sexy type personality. I’ve been identified some with sex, but I have my own definite feeling about that. Sex is something that comes from within oneself. There have been beautiful women who have been sexless, and the plain women who have been sexy, and it has nothing to do with one’s figure or one’s measurements. Having a fifty-six-inch bust, for a grotesque example, doesn’t mean you’re sexy. You can be sexy with a thirty-inch bust. A bosom is a lovely and sometimes necessary adjunct to motherhood, and that’s all it is. So why all the fuss about it? I also think that covered-up sex is more attractive than uncovered sex. I am indifferent to the bikini, for example.
“Glamour is another word and another thing. Glamour, I think, is an aura. I think very few women have real glamour. I think Dietrich has it, Ava Gardner, Vivian Leigh, to mention a few. But I don’t think all these itsy-bitsy starlets are glamorous. I don’t even think you can be glamorous until you’ve reached a certain age. Garbo has tremendous glamour. It’s a poise, a worldliness, an assurance which you simply can’t find in young girls, no matter how pretty or sexy they are. Probably no one will agree with me, but that’s the way I feel about it.
“I’ve been told that I look like Elizabeth Taylor. Well anyone compared to Elizabeth Taylor in looks has to be terribly flattered, but I think it’s a handicap to be compared to anyone. In that way, especially. For better or worse, I’ll go it on my own. Although there’s no doubt about Liz’ glamor, I don’t think you can make a sweeping statement about what age a woman can or does become glamorous—if she ever does. It has something to do with having lived.
“I never want to stand still. I love movement. I know I said when I was in Japan, ‘I’ll never live in Hollywood again.’ And I won’t—for any length of time, any more than Id have wanted to live in Japan.
“I love places, I could travel the rest of my life and always be home. I love Acapulco and Rome and Paris and New York and London. But if it had to be one place, and I hope it won’t, it would be New York. New York to me is the capital of the world, the international city. London is strictly British, Paris so ver-ee French. Tokyo so Japanese. But in New York, you hear so many languages and dialects, see so many nationalities and viewpoints. I prefer a cosmopolitan city. I like Vegas and I like Hollywood all right, but it’s no place for night life. I liked the West Indies, too.
“Heavens, look at me eat, And yet, I loathe people who stuff themselves, the obese ones. Maybe I’m jealous because of my diets. I should talk; when I’m depressed I pick up several magazines and seven or eight candy bars, then sit and read and eat and smoke. I like every food that’s fattening. Someone once said that everything he enjoys was illegal, immoral or fattening, and that’s something like me, but I’m—and I don’t really mean immoral. I hate to be on a diet—but I always am.”
Joan has often been chided by the press for her I-don’t-care manner of living. But icy remarks, such as these, appear to bounce right off her: “Joan Collins could never be accused of spending too much time at the hairdresser’s” and “Joan Collins obviously plans to be noticed when she attends the royal premiere of ‘Island in the Sun’ in London. In spite of her studio’s disapproval, she intends to wear an evening dress that would strike envy in the publicity conscious little hearts of both Jayne ‘frontless’ Mansfield and Vikki ‘backless’ Dougan. Joan’s frock might be ‘sideless, featuring nude net from armhole to ankles.” What ultimately happened was that Joan failed to appear at the “Island” premiere at all. Because she was scheduled to be presented to Princess Margaret, her absence was taken as a “snub.” Meanwhile, Joan, basking on the Riviera, insisted her failure to attend was not meant as a snub, but that her tickets were sent to the wrong address. Joan never seems disturbed by such comment. In fact, she herself told one well-known columnist quite candidly, in her part-British, part-American accent, “I love Hollywood’s relaxed, casual life. I’m kind of a slob.”
Does she really not care? Is she perhaps covering up for unhappiness in not having
attained stardom nor a great fan following? What’s Joan hiding behind that devil-may-care core? What is the real composure, self-assurance and confidence that accompanies an actress who has made more than twenty films? Could her attitude be rebellion as a result of having failed in marriage?
Married to British actor Maxwell Reed at nineteen, Joan was separated before coming to the States, and divorced last year. Has marriage failure frightened her?
“Let’s put it this way. I had marriage and fell on my face. I want to get married again some day—when I’m utterly certain—because I want to have children, but not for years and years and years. Maybe now I feel it’s a kind of stagnancy—and I can’t be stagnant. Now it literally puts the fear of God in me, the thought of getting married again. Then, I get so frightened when I see other people’s marriages and what’s happening to them. My friends, too. Plus that when you get married, it’s for life, or that’s the theory, and say that at twenty-four I have another fifty years of living to do. It’s an awfully long time to spend with one person. So I’d want to be very certain before I marry again, because when I do, I really want it to be forever. If that seems a contradiction, I’m sorry, but it’s all this wonderful traveling gives it to me, and marriage can wait as long as it wants, for all it matters to me. And, dear Lord, I hope it will never, never, never be to an actor!
“As a general rule, I don’t like actors. Especially young actors. Why? Good question. Because they’re always playing a scene, always on, as we say in the profession. I admire honesty, so I loathe this Hollywood patois of ‘Baby-doll’ and ‘Howzit, sweetie?’ and ‘Darling-I-love-you-you-know-that-don’tcha?’ The young ones. But James Mason now is one of the sweetest men on earth, a great, great man. As a matter of fact, I’ve found right along that the bigger the star, the nicer a person he is.
“As for engagements, they should never be less than four months, and eight months is better. And for all I know, eight years would be best of all. How can you tell anything in less than four months? How would you know love from simple fascination? How do you know how many times you could stand watching your light of love pull his left ear when he’s thinking, which is what he always does? How long could he watch you touch your hair in the back when you’re socially nervous? I see marriages going to pieces because of things as trivial as this. On all sides of me. When you’re batting against forever, or mortal life, you’re bucking pretty big odds. If you’re like I am. And I am like that.”
Compared to other stars, Joan Collins is unknown to her fans. Hers is a name which has appeared on movie house marquees, she is probably more beautiful than many other more popular stars, she is well-traveled, well-read and an independent woman. And yet she has not come off the screen as a definite personality. It’s a puzzlement.
Around Hollywood, Joan is known as an extremely opinionated girl. Opinionated about life because she’s lived it—as a frightened child of war-torn Britain, through the torment of the Blitz and the lean years which followed. Opinionated about love because she flopped at it. Her likes and dislikes—both of which are strong—reap her admirers and skeptics and affect everything she thinks and feels.
“Everybody hates war except those who make it. That’s a cliché, but I know it’s true. In London during the Blitz, I saw hotels and houses that had been standing for years destroyed. Suddenly they just weren’t there any more. And there were people I knew who were killed. I’m still afraid of the dark and sleep with the living room lights on. And all this night club going I do. The bright lights . . . well, never mind . . .
“I hate getting up in the morning and going to bed early at night. I detest two-tone cars. They strike me as incredibly vulgar. I hike an all black or white or pink car, and I love the styling of the Thunderbird—which is funny, because usually I dislike convertibles. They get to look cheesy after a while. But I love sports cars, particularly British and Italian ones.
“I hate rock ’n’ roll but I love Latin American music and calypso. I can’t stand waltzing or ballroom dancing, but the Latin kind is very much for me. And incidentally, I hate people who say they can’t dance and then do. If they can’t dance, I will thank them to stay off my toes. But eating and certain kinds of dancing, these I like the most.
“Going to the movies every night would be a kind of Heaven on earth, but I loathe watching television. An evening of it is the ultimate in boredom. I think TV can be like a narcotic, and that in a few generations people will be bug-eyed idiots, communicating in grunts. I have an eleven-year-old brother who watches it five hours a day. It’s alarming. Selective viewing, that’s something else again, of course. But selective viewers are getting mighty hard to find.
“Besides, I’m afraid of anything, including television, that is making life easier than it should be. All this instant coffee, cake mixes, pre-frozen foods, all that. They’re weakening the fabric in some way. Then all these people who have to keep up with the Joneses.
“And I am very much anti people who are so anti—the anti-Semitics, anti-Catholics, anti-anything. They are often bigots themselves. Mention of the Ku Klux Klan does something bad to my blood pressure. Perhaps some of it is coloration from the picture I made in the West Indies, ‘Island in the Sun.’ We all got along so fine there, and my own part happened to be that of a prominent islander who thought she was part colored before she found out different.
“I hate posing for pictures, but like doing candid pictures, probably because I photograph better that way. I don’t like photographers who say ‘Smile, please,’ or at least I don’t like the instruction.
“I don’t like women drivers, especially those who never know which way they’re going, and sail right through boulevard stop signs. That’s not only dangerous and illegal, it’s bad manners, and I hate bad manners, even elementary. I’m not taking bows, but I do hold doors open for older women and always remember to thank the elevator operator, and I never hear anyone doing this any more. I do it because I was taught it was the correct and courteous way to do things. On the other hand, I can be just as rude as any one if I need to.
“I loathe all forms of domesticity, from cooking on down, and I gag at magazine layouts featuring the star as the girl next door, whacking at that batter with that apron so fetching. Who is the girl next door, anyway? She sounds like a fiction.
“Although I hate cooking, I’ve a lot of respect for those who can cook and naturally, have a flock of favorite restaurants. Les Amassadeurs in London, La Rue here in Hollywood, Maxim’s in Paris, “21” in New York, and George’s in Tokyo makes the best duck. I guess I have an international digestive system. El Morocco is my favorite nightclub.
“Look, isn’t it positively indecent for me to sit here and roll out menus? There must be something as universal. Children, for instance. Some of my very best friends are children. But I’ve old-fashioned ideas about them and feel that they should be seen and not heard. I can’t bear precocious children and I’m sure it’s always the parents’ fault. I think the most beautiful thing to see is a ten-or eleven-year-old who has flawless manners. Not prissy, just nice.
“But I’m not as crotchety as I sound, really. I like parties and dressing up, and spend most of my money on clothes. Know what I brought back from Japan? Listen to this lineup: Fourteen dresses, four coats, three suits and twenty shirts, and a lot of the shirts I designed myself.
“I love surprises and getting presents, but no matter what you’ve heard I don’t like any one man to the exclusion of others. I dislike wolves, but also their opposite numbers, the meek, wishy-washy men. I like very much indeed tall, thin men. In cars, I’m not comfortable when anyone else is driving unless it’s my father.
“. . . and I love talking about food. Being British, I was brought up on a regime of four meals a day. I liked tea best of all. We’d have thin slices of buttered bread, paste, shrimps or prawn, and scones with butter and strawberry jam, wonderful cakes and endless cups of tea. Now I’m down to two meals a day and I miss teatime desperately. Tea itself, too. Americans don’t really know how to make tea, just as the English can’t make a decent cup of coffee.
“I loathe phone calls and talking on phones and writing letters. I like reading—fiction or otherwise—and right now my favorite writers are Irwin Shaw and Eric Maria Remarque. That’s a fluid situation, though.
“I like simple clothes with bright colors, ballet-length gowns, sheath dresses and full skirts. I like the taste of liquor, and love wine and the rum drinks they have in the West Indies. But actually I’m not much for drinking.
“I desperately want to catch up with world affairs. I’ve rather been neglecting my mind lately. A body might be enough for the public, but a girl couldn’t go through her whole life congratulating herself upon having a body. I want to be able to do a play on Broadway and get some good reviews for a change.
“As long as they keep me moving in films, I’ll be happy. This is what I was made for. My luck is unbelievable. There’s so much to the world, so much to do and see. And not to be alone, or in the dark, ever.”
Are there any questions about Joan Collins as a personality?
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1957