THE TIMES REVIEW .. MY UNAPOLOGETIC DIARIES .. FRIDAY OCTOBER 15TH 2021 ..
BOOKS | MEMOIR
My Unapologetic Diaries by Joan Collins review — La Collins gets her claws out..
Sarah Ditum finds the actress’s latest memoir a stylish affair with more than a dash of acid…
Joan Collins was born, she writes in the introduction to these diaries, “somewhere between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Second World War”. Well you can’t expect an actress (“I don’t ever refer to myself as an actor”) to divulge something as sensitive as her age, can you? She is also “a wife” — five times over — “a mother, a grandmother . . . a sister, an aunt and a loyal friend” as well as “an author, a producer, a feminist, a philanthropist and an entrepreneur”.She’s got more than 500 credits to her name on IMDb, including the role that made her an icon: Alexis Carrington Colby (née Morell, formerly Dexter and Rowan) in the 1980s oil-and-opulence soap opera Dynasty. Not that Collins has anything in common with the character of the backstabbing, backcombing queen bitch Alexis, of course. Collins has also published 17 books, including five previous autobiographies. Even with a life as packed as this, can there be anything left to say?Plenty, it turns out, and with great style and an enormous dash of acid. Things begin in 1989 as Dynasty is wrapping up its ninth and final season. It is a bruising time for Collins. She has finally managed to negotiate pay parity with the show’s leading man, John Forsythe ($120,000 an episode), but the programme makers have found a way to hollow out her victory: she will appear in only half the episodes, meaning her take-home pay is the same as before.Frustrating, but, even worse, she has her future earnings from the show snatched from her when a “jobsworth lawyer” working for Dynasty’s producer insists that she sign away the rights to any future showings. Her dream of a “future lived on lovely residuals” is dead. She’s going to need something to fund her appetite for caviar and world-class shopping trips, so it’s back to the greasepaint grindstone, which is no small challenge as an actress over 40.Much of the acting life, as Collins acknowledges, is spent “resting” — but her resting takes a great deal of labour. There are the travails of putting together a stage show with Roger Moore (who simply will not go below $75,000 a week), the slog of Hollywood mixers and brunches where cheeks are kissed while backs are stabbed, and an arduous legal battle with her publisher Random House over whether a manuscript she supplied was contractually acceptable or not (she wins, eventually, with her novel deemed “fixable”).Yet all this is a sideshow to the important stuff here: the dirt she dishes. This is a book to read while sipping a stiff drink, ideally with a gorgeous companion on hand to whom you can read out the choicest bits. “Frank Sinatra is not and never has been interested in talking about anyone other than himself,” she says after a trying dinner party. Faye Dunaway is declared to be “good” as Maria Callas in a 1997 performance of the play Master Class, “even though her ass looks like it’s been sliced off with a bacon slicer”.A few people receive her seal of approval. Christopher Biggins is “a tonic” and a constant presence. John Major is “utterly charming”, and as a staunch Conservative supporter in 1997, Collins is sad to note that his “charm, niceness and a certain kind of sex appeal don’t come through to the voters”. Bill Clinton, whom she meets in 1999, is also deemed sexy — it helps that he has “wonderful breath”. Nigel Hawthorne is a “darling”, even if his 1999 production of King Lear is reported to be “a miserable failure in direction and staging”.And a handful here are granted the kindness of being allowed to go unnamed, such as the woman with a disastrous facelift who causes Collins to remark: “If I looked like that, I think I would move to Afghanistan and take the veil.” Her feminism is much more focused on equal pay than sisterhood. Her constant struggles with calorie-counting (“I know Mummy used to say you’ve got to suffer to be beautiful, but I’m permanently starving”) do not prevent her from noting that Antonia Fraser is “majestic, but a touch on the plump side”.There are also harsh words for the entire population of Poland (“Polish people don’t have a sense of humour, but then I guess I wouldn’t if I had to live here”), nude sunbathers in St Tropez (“raddled bums and front bits in a state”) and her former Dynasty co-star Linda Evans (they are reunited for a stage play in 2006: Collins finds her “devious”, “a pain” and “un-f***ing-believable”).Her reportedly fraught relationship with “Sister Jackie” must be read between the lines in Jackie’s overwhelming absence, but there is affection too — for her children, and for her fifth and present husband, Percy Gibson, who enters her life as a stage manager before they embark on a “fully fledged passionate affair” in 2001. (That he is in his thirties while she is at this point somewhere indeterminate in her sixties gives her no pause, and nor should it.)These diaries are narratively scrappy — Collins kept them irregularly, dictating them on to cassette, and they lurch erratically through time. They are also densely studded with names, some of whom will challenge the most dedicated reader of Hello! magazine. No matter. Collins is not sorry, and nor should she be: she puts on a hell of a show. My Unapologetic Diaries by Joan Collins, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 373pp; £20
Joan’s best barbs
● Boris Johnson “looks like he brushes his hair with an eggbeater”● “I have never in my entire life seen such a group of hideousities as there are in Las Vegas. The fattest people are the ones who wear the tightest shorts and the most lurid shirts”● Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche “have ‘come out’, are in love and photographed petting at the White House in front of President Clinton. Not what I call good behaviour, but a great ratings spike”● “Elton John’s Aids benefit party. Quite a happening, even though every hairdresser and interior decorator in Los Angeles had paid to get in”