The word trouper is one often applied to stars of show business who have defied the usually brief shelf-life that celebrities enjoy. And the doyenne of these troupers is without a doubt Dame Joan Collins, an actress whose career has spanned over half a century. From Rank starlet to venerated stage actress the Queen bestowed the Order of the British Empire upon her Joanie is loved by Brits and Americans alike.
Born in London on May 23, 1933, the first of a theatrical booking agent and his dance teacher wife's three children, Joan Henrietta Collins gained a place at Britain's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when she was just 15 years old. Her acting career had started three years earlier, however, when she made her London stage debut cast, rather uncharacteristically, as a boy. She landed her first film part, albeit uncredited, in 1951, and didn't have to wait long to get her first crack at a leading role. With 1954's Our Girl Friday she joined the stable of beautiful young starlets at Rank studios.
A selection of largely forgettable roles followed, as the Londoner becoming better known for her roster of high-profile boyfriends, which included James Dean, hotel heir Nicky Hilton, Ryan O'Neal, Harry Belafonte and her former fiancée Warren Beatty, than for her repertoire. The film which really made Joan's name was The Stud, a celluloid adaptation of her younger sister Jackie's sexy romp in which she was seduced in a series of memorable locations including on a swing and in a swimming pool!
All of a sudden, the 45-year-old actress was hot property again. Five years later, she posed naked for Playboy magazine, showing that her best years were not behind her.Joan's personal and professional fortunes, however, were at their lowest ebb. Her third marriage to businessman Ron Kass was in tatters, as a result of his drug abuse, and she could barely scrape together the airfare to LA in 1981 when offered the part of a bitchy matriarch in an Aaron Spelling-produced TV series.
Normally television is where actors end up after film parts peter out, but Dynasty became a huge hit, establishing Joan as a menace on screen. Her portrayal of Alexis Colby lasted eight years and pulled in a reported $120,000 per episode. "There is a bit of Alexis in me, the resilience, strength and ambition," Joan has said about the femme fatale who cemented her reputation. And it was those qualities which stood her in good stead through difficult times in her private life. Her first marriage, to British matinee idol Maxwell Reed the day after she turned 18, was not a good idea and Joan knew it.
The actor tried to sell her to a rich Arab for £10,000, just seven months after their wedding and she fled home in tears. Her second marriage, to actor Anthony Newley, with whom she had two children, Tara and Alexander (also known as Sacha), was tempered by the infidelity of both parties, and her third, to Ron Kass, ended after their daughter Katy was seriously injured in a car crash, and spent over a month in a coma. When he heard the news, Kass merely rolled over in bed and went back to sleep. Just 13 months after her 1985 Las Vegas wedding to Swedish-born businessman Peter Holm, she had a legal official serve divorce papers on him at a restaurant.
The actress has had three significant love affairs with businessman "Bungalow" Bill Wiggins, art dealer Robin Hurlestone, with whom she lived for over a decade and, most recently, theatre manager Percy Gibson who, at 33 years her junior, she says she "adores". In early 2002 she tied the knot for the fifth time with Percy in a lavish ceremony at Claridges Hotel in London. She is still working hard on both stage and screen, has a second career as a novelist and in 1998 became a grandmother. Joan being Joan, however, refuses to be known as "Granny", and her granddaughter Miel calls her "DoDo" instead.