Joan Collins is best known for her role on Dynasty as Alexis Carrington, but her career goes much further back than that—back to when she was just a burgeoning starlet. And let’s not forget the scandals: Five husbands, a racy tell-all memoir, a 12-page spread in Playboy at age 50, and so much more. Luckily, Collins seems to love to kiss and tell and we're definitely here for all her steamy secrets.
Born in 1933 to Elsa and Joseph Collins, Joan Collins had show business in her blood. From a very young age, her parents had a strong influence on her future career: Joan's mother was a dance instructor and her father was a talent agent, and by the time she was a teenager, Joan was already thinking about becoming an actress. However, her road to fame was far from easy—in fact, it was downright dangerous.
Through most of her teen years, Joan Collins wasn't boy-crazy at all. But by the time she turned 17, she was eager to gain some intimate experience, if only to measure up to her other "worldly" classmates. At first, she fumbled her way through her first crushes and dating attempts, and then one day, she was given a rare opportunity—one she'd only dreamed about.
When she was only 18, Collins was introduced to her ultimate celebrity crush and idol, actor Maxwell Reed. As a youth, Collins had once vowed to marry Maxwell Reed, and now, she actually had a chance to meet him. She was completely starstruck. When this 32-year-old rake asked her out, she accepted without a second thought. But this was no fairytale.
Joan's first date with Reed should have been a night to remember. Unfortunately, it turned into a nightmare she’d rather forget. Instead of taking her out on the town, Reed took her back to his place, drugged her, and then had his way with her when she was unconscious. Although she called the whole harrowing experience "awful" and "degrading," she also made the most shocking decision.
After Reed violated her, Collins decided to try to forget about the whole thing and continued to date him. She was even pleased when he proposed and told all her friends that her childhood dreams had come true, "Told you I'd marry him!" But beneath her convincing smiles, Collins hid a terrible truth. As her wedding day approached, she began to wither under the weight of her discontent.
For Collins, intimacy with Reed never improved. In fact, she didn't enjoy it at all. However, according to her mother, this was perfectly normal. And so, anytime Collins and Reed slept together, she endured her displeasure, distracting herself with the TV, and waiting for it to end. When she finally admitted to her parents that she didn't want to go through with the wedding, they were livid.
Collins' parents wouldn't take "no" for an answer. Selfishly worried about their own careers and the opinions of others, they urged her to marry Reed despite her unhappiness. And so, due to the enormous pressure from her parents, Collins married Reed on her 19th birthday. Of course, this was all a recipe for disaster, and soon, it all came apart at the seams.
From the very beginning, her marriage never stood a chance. Maxwell Reed was terribly jealous. He absolutely resented any sliver of success Collins enjoyed, sometimes even giving her the cold shoulder for days on end. But his intolerance didn't end there. His jealousy jumped to a whole new level whenever another man glanced her way—so much so, that he often scared her.
Whenever Collins attracted the attention of other men, Reed would became completely obsessive: He even threatened to cut her face so no man would ever want to look at her again. As jealous as Reed was, he wasn’t above putting a price on his beautiful wife. On one occasion, he came up with a proposition so demented—it had Joan on the run.
A man at a nightclub offered Reed £10,000 in order to sleep with Collins. You’d imagine that jealous Reed would have hit the ceiling. Not this guy. Apparently Reed stopped being jealous when there was money involved. Reed actually wanted to accept the deal, and most importantly, he wanted to watch the transaction. For Collins, this was the last straw. She ran straight from the nightclub to her parent's place. It was finally time for Joan to get a divorce.
In 1952—the same year she married Reed—Collins also starred as a juvenile delinquent in I Believe In You, and it earned her quite the reputation. After the film's release, the press dubbed her "Britain's Bad Girl" for her performance. But this was only the beginning. She'd continue to earn this nickname in one of her next films. In fact, she'd have tongues wagging on a global scale.
The following year, Joan Collins rocked the boat once again with her appearance in Cosh Boy, which raised a great deal of controversy. The film was one of the first to get an X certificate in Britain. It was also banned in Sweden, Australia, and Birmingham. Joan's spicy reputation was heating up and if she needed advice, her father was certainly no help in the matter.
Before Joan took her show on the road and left for Hollywood, her talent agent dad had some advice for her. He said that if Collins wanted to kick-start her career there was one sure way to do it: strip down for the camera. Nice fatherly advice. Many years later, she'd end up doing just that. For now, however, she was eager to make her mark with her acting chops alone. And on one memorable occasion, she certainly stood out from the crowd.
Howard Hawks’ Land of the Pharaohs—now considered a cult classic—was Joan’s leg up into Hollywood. It’s a surprise that she stood out in this film as in one single scene there were reportedly almost 10,000 extras. But amidst the many faces, Joan's was the one with star power: 20th Century Fox noticed the sultry princess and immediately signed her on.
An argument between leading actress Marilyn Monroe and 20th Century Fox resulted in a sudden opportunity for Joan Collins. The Girl In The Red Velvet Swing is about a woman whose husband murders her lover. But the behind the scenes, the film's production had its own turbulent tale—and Joan Collins found herself wrapped up in it.
During the production of The Girl In The Red Velvet Swing, Marilyn Monroe reportedly threw a snit and refused to do the film, leaving the studio no choice but to suspend her. But now they had a glaring predicament: they needed a new leading lady. Luckily, Joan Collins just happened to be at the right place at the right time and won the coveted part.
But just as her star was on the rise, her own love life struggled to take flight.
After three long years, Joan finally secured a divorce from her cruel first husband, Maxwell Reed. The whole process was a total nightmare and she ended up having to borrow money from 20th Century Fox in order to drive the divorce home. Walking away from that dumpster fire, Joan said she departed "poorer, wiser, and with a growing distrust of men". But, of course, Joan wasn't alone for long.
Post-divorce Collins soon entered serious dating mode. To say her dance card was full would be a gross understatement. Let’s put it this way, she went on so many dinner dates that when she gave up her rented apartment, she found something very telling: her oven still had its original plastic covering. But continuous dating eventually caused her to make a startling decision.
After her serial dating period—and two sour relationships—Collins thought about taking a break from men. What good had come from them after all? Her first husband had been an abuser and a loser. Certainly she was better off on her own. But just as she'd made up her mind, she met her next handsome costar and her resolve dissolved into thin air.
Collins was filming in Grenada when she met the jaw-droppingly handsome Harry Belafonte. Together, they acted in Island in the Sun—a film that was surprisingly ahead of its time for its depiction of interracial romance and relationships. Collins had no scenes with Belafonte but, when he laid eyes on his lovely co-star, he couldn't look away—even the British film crew couldn't help noticing his special regard for Joan...
Joan was completely aware that a white woman pursuing a black man in the fifties was unheard of, and had absolutely no intention of shacking up with Belafonte. But soon, she couldn't resist his compelling charms. One night, the two of them took a romantic twilight stroll along the beach. The mood was set. And that's when Harry Belafonte leaned in close and made her an offer she couldn't refuse.
Harry Belafonte asked Joan Collins to meet him in secret later that spring. And of course, she agreed. They met at the Coconut Grove club, and as she watched him perform lilting jazz numbers and calypso songs, she knew her heart was taken. And so, these two star-crossed lovers embarked on a passionate affair destined for heartache.
Joan and Belafonte had a fling to remember. They mostly hid out at Joan's apartment so no one would know about their secret relationship, but soon it became sadly clear that it was never meant to last. You see, there were two things holding them back: the fact that an interracial romance was still taboo (something that could end both of their careers) and the fact that Belafonte had a wife.
After Belafonte, Joan swore off dating married men. Well, for a couple of days anyway. Next was MGM producer George Englund, who repeatedly promised that things with his wife were as good as over. Joan believed him until Englund’s wife, Cloris, ended up banging on her door demanding to see her husband. But then it was Collins’ turn to go ballistic.
Joan Collins played the peeping Tom and spied Englund doing something horrible: jumping into bed with his own wife. The nerve! The sight shattered Joan and the next day she barged into Englund’s office, demanding an explanation about why he was in bed with his wife. His response only confirmed her worst possible fears.
Not only did Englund admit to sleeping with his wife, he also delivered the most shocking news: His wife was pregnant. Although he promised he’d only slept with her once, Joan rightly refused to believe him. After her disappointing track record with married men, she promised her next relationship would be with someone single. But first, she wanted to have a little bit of fun.
One of Collins’ next conquests was Rafael Trujillo Jr., the son of the vicious dictator of the Dominican Republic. Trujillo was famous for giving out extravagant presents. He once gave Zsa Zsa Gabor a Mercedes Convertible and a chinchilla coat. Gabor was game for setting Collins up with Trujillo, but Collins had an outrageous request.
Collins would only meet Trujillo if she was sure to get an expensive present. Gabor relayed the information and Trujillo arranged for a diamond necklace. Collins was on the next plane to Florida to follow through with her end of the deal. It was to be dinner, dancing, and whatever came naturally on a yacht anchored off Palm Beach. Collins certainly performed—but apparently not very well.
Trujillo reported to Gabor that after spending the night with Collins, the beautiful actress was not what he had expected. In fact he called her "boring". But Gabor, knowing Collins, came up with an interesting theory: She believed that clever Collins only pretended to be boring so that she could get her necklace and not have Trujillo following her around like a lost puppy.
If this was true, she sashayed away from the deal with some shiny diamonds and a priceless rebound story.
In 1960, Joan Collins had an unprecedented opportunity—she was up for the lead role in Cleopatra. Called in to test for the part on several occasions, she became increasingly hopeful that the part might be hers for the taking. But it soon became clear that the CEO of 20th Century Pictures, as well as the head of the studio, had sinister ulterior motives.
Marilyn Monroe had once advised Collins to "watch out for the wolves in Hollywood". When the head of the studio offered to buy her an apartment in exchange for an intimate relationship, Collins grew apprehensive. But that wasn't all. He also offered her the pick of 20th Century Fox's scripts, pretty much guaranteeing her career and her role in Cleopatra.
When Collins refused to accept his advances, she turned her back with her agency still in tact. However, she soon learned the price of her defiance. She lost the role of Cleopatra to Elizabeth Taylor. She would never know whether she was spurned because the studio wanted a bigger name or whether her cold shoulder toward the lecherous studio head had caused them to reject her entirely.
One night, while dining at a Hollywood restaurant, Joan couldn't help but notice a handsome younger man looking her way. The man was very confident, brazen even. Collins became intrigued and asked her companion who the young man was. Her friend told her that it was Shirley MacLaine’s brother, who was just getting started as an actor. His name? Warren Beatty.
After seeing Collins that night, Beatty—determined to take her out on a date—managed to get a hold of her number. Collins was 26 and Beatty was just 22, but once they started dating, their passion was unrivaled. In fact, it didn’t take long for Beatty to move into Collins’ apartment. The two played like they were a married couple and Collins enjoyed how compatible they were. But soon, Collins found out something very odd about her younger boyfriend.
Despite the age difference, Collins and Beatty got on like a house on fire. But there was one area that they didn’t see eye to eye on: the bedroom. It seemed that Beatty wanted to spend a lot of time there—in fact, he wanted it several times a day. Collins’ pal Joanne Woodward showed her no pity. Her not-so-woke advice? If he’s 22 and "libidinous", let him do what he wants, as often as he wants.
In spite of Collins’ exhaustion from keeping Beatty happy in the bedroom, in 1960, she agreed to marry the young heartthrob. But unfortunately, their careers kept pulling them apart, not to mention Beatty's wandering eye and womanizing ways. In the short time they'd been together, he'd catapulted to fame, and now had attention from every corner. Soon, Collins caught wind of some disturbing rumors.
When whispers of Beatty's infidelity began to circulate, Collins didn't want to believe it. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. At home, they regularly engaged in vicious fights—sometimes about rent and sometimes about their house guests. It was a total mess. When Collins got the opportunity to film on location in Hong Kong, she jumped at the chance. She just wanted to get away from him. Their time together had run its course. But even after they were through, she held on to a huge secret.
Years down the road, Joan Collins published a memoir that spilled the tea on her and Beatty's tumultuous relationship. In it, a particular secret came out: she had once been pregnant with Beatty's child. Fearing scandal and a ruined career, Collins opted for an abortion and never started a family with Beatty. When they called it quits, she walked away and never looked back.
In 1963, Collins married singer-songwriter Anthony Newley. Newley became famous for his remarkably titled film: Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? In the film, Newley plays a man who relates his most promiscuous adventures to his young children, played by his and Collins' real life son and daughter. Let there be no doubt: this film was going to come back to haunt him.
In her later memoir Past Imperfect, Collins wrote about Newley in very unflattering terms. She wrote that he allegedly had a taste for underaged girls. But weirdly enough, Collins also wrote that she only agreed to marry the singer under one condition: he had to keep his criminal urges under control. But as dysfunctional as this marriage was, Collins never seemed to learn her lesson.
Collins is legendary for her bad marriages, and of the five, this next one was no exception. In 1972, after divorcing Newley, she married Ronald Kass, a recording executive. But everything went downhill after Kass lost his job. As a result, Collins became the sole earner in the family. And what she went through to support him was absolutely staggering.
Collins didn’t just have to put food on the table, she also had to take care of Kass’s expenses: his drug habit and the alimony he paid to his ex. As the debts accumulated, she joined a self-help group in an attempt to alleviate her anxieties. This didn't help at all. In fact, the group pretty much told her off for not being more empathetic. To make matters worse, over the next few years, her acting career began to falter.
In a moment of desperation, Joan Collins applied for financial assistance. In 1976, she reportedly pulled up to the unemployment benefits office on Santa Monica Boulevard in a gold Mercedes. Collins’ appearance at the center stunned the staff. "Weren’t you Joan Collins?" someone at the office asked her. "I still am," Collins replied and filled out her application.
Collins' opportunities to make good films were quickly drying up. She hit rock bottom in 1977 when she appeared in Empire of the Ants—a cheesy sci-fi horror film. It was around this time that Collins’ agent took her to lunch. With blunt honesty, he laid out the grim situation: Her acting days were over. For the first time, she started to think about finding a new line of work...Interior design? Writing? Of course not. This is Joan Collins we're talking about.
Collins never collected her unemployment check—it wasn’t her style. But she still had to find work. She quickly secured the rights to one of her sisters most lewd novels—The Stud—and then set out to find funding for it. Her disaster husband would be the producer and she found George Walker, the head of a movie distribution company, for the funding. But there was a catch: Walker only agreed to bankroll the film under one sleazy condition.
Collins had often stated that she would never take her clothes off in a film—even though her father had recommended it. She once said in an interview, "I won't ever strip in a movie. I think a woman, and a man for that matter, are more exciting with their clothes on. Garbo never stripped. Dietrich kept her clothes on and so did Vivien Leigh. And who is more glamorous than them?"
Of course, this was before her career went off the rails. Now, with Walker demanding a stripped down performance, she had no choice in the matter.
Viewers considered Collins’ film The Stud softcore and rather crass. Basically there are a lot of scenes of Collins’ character getting it on: in a lift, in a limousine, in a swimming pool, and even in a swing chair. What can you say: a girl’s gotta eat. That said, the film netted over 20 million dollars internationally and became one of the highest selling British videos ever.
But there was more Collins wanted to do to fix her financial problems. She had one more cash grab left.
A month after the public got an eyeful of Collins in The Stud, her memoir Past Imperfect hit the streets. Just like her film, her book was extremely revealing. Collins knew it had to be shocking in order to get readers to buy it, and so, she included everything: the shameful, the vulgar, and the most disgraceful episodes of her life. However, she wasn't quite ready for what happened next.
It hadn’t occurred to Collins that a newspaper might decide to publish excerpts from her book in its weekend edition. Well that’s exactly what happened. But there's more. The newspaper chose to use Collins’ most scandalous stories as headlines. Reportedly, Collins ran around LA trying to purchase all the copies to save her friends from reading them.
In the 1980s there was a night time soap opera feud between CBS’s Dallas and ABC's Dynasty. Except after Dynasty’s first season there wasn’t much of a competition: Dallas was the clear winner. Dynasty’s second season needed a boost and Collins provided it. Her role as the scheming Alexis Carrington took the show to new heights and even earned her six Golden Globe Nominations and one win. And what did it do for Dallas?
With Collins playing Alexis Carrington, Dynasty finally got the edge over Dallas. And most people feel that if it hadn’t been for Collin’s feisty performance, Dynasty would never have nudged Dallas out of the number one slot. But it turns out that Collins got the role out of sheer luck, as their first choice was actually a much bigger old Hollywood star...
When Collins accepted her Emmy, included in her thank-yous was a total surprise. She thanked Italian screen legend Sophia Loren. What for? Acting advice? Nope. It was because Loren had said "no" to the role, allowing Collins to swoop in and claim it. But as she soon learned, success didn't necessarily ensure security...
During the last season of Dynasty, Collins held the honor of being the highest paid woman on television. She reaped a substantial financial reward for what she’d done: single-handedly saving a TV show. And what, besides a raise, did she get as thanks? Nothing. They cut her last season to 10 episodes and told her she was too expensive.
In 1983, when Collins was at the edge of turning 50, she agreed to pose for Playboy magazine. At her age it was a bit of a risk to let a photographer take racy photos of her and then present those photos alongside the usual twenty-something models. It was a 12-page spread and photographed by old Hollywood glamor photographer George Hurrel. This gamble paid off. The images were absolutely stunning.
Unfortunately, her next spin of the wheel wasn't so lucky.
The Vegas setting for her 1985 marriage should’ve been a clue that Collins was taking a massive gamble. Her groom was singer Peter Holm who actor Michael Caine once referred to as "the Swedish comedian"—code for: not funny at all. But it was more than that. Collins soon learned that Holm was not her prince charming in any way, shape, or form.
Collins marriage to Holm soon spun out of control as his bitter temper leant to heated arguments and constant fighting. Collins once described him as "the most combative person" she'd ever met. By December 1986, Collins had placed a restraining order against her husband. The most baffling part of all? He was in complete denial over the whole thing.
Even though it was clear that Collins wanted Holm to keep his distance, he kept insisting in interviews that Collins still loved him and that it was only a matter of time before the two of them reunited. Even more puzzling? He blamed it all on her over-identification with her Dynasty character. Collins was having none of this and quickly hired a divorce lawyer. But the divorce proceedings were even more wild that she ever expected.
Collins' lawyer revealed that Holm had kept a secret lover—a burgeoning actress named Romina Danielson. His questions were brutal and relentless, and she reportedly fainted on the stand. In the end, Collins won the case and Holm only walked away with $80,000. Her disrespect for Holm reigned supreme—so much so that in her next memoir, she only referred to him as "the Swede".
After this debacle of a marriage, Collins didn't marry again for another 15 years.
Holm didn’t turn Collins off marriage forever. In fact she seemed to have learned something from her past four husbands and finally found someone more suitable. She met Percy Gibson, 31 years her junior, while working in theater. One thing she says that makes this relationship work: He likes to drive and she likes getting rides. Sounds like a match made in heaven.
Collins’ sister, author Jackie Collins, suffered from cancer and passed on in 2015. Surprisingly she kept her illness a secret—even from her sister. But Collins doesn't have to miss her only sister. She says a fly has been following her between LA, France, and England, and Collins believes it may be her sister: reincarnated.
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