On this day in 1933, Joan Collins, a classically trained actress who will become best known for her role on the 1980s prime-time soap opera Dynasty, is born in London, England.
The daughter of a theatrical booking agent, Collins made her theater debut at the age of nine, in a production of The Dollhouse by Henrik Ibsen. As a teenager, she studied at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and appeared in nine British films. She headed to Hollywood at the age of 22, and landed sultry roles in several popular films, including Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955). She continued making films in the United States and the United Kingdom through the 1960s, but her career languished in the 1970s, and she was reduced to starring in horror flicks like Fear in the Night (1972). She also starred in two films based on best-selling novels by her younger sister Jackie Collins, The Stud (1978) and The Bitch (1979).
In 1981, Collins landed the plum role of Alexis Carrington (later Colby) in the prime-time soap opera Dynasty, which ran for eight years. Her portrayal of the vindictive ex-wife of the oil tycoon Blake Carrington–and the bitter rival of his current wife and former secretary, the beautiful blonde Krystle (played by Linda Evans)–rejuvenated Collins’ career, as buzz for the show began to grow and the Alexis-Krystle clash became one of its central plotlines. In one of Dynasty’s most memorable scenes, Alexis and Krystle come to blows in a lily pond; in another, Krystle dumps a bowl of mud on Alexis after she overhears her gossiping about her at a spa. After several years of declining ratings, ABC dropped Dynasty from its lineup in 1989. In 1997, Collins reprised the role of Alexis on Aaron Spelling’s Pacific Palisades. She later joined former cast mates in two reunion specials, most recently Caviar and Catfights: The Dynasty Reunion (2006).
By the late 1980s, Collins followed in her sister Jackie’s footsteps and published her first novel, which she sold to Simon and Schuster for a rumored $3 million. Despite critical pans, the book, Prime Time, became a bestseller when it debuted in 1988. Two years later, Random House offered Collins $4 million in a two-book deal, paying a $1.3 million advance, with the rest due on delivery of the manuscripts. When Collins turned in the first of the two manuscripts in 1991, the publishing house claimed the manuscript was unacceptable and sued for the return of the advance. In 1996, the court ruled in favor of Collins and demanded that Random House pay her an additional $1 million for the work she turned in. Her zest for writing was apparently unquenched by the battle–she published the beauty book My Secrets in 1994, followed by Second Act in 1996 and a sequel My Secrets, My Friends’ Secrets, in 1999.
In addition to her writing career, Collins has continued to act, appearing in films such as Kenneth Branagh’s In the Bleak Midwinter (1995) and The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000), and television series (Will & Grace, Footballers’ Wives) in the United States and the United Kingdom. Since 2002, Collins has been married to her fifth husband, Percy Gibson, who is more than three decades her junior.