Before she was ever sipping champagne and slapping Linda Evans on Dynasty, a young Joan Collins would frequently escape from Hollywood to Palm Springs for sunshine and cocktails, which the veteran 86-year-old actress still fondly recalls to this day. She’ll be back Jan. 26 as part of the Palm Springs Speaks series — and she’s prepared to dish the dirt, darling.
With a career spanning nearly seven decades and a personal life that’s been well documented by the tabloids, Collins has plenty of stories to tell. She trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and began acting in films in 1951, eventually starring with the likes of Bob Hope in The Road to Hong Kong, Paul Newman in Rally Round the Flag, Boys, and Bette Davis in The Virgin Queen.
Collins helped salvage the ailing Aaron Spelling primetime soap Dynasty when her character — the scheming ex-wife of John Forsythe’s patriarch Blake Carrington — was introduced at the end of the first season in 1981. (A body double under a giant floppy hat and veil first portrayed the character before Collins debuted in the second season premiere.) Her iconic take-no-prisoners personification of Alexis Carrington earned Collins international stardom, as well as best actress Golden Globe in 1982.
In recent years, Collins has appeared on the sudsy E! series The Royals and the FX anthology American Horror Story: Apocalypse. She’s currently starring in Valentino’s campy winter campaign. Prior to her Jan. 26 appearance, the British actress, author, and activist spoke with Palm Springs Life about her legacy and relationship with the desert.
You’re based back in London now, but did you ever own a home in Palm Springs when you were living full time on the West Coast?
No. Who said that?
There are references out there to your properties in the Vista Las Palmas and Southridge neighborhoods, but they might just be pointing out houses where you stayed over the years.
Oh, I’ve stayed in lots of houses in Palm Springs. I think I stayed in Frank Sinatra's house and Sammy Davis Jr.’s and Dean Martin’s houses back in the day. I never owned a home there myself.
What did you think of Palm Springs during your many visits?
I find it very relaxing. When I was there, the weather was always beautiful. I like the shopping. I think some of the shops are really interesting. They're not all boarded up like in a lot of places now. And the restaurants, of course, are great. Is Don the Beachcomber still there?
Joan Collins on the December 1982 cover of Palm Springs Life magazine.
Sorta. There’s a bar called Bootlegger Tiki in the same location now.
When I was there, it was Don the Beachcomber, and I loved it. I would go quite often, particularly in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Then, when I got married and had kids, then I didn't go so much.
How do you feel about coming back out for your Palm Springs Speaks appearance?
I'm looking forward to catching up with [moderator Michael Childers] because we had quite a few mutual friends: Natalie Wood and the great director John Schlesinger. And I’m just generally interested in talking about whatever he wants to talk about. I mean, whatever anybody wants to talk about, I'm willing to talk about it.
Anything?! What do people usually ask you?
They like to talk about Dynasty, that show I did. They like to find out about my beauty routine, my fashion routine, what I like in clothes. It depends where I am. They like to hear anecdotes about all the people I've worked with. I mean, I've worked with some of the Hollywood greats: Paul Newman, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck. You name it. I've worked with them.
Why do you think Aaron Spelling cast you in Dynasty?
He put me into a show called Fantasy Island in which I played Cleopatra. And I think even though the studio wanted Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren and particularly Jessica Walters for Alexis, Aaron went to bat for me. First of all, because he knew me, and second of all, because he'd seen what I had done in Fantasy Island, which was kind of the precursor to Alexis. I think he also probably saw an English movie called The Stud in which I played a strong, empowered woman.
When did you realize Dynasty was a cultural phenomenon?
I think it was during that first season. I was driving with my best friend Judy down Mulholland Drive. There was a bunch of young kids in a car, all waving at me and calling my name, "Alexis! Alexis!" I rolled down the window and waved. They said, "We love you! We love you!" I thought that was very sweet.
I actually host a podcast called Dynasty As They Wanna Be where I’m watching and analyzing every episode of Dynasty. It’s remarkable how relevant the show remains today. Besides inspiring fashion, Dynasty explored second-wave feminism, social classism, abortion, homosexuality …
That’s right. I had a gay son that I accepted, but that his father would not. Blake Carrington would not accept Steven as gay. He hated it. Alexis did not. I think it was the first time you saw gay relationships depicted like that on television.
Why do you think Alexis still resonates with audiences?
I think it was the first time that you saw a woman who was very empowered and took charge, used her wile, and — yes — used her sexuality as well to get what she wanted and didn't care what people thought about her. A lot of people hated the character, but a lot of people really loved her, which I think is why I'm probably still relevant today.
Dynasty ran the entirety of the 1980s. Why do you think there’s this continued fascination with that decade in pop culture? Stranger Things is very popular. The next Wonder Woman movie is set in 1984. The CW is currently airing a modern reboot of Dynasty.
You love it?
The new Dynasty? Honestly, I haven’t watched much of it.
I haven't watched it either.
“An Afternoon with Dame Joan Collins” takes place at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 26, at the Richards Center for the Arts, 2248 E. Ramon Road, in Palm Springs. For tickets and additional information, visit palmspringsspeaks.org.