In 1981, Joan Collins had been working in Hollywood since the 1950s, initially playing roles that are easy to imagine first being offered to the more famous British-born brunette Elizabeth Taylor.
But the TV opportunity Collins received when she was in her late 40s would make her as much of a household name as Taylor. Collins was given the co-starring role in the primetime soap opera “Dynasty,” playing Alexis Carrington, the sultry but scheming ex-wife of Denver oil baron Blake Carrington, played by the debonair, silver-haired TV veteran John Forsythe.
Collins would embody every business mogul’s idea of “a nightmare ex-wife,” according to CBS Sunday morning.
As Alexis, Collins became an A-list star by becoming the woman that everyone in America loved to hate, CBS Sunday Morning said. In a new interview, Collins, now 85, also revealed that Forsythe wasn’t too fond of her either.
“John didn’t like me. Because John is old-school masculine, misogynistic, and a bit sexist,” Collins said about Forsythe, who died in 2010 at age 92. “He frankly didn’t like this English woman, and (hearing) every single person say, ‘Oh, she’s made the show.’”
In this way, Collins was dealing with the sexism she said she encountered throughout much of her Hollywood career, as she explained to CBS. In Collins’ telling, bad men also came in the form of other condescending male directors and co-stars, cheating Lotharios and at least one predatory executive who expected her to submit to his sexual demands.
Collins, who has been married five times, told CBS she dated man-about-town Warren Beatty who liked to see his face on the cover of magazines.
Joan Collins with Prince Charles and Jeremy Irons, while attending the annual Princes Invest In Futures reception at The Savoy Hotel on February 9, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Geoff Pugh – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Collins also claimed that she screen-tested for the title role in the 1963 screen epic “Cleopatra” that would famously go to Taylor. However, Collins said she walked away from the opportunity — thereby leaving it to Taylor — because a studio executive promised her the movie if she would sleep with him.
“This was the casting couch,” Collins said. “He was head of the studio, and he said, ‘I can put you up in a nice little apartment, and I’ll come and visit you. And you’ll not only get all the best roles at (20th Century Fox), but we’ll see that you get Cleopatra.’”
When it came to the “Dynasty” role that would finally make her internationally famous and lead to her being named a dame of the British empire in 2015, Collins also had to deal with a male co-star who apparently resented her for the show’s success.
According to Slate, it’s widely believed that Collins’ addition to “Dynasty” at the end of the first season helped the series become a cultural sensation, its excesses synonymous with those of the 1980s.
Dame Joan Collins holds her insignia of Dame Commander of the British Empire after being awarded by the Prince of Wales at an Investiture Ceremony at Buckingham Palace on March 26, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The Aaron Spellng-produced series, about the dramas of a rich Denver oil family, premiered in January 1981. It featured Forsythe as patriarch Blake Carrington. He was previously known as the voice of mysterious private eye Charles Townsend on “Charlie’s Angels.” Linda Evans played Blake’s saintly secretary-turned-second wife Krystle Carrington.
But “Dynasty” was only “moderately popular” with viewers its first season, according to Slate. Collins made a dramatic courtroom entrance in the season 1 finale, and the show rocketed to no. 1 in the ratings in Season 2 by abandoning a more arty, subtle story-telling approach and by embracing the melodrama, including murders, back-from-the-dead characters and a terrorist attack at a royal wedding, Slate added
Collins was part of that change, playing Alexis as “exuberantly wicked” and “two-faced,” Slate said.
Viewers came to love the fashion, notably the big hair and the big shoulder pads on both Collins and Evans. They also looked forward to the catfights between Collins and Evans, most famously when their characters clawed at each other in the Carrington mansion swimming pool, according to CBS.
In the interview, Collins recalled how people loved to hate her character in her native U.K., and that they also loved to love her. The royals were especially big fans.
“Oh yes, ‘Dynasty.’ We all watch it,” Collins said the Queen Mother once told her. “I said, ‘Oh. And do you hate me?’ She said, ‘Oh no, my dear. We love you.’”
Collins believes people actually adored Alexis, and women wanted to be more like her, because the character evolved into a successful businesswoman who was assertive in her relationships with men and ruthless about protecting her children.
“She was the first empowered woman on TV,” Collins told CBS. “And I got a lot of flack for it. She’s such a ballbreaker, she’s so bitchy, she’s such a vixen! You know, I was just standing up for myself as an independent woman!”