My Unapologetic Diaries
What would happen if, in some parallel universe, Joan Collins ever met herself?
Though she describes herself as a feminist in the brief ‘prologue' to her diaries, she comes down particularly hard on women, and in particular women of her own age.
By page four, she is complaining about an unnamed ‘saggy-breasted Fleet Street hag'.
She then looks aghast at ‘a woman with the most terrible face job I've ever seen. She shall be nameless, but she was married to a very famous actor and is a real estate agent'.
She is forever on the lookout for weight gain. ‘Liza has put on a lot of weight around the face,' she says, having bumped into Liza Minnelli.
The first thing she notes about Elizabeth Taylor is ‘she's put the weight back on'.
What would happen if, in some parallel universe, Joan Collins (above, in the 1950s) ever met herself?
She comes down particularly hard on women, and in particular women of her own age
She eagerly relays gossip about anyone more successful and glamorous than herself. ‘She's a bitch,' an acquaintance remarks of Catherine Deneuve. ‘But because she's such a bitch everyone's petrified of her, including the French press.
So they'll never do her in.'
Into her diary it goes.
No woman younger or more successful than her ever quite comes up to scratch, particularly if she had been after their part. ‘I thought Glenn Close was perfectly awful as Cruella de Vil… the yawn of the year.'
It is inadvisable to be younger and sexier than Joan. Sitting at home, watching the Oscars on TV in 2001, she is horrified at the sight of Pamela Anderson on the red carpet.
‘Revealing all the taste and refinement of a hooker on holiday, she chose to buck the system in denim hot pants and teeny-weeny white shirt, which struggled bravely to contain her pneumatically false assets… she brought trailer-trash fashion right into the 21st Century.'
It is inadvisable to be younger and sexier than Joan (above, with husband Percy Gibson at their Saint-Tropez villa in 2013).
Sitting at home, she is horrified at the sight of Pamela Anderson
Joan constantly harks back to the glories of an earlier age, when actresses displayed glamour, elegance and refinement. Have her topless roles in soft-porn movies like The Stud (1978) and The Bitch (1979) slipped from her memory?
I found some of her bitchier asides difficult to understand.
Writing about the ‘huge cleavage' of Tony Curtis's ‘latest squeeze, Jill' at a party in LA in 1995, she gossips about her in the ‘powder room'.
‘Several women discuss the fact that although her bosoms might be huge, when she looks down at herself she could look as though she had 12 toes.'
I've read that sentence several times over but still don't get the joke. And much of the rest of these diaries will be double Dutch to anyone unversed in the ever-expanding world of the unknown celebrity.
Who, for instance, are Joan Schnitzer, Jolene Schlatter, Swoosie Kurtz, Asa Maynor, Dani Janssen, Boaz Mazor?
It's like an explosion in a Scrabble factory.
On virtually every page, they pile in, these odd bods. For instance, on page 69 Joan's French publicist, someone called Homero Machry, throws a party for her new book.
‘Tout Paris seems to be there,' trills Joan, optimistically.
‘Among those I'm very pleased to see are Wendy and Dino Fabbri, Jimmy Douglas, Nelson Seabra, Betty Catroux, Joan Juliet Buck, Diane de Beauvau-Craon who is fizzlingly effervescent…'
At times like this, one yearns for just one name, however humble (Fred Flintstone, Officer Dibble) that anyone could put a face to.
And what about that stray ‘l' in ‘fizzlingly'?
For most of the book, Joan is whatever's the opposite of ‘fizzlingly effervescent' - perhaps ‘moanlingly moany'. She is a world-class whinger, never satisfied with what she's got.
On the set for a TV series, the wardrobe mistress asks her to try on ‘one of the most hideous garments I have ever seen'.
Flying first-class (obvs!) to Dallas, she complains about the ‘atrocious red wine' and ‘unspeakable steak and vile over-cooked carrots'.
In another first-class seat, this one provided by British Airways, she has trouble with the sound system, so kicks up a fuss.
Her tantrum pays off. ‘Back in London, I get a letter from British Airways apologising for the lack of audio and video equipment last month and offering two round trips to Nice. Nice work.'
‘It's hard enough to write books, let alone schlep all over the world plugging them,' she complains.
But the world could probably manage without a new novel by Joan Collins.
‘Her notorious tongue was in his mouth, her notorious hands were pulling down his trousers, and her notorious breasts were being rubbed against his shirt,' reads a passage from Misfortune's Daughters, published around this time.
Jane Austen she is not.
Her prose in these diaries could also do with a brush-up.
She gets a phrase in her head and can't stop repeating it, regardless. ‘To say we are disappointed is putting it mildly,' she writes of watching the first episode of her new series, Pacific Palisades.
‘To say that the corset is uncomfortable is putting it mildly,' she writes of a new costume she is obliged to wear.
‘To say that we were all upset is putting it mildly,' she writes of the funeral of Princess Diana.
Shopping is one of the few activities that seem to give her any sort of satisfaction, however temporary. She travels everywhere with 15 suitcases, then shops for more stuff when she gets to where she's going, which means she has to buy yet more suitcases to put it all in.
‘Dashed into Gottex and got a few swimsuits for Acapulco and the South of France then zoomed into Donna Karan, then Judith Leiber's for bags, then SAKS, all highly exhilarating,' reads an average paragraph.
In New York, her new friend Aaron Tonken, ‘a mover and shaker' who she's met once before at a party given by Melanie Griffith, says: ‘I want to give you lots of presents!'
The next day, he takes her to Cartier and buys her ‘a beautiful diamond-studded ring worth a few bucks', and then on to ‘a new fabulous boutique on Madison', where she hoovers up lots of clothes - ‘Aaron said he'd never seen anybody shop so fast' - and then she realises she'll need more suitcases, so she buys ‘gorgeous Italian luggage in dark Paisley leather'.
Before she leaves, she spots ‘some wonderful cushions, ashtrays and accessories for the apartment.
Got those too! Talk about greedy!'
The diaries start in 1989, when her lucrative stint on Dynasty is coming to an end. On $120,000 an episode, ‘I was now apparently the highest paid TV actress in the world'.
Things then go downhill: these sporadic diaries - whole months and even years are missed out - cover a succession of deadbeat TV and film projects which either don't get off the ground or get off the ground and then crash.
Convinced of her own pulling power, she looks for a famous co-star for a stage revival of Noël Coward's Private Lives.
‘We discussed Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris… but they both look a hundred years old and are probably busy.'
Albert Finney also says no. They are, of course, in another league, and wouldn't think of acting opposite her, but she is too convinced of her own stardom to acknowledge this obvious fact.
Eventually she has to settle for an actor called Keith Baxter, but we have no idea how the show went, because at this point the diaries leap from 1990 to 1994.
‘What do I really want to do?' she asks at one point.
‘I would like to just live a happy life, and I don't think that doing an American sitcom is going to make me that happy. What is the answer? Money! And with my kids and lifestyle, I need plenty of it.'
So she does the third-rate shows in order to buy enough stuff to justify doing the third-rate shows.
In between, she attends grim parties full of other has-beens telling her how marvellous she's looking.
‘They keep telling me how beautiful and glamorous I am, what a flawless peaches-and-cream complexion and svelte figure I have.'
Like many celebrities, she affects to hate being recognised but is furious when she isn't.
At dinner with friends in a restaurant in LA, a waitress takes everybody else's order, and then looks at Joan and says: ‘And what would the little lady like?'
The little lady is not amused. ‘I'm not keen on the over-familiarity that passes for service in a lot of LA restaurants,' she huffs.
As Joan herself might put it, to say these diaries are fifth-rate is putting it mildly.