She is one of the last surviving actors of Hollywood’s “golden age”. Now Dame Joan Collins has given the BBC unprecedented access to her private films for an upcoming documentary.
Dating back decades, the footage features some of the biggest names on the big screen, from Sammy Davis Jr to Paul Newman, who can be seen chilling out beyond the gaze of their fans and studio cameras.
Award-winning filmmaker Clare Beavan was taken aback by the sheer scale of the material – roughly 20 hours of footage in box after box full of reels.
It’s a glimpse through the keyhole into a life of starry glamor. Other famous names include actors Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, and former Beatle Ringo Starr.
Beavan told The Guardian, “They’re like our home movies – except it’s full of famous people rather than kids and your neighbors in the background. We would have our ugly parents – and she has movie stars …
“The personal videos are a revelation… her second husband, Anthony Newley… started the thing [in the 1960s]. They covered everything on movies… high end. So you really get a feel for it. I can’t say it’s… completely natural, because you never know with Joan. But you definitely take it off the camera.
The BBC Arts documentary, to be released on Wednesday, focuses on Collins’ life as a Hollywood legend. She tells her own “roller coaster life story,” all with her inimitable wit, Beavan said. “It’s a post-Covid wellness movie because of Joan Collins’ life which is one hell of a dizzying race.”
Collins, 88, who was born and raised in London, became a global television phenomenon as scheming seductress Alexis Carrington in the 1980s television soap opera Dynasty. Her father, a successful agent, had strongly advised her against becoming an actor, warning her that she would be “washed at 23”.
But Collins enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and soon signed an exclusive film deal with the J. Arthur Rank Organization.
Beavan said: “Little [she] knew she would end up working with James Mason, Joan Fontaine or Richard Burton. She tells a good story about Richard Burton, about how he met her. She was fighting them… She had to fight against the heads of the studio. It was like #MeToo before #MeToo.
She added: “She had a battle for equal pay, albeit for millions on Dynasty, a fabulous humdinger on John Forsyth being paid more than she was, when she was the one who almost single-handedly brought Dynasty. … At number one worldwide. And she made Playboy at age 50 as a feminist gesture, she says.
Beavan’s awards include an Emmy for his documentary on sculptor and architect Bernini and a Grierson for his adaptation of the memoir The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me.
His 90-minute feature film Collins is not yet finished. She still wades through family movies, silent footage that shows Collins jumping into a pool, lying on lounge chairs and playing with her kids, enjoying one fabulous vacation after another, from Greece to Acapulco.
“What’s weird is that she always looks amazingly ready for the camera… She doesn’t have the Hollywood lighting, but she looks somehow spectacular.”
Collins told The Guardian: “I am delighted to have collaborated on this wonderful, in-depth, feature-length documentary about my life.”