The HOTTEST double act in Hollywood: Racier than a Jackie Collins bonkbuster. More dramatic than Dynasty. As their life stories are turned into a TV drama, Dame JOAN COLLINS reveals all about her and her sister’s rise to fame
- British actress Joan Collins and her novelist sister Jackie grew up in London
- Pair were on holiday in Bognor Regis with their grandmother when war began
- After death of Jackie, Joan described her and her sister’s ‘meteoric’ rise to fame
- Their stories will be brought to small screen in a multi-part, high-end TV biopic
When my sister Jackie died, I was bereft. As was our brother Bill, Jackie’s three daughters, six grandchildren, three sons-in-law and countless friends and family.
Jackie was so loved and admired that her death was news across the world. It even made the cover of People Magazine.
Behind the celebrity headlines, though, was a family in grief. We tried hard to comfort each other, but Jackie’s death left a void in all our lives that was impossible to fill.
So I was delighted when the prestigious producers of The Crown announced they wanted to dramatise our lives for a multi-part, high-end TV biopic. But I was also slightly concerned about how Jackie’s daughters — Tracy, Rory and Tiffany — would react.
The ‘meteoric’ rise to fame of actress Joan Collins (left with Jackie in their teens) and her novelist sister Jackie is set to be brought to the small screen in a multi-part, high-end TV biopic
I needn’t have worried. The girls were thrilled and all of us immediately co-operated with the producers to give them the most honest and interesting input on the scripts. ‘It should be a great tribute to our mother,’ said Tiffany.
And I, for one, feel deeply that she would have been honoured and thrilled to be part of this collaboration, which will tell the tale of how two young English girls, by dint of hard work, ambition, discipline and, yes, luck, would become internationally renowned. And, this is how it all began…
We didn’t have twitter trolls, or smartphones. We didn’t have social media, so we didn’t worry about anything. We just had the war.
We left it to our parents to worry about that. My sister Jackie and I threw ourselves into entertaining and amusing ourselves all through our childhood. Our parents were of the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ generation, so they let us get on with it.
We could walk to school through the London streets without being knocked over by somebody with their nose in a smartphone — all we had to worry about was the Blitz, and we were too young to understand the true extent of that danger.
Besides, picking up and collecting different pieces of shrapnel was far more exciting.
Ignorance was bliss for little Jackie and Joan during World War II.
We were on holiday in Bognor Regis, staying with our maternal grandmother Ada, when war broke out. I remember that we had the most glorious weather on that day in September. I was terribly excited to see that headline in the paper that war had been declared.
Joan (pictured), who said her sister was ‘so loved and admired’ that her death in 2015 was ‘news across the world’, said she was initially worried how her sister’s daughters would react
In my childish innocence, it seemed like some sort of game was afoot and I thought I was the first in my family to know as I ran across a field to impart the news.
Two-year-old Jackie gazed impassively from her crib as Mummie and her sisters pretended to be very busy setting out tea things and tossing off remarks like, ‘Oh, it’s nothing to worry about’ and ‘It’ll all be over soon, you’ll see.’
Our innocence of the danger remained intact through the next six years, even while we were repeatedly evacuated then returned to London when it was apparently safe.
When the bombs came back, off we trundled again in Daddy’s Rover, Jackie sitting next to me in the back, sucking her thumb and reading a book, while Mummie, Daddy and I sang inspiring songs like We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs of Dover.
Bognor, Brighton, Chichester, Norfolk, Ilfracombe; back and forth we went. Each time, Jackie and I would be enrolled in a new school and, from being outgoing children, we became shy as the ‘old girls’ never took kindly to the ‘new girls’, especially being from London — we were bullied mercilessly.
Nevertheless, the war was quite an adventure and we were never scared.
One morning, we came out of Edgware Road Tube station, where we had spent the night safe from the bombs, only to find our flat in Maida Vale completely destroyed. Jackie started crying inconsolably about her lost toys and I, the heroic older sister, did my best to comfort her while feeling the great loss myself.
As I entered puberty, I became upset that I was expected to wear things like the tight girdles, itchy stockings and suspender belts that my mother wore. I preferred the corduroy trousers and loose shirts of Daddy’s wardrobe. So, for a while I wished I’d been a boy and dressed like a tomboy.
However, by the time I was 15, I reverted to embracing my female side.
Even as teenagers, Jackie and I had definite ambitions. She wanted to be a writer and I, after dithering about a bit, wanted to become an actress — but an actress in the theatre, and not films, heaven forfend!
‘I needn’t have worried,’ she said, ‘The girls were thrilled and all of us immediately co-operated with the producers to give them the most honest and interesting input on the scripts’ (Pictured: Jackie in 1956)
However, we both adored films, and film stars, and spent endless hours cutting pictures of our favourites from movie magazines and pasting them into giant scrapbooks, as well as sending to Hollywood for autographed pictures from the likes of Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye and Tony Curtis, most of whom obliged.
Jackie even stuck her picture of Tony Curtis behind her bed, while I had my picture of Irish film star Maxwell Reed under my desk… but more about that later.
Jackie started writing amazing stories when she was only ten — sophisticated plots about teenagers in America and France with exotic names — under the umbrella title These Things Called Teenagers.
The concept of a teenager had just been invented in the late 1940s. Prior to that, people were only known as children or adults.
Jackie was in vogue, even then. I was called upon to illustrate these gems which, thanks to a school course in art, I was quite good at. Her handwriting was beautiful and structured, as were her stories and I cherish the copies I now have that her daughters found after she died.
Jackie was tall and had a fantastic figure by the time she was 12. When we holidayed in France, boys would whistle and try to chat us up, even following us around Cannes (sorry folks, this was the Fifties after all, when PC meant Police Constable).But neither of us allowed the boys to get too close — it was a much more innocent time.
We were on the beach at Cannes when I received the telegram telling me I had passed my audition for RADA while Jackie was happily splashing in the water with three French boys as I whooped with joy and ran down the beach to tell her.
My rise to fame was meteoric. Within a year, I’d been signed to the British film studio Rank and during my early years as a starlet, Jackie followed my career closely, pasting and writing captions of every single press mention of me in many scrapbooks.
At Rank I learned my craft, and made 12 films in three years; working with brilliant actors but also earning the moniker of ‘Britain’s bad girl’ due to my penchant for playing juvenile delinquents, naughty heiresses or baby jailbirds.
At 20, I was literally sold to Twentieth Century Fox and went to Hollywood.
Joan and Jackie grew up in London in the 1930s and 40s, and were on holiday in Bognor Regis when World War II broke out (Pictured together as children)
I stayed for seven years, scoring above-the-title credits and working with such luminaries as Bette Davis, Richard Burton, Gregory Peck and Paul Newman. These were heady days for a girl from Blighty and I learned a lot from these amazing stars.
Jackie came to stay for a couple of years. Almost as soon as she touched down, however, I had to leave for Jamaica to shoot Sea Wife with Burton, so I gave her the keys to my apartment and to my car! She had a marvellous time, driving my pink Thunderbird round Beverly Hills and hanging out with other teenagers.
She adored the American way of life — hamburgers, drive-ins, chocolate malts. When I returned, she hung out with me and my more sophisticated friends like Gene Kelly, Paul Newman, Sydney Chaplin and Marlon Brando, whom Jackie worshipped.
Hollywood was unbelievably glamorous then. Most women were always made-up and coiffed even for tennis or shopping, and the parties were packed with the most famous and gorgeous stars and powerful studio heads.
I was invited to many of these, and I gazed in awe at Lana Turner, Susan Hayward and Elizabeth Taylor in their prime and primped to perfection.
I hit Saks and I. Magnin regularly, and soon attained my black belt in shopping. I also started designing many of my cocktail and evening dresses and had them made by a tailor to my specifications — something I still do today.
But most evenings we spent at friends’ homes where we played charades and word games and Jackie and I could be casual in jeans. In fact, I was so casual that sometimes I didn’t even wear make-up, which the powers-that-be at Fox considered a heinous crime.
I was reprimanded by studio executive Darryl Zanuck’s second-in-command, Lew Schreiber, and by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, when she wrote that I ‘looked like [I] combed my hair with an egg-beater’.
It was at my then boyfriend Arthur’s house that one night, Jackie met Brando. Marlon had become a great friend and whenever he came over to my little apartment, he would raid the fridge and eat all my ice cream.
Jackie and Marlon huddled in a corner chatting for hours then, to my dismay, sailed upstairs hand in hand. No one still knows exactly what happened, and now no one ever will.
Joan signed to the British film studio Rank early in her career, and Jackie followed her career closely, pasting and writing captions of every single press mention of me in many scrapbooks
The equally talented James Dean was another regular at Arthur’s house. One night, a group of us were dining on Hollywood Boulevard and Jimmy offered to drive me home. ‘I’ve got a new car,’ he said proudly showing me a fierce-looking red Porsche. ‘It goes really fast.’
My boyfriend tried to stop me. ‘He drives too fast,’ he warned. ‘He’ll kill himself one day.’
Never one to heed advice, I jumped in and Jimmy went from zero to 80 in about four seconds. By the time we arrived, I had been frightened senseless as he zoomed in and out of the traffic. ‘Never again,’ I said to Arthur.
In September 1955, I was in New York on a publicity tour when Arthur tapped on my door. ‘Jimmy’s dead, killed in his Porsche,’ he said, ashen-faced. I have never liked going in fast cars since then.
Jackie was summoned back to London by our father. Our mother was gravely ill, and Daddy was at his wits’ end, finding it hard to cope with her illness and our younger brother Bill, despite the fact that he was no trouble at all.
I stayed in Hollywood completing my contract and Jackie put aside her writing ambitions to look after Mummie. During this time, she also started acting.
She featured in several British films and TV shows and toured the UK as MC of talent competition, The Carroll Levis Discovery Show, an early version of The X Factor on the variety stage.
I went to Barbados to film a movie about inter-racial tensions called Island In The Sun. The stunningly handsome Harry Belafonte immediately showed an interest, but though I was attracted to him, I was cautious about men who oozed sexual power.
He had been idolised for years for his fabulous singing and was also a terrific actor and an activist. The English crew took bets on whether I would surrender to his cool sophisticated charms, but they were sorely disappointed when I didn’t. Then . . .
At Rank Jackie (pictured with Warren Beatty) made 12 films in three years – working with brilliant actors but also earning the moniker of ‘Britain’s bad girl’
An inter-racial relationship in the Fifties would have caused a massive scandal and probably hurt my career. Producer Harry Cohn had threatened to remove Sammy Davis Jr’s other eye — he’d lost his left one in a car accident — for dating Kim Novak.
But three months later, after one of Harry’s shows in Los Angeles, I changed my mind!
It was 1960 and a wedding was planned — Jackie was marrying Wallace Austin, a clothes manufacturer who had won her in spite of the many swains who clustered around her. I, too, was planning marriage, to up-and-coming actor Warren Beatty (my first, to actor Maxwell Reed, had been a disaster and only lasted a year).
Warren and I attended Jackie’s lavish celebration at the Grosvenor Hotel in London with my parents and a host of friends and celebrities such as Joyce and Lionel Blair, Roger Whittaker, Frankie Howerd and Roger Moore. Mummie looked radiant and I hoped she was getting better. Sadly, that was not the case.
After my Fox contract ended, I moved back to England, to Harley House and to my childhood bedroom. Jackie was married and I was starring opposite Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in The Road To Hong Kong, filming at Shepperton.
My engagement to Warren Beatty had bitten the dust for many reasons, and I was now dating the supremely talented Anthony Newley, West End star of Stop The World, I Want To Get Off.
It was during this time that Mummie died. Daddy, Bill, Jackie and I were shattered. She was the sweetest, kindest, nicest person — a true lady, a loving, caring mother and everyone who met her adored her. She had such beautiful legs that she was nicknamed ‘Marlene’ after Marlene Dietrich.
Such was his grief that Daddy refused to speak of her again, flying into a rage if anyone mentioned her name.
Jackie threw herself into married life with zeal, even though Wallace was less than perfect. I thought he was a bit of a psychopath — during a visit to his showroom he knocked eight months’ pregnant Jackie to the ground. I lashed out at Wallace, screaming: ‘How dare you hit my sister, you bully.’
This was the first (and last) time I ever slapped anyone. Well, of course except for Linda Evans and Diahann Carroll in Dynasty!
Not surprisingly, that marriage didn’t last. He was not a good person and I suspected very dependent on substances. I begged Jackie to end it, but she felt she had to stay with him for the sake of their baby daughter.
Eventually, she did kick him out, but he continued to torment her until one day he drove into the Black Forest and took an overdose and his life.
Jackie had been writing for years, but now she needed to make it work financially. She had several letters of rejection, but kept on.
‘Never give up’ was our motto, I guess unconsciously formed during the war. We had become even closer after Mummie died and while I lived at my father’s flat. Bill, now 15, had moved in with Jackie and she became like a second mother to him.
BY NOW I had fallen, hard, for Anthony Newley and seeing Jackie with her daughter Tracy made me really pine for children of my own.
I decided Tony would make a great father, and Jackie agreed. Tony loved Jackie and lent her some much-needed cash when Wallace left her practically bankrupt.
Estranged from his wife for many years, Tony was still married but that didn’t stop our plans to marry and have children. He finally got divorced and we wed in 1963 in New York, with my best friend Cappy Badrutt as maid of honour and actor Michael Lipton, Tony’s best friend, as his best man.
We had a quickie ceremony followed by a quickie champagne breakfast, then Tony rushed back onto the Broadway stage to make his evening performance.
In October, my adorable Tara Cynara Newley was born and I gave up all thoughts of acting and a film career. Besides, at 29, I was considered too old!
A month later, when the beloved President of the U.S. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Tony decided he didn’t want to live in America any more. However, we didn’t move back to London for another two years. Jackie came to stay with us in our palatial New York apartment and we had glorious times with our two little girls, Tracy and Tara.
Twenty-two months after Tara, my second child Alexander Newley was born, and I thought my family was perfect and complete.
How wrong can a girl be?
Joan Collins’ new autobiography, Third Act, will be published next year.
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