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 home movies for a forthcoming documentary.
Dating back decades, the footage features some of the biggest names of the silver screen, from Sammy Davis Jr to Paul Newman, who can be seen relaxing beyond the gaze of their fans and studio cameras.
Clare Beavan, the documentary’s award-winning director, has been taken aback by the sheer scale of material – about 20 hours of footage within box after box filled with reels.
It is a glimpse through the keyhole into a life of star-studded glamour. Other famous names include actors Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, and the former Beatle Ringo Starr.
Beavan told the Guardian: “They’re like our home movies – except that it has loads of famous people in rather than kids and your neighbours in the background. We’d have our ugly relatives – and she has film stars …
“The home videos are a revelation … Her second husband, Anthony Newley … started the thing off [in the 1960s]. They were covering everything on high-end … film. So you really get a sense of her. I can’t say it’s … completely natural, because you never know with Joan. But you definitely get her off-camera.”
The BBC Arts documentary, to be announced on Wednesday, focuses on the life of Collins as a Hollywood legend. She narrates her own “rollercoaster life story”, all with her inimitable wit, Beavan said. “It’s a post-Covid feel-good film because of Joan Collins’s life, which is one hell of a giddy ride.”
Collins, 88, who was born and raised in London, became a global television phenomenon as the scheming seductress Alexis Carrington in the 1980s TV soap opera Dynasty. Her father, a successful agent, had strongly discouraged her from becoming an actor, warning her that she would be “washed up by 23”.
But Collins enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and was soon signed to an exclusive film contract by the J Arthur Rank Organisation.
Beavan said: “Little did [she] know she’d end up working with James Mason, Joan Fontaine or Richard Burton. She tells a good story about Richard Burton, about how he came on to her. She was fighting them off … She had to fight off heads of the studio. It was like #MeToo before #MeToo.”
She added: “She had an equal pay battle, albeit for millions on Dynasty, a fabulous humdinger over John Forsyth being paid more than her, when she was the one that almost singlehandedly got Dynasty … to the number one show in the whole world. And she did Playboy at 50 as a feminist gesture, she says.”
Beavan’s awards include an Emmy for her documentary on the sculptor and architect Bernini and a Grierson for her adaptation of the memoir The Prince, the Showgirl and Me.
Her 90-minute Collins feature is yet to be finished. She is still wading through the home movies, silent footage that includes Collins jumping into a pool, lying on sun loungers and playing with her children, enjoying one fabulous holiday after another, from Greece to Acapulco.
“The weird thing is she was always looks stunningly camera-ready … She doesn’t have the Hollywood lighting, but she somehow looks spectacular.”
Collins told the Guardian: “I’m delighted to have collaborated on this wonderful in-depth documentary feature film on my life.”