Class had never been the couple’s strong suit, and the divorce trial promised to be an exercise in cheap theatrics. Still, the face-off between aging temptress Joan Collins, 54, and fourth husband Peter Holm, 40, defied all expectations: Their five-day settlement hearing in Los Angeles was a turgid scandalfest that could have been scripted by one of Dynasty‘s own sudsmeisters. Here was a teary Joan, declaring, “I’ve been taken advantage of by men since I was 20.” Here was the shameless Swede, asking his wife of 13 months for more than $2.6 million and calling her “the woman I love.” And here was a central-casting surprise-witness Other Woman—a busty striver who fainted on the stand.
And so, with a full house in the 45-seat courtroom, reporters jostling for position outside the door and TV monitors relaying increasingly improbable plot turns, a window slowly opened on one of Hollywood’s most visible, volatile and ill-fated marriages. Curiously, the one point on which attorneys for both parties agreed was that the Collins-Holm union was a bad match. With surprising candor, Joan’s attorney, the ubiquitous Marvin Mitchelson, blamed the prenuptial agreement for the failed union. “I never saw a prenuptial agreement yet that didn’t wind up in a divorce,” Mitchelson said outside the court. “With Joan and Peter, I think they were doomed from the start.”. Frank Steinschriber, Holm’s attorney, concurred. “Going into marriage not trusting each other,” said Steinschriber, was a prescription for failure.
Having met in London in 1983, Collins and Holm lived together for two and a half years, spending more than a year arguing about the prenuptial agreement. Holm, an erstwhile Swedish pop star, eventually agreed to a 20 percent take, and the happy couple then pledged their undying love in a Las Vegas chapel on Nov. 6, 1985. Approximately a year later, according to her divorce papers, Joan was suffering “extreme stress and anxiety,” abetted in no small way by Holm’s claim that the bag he always carried around contained explosives.
Holm admitted that Collins had threatened divorce, but never took her seriously because he thought “she was just acting.” In an interview given to PEOPLE a few days before the trial, while he was resisting eviction from Joan’s Bowmont Drive home above Beverly Hills, Peter claimed the divorce came as a surprise. “Everything was lovey-dovey,” he said while tossing a balled-up $20 bill to a reporter’ outside, hoping the journalist could get the electricity turned back on. “We’d had a few arguments. We agreed to meet for lunch and talk things over. Instead, someone from her attorney’s office was at the restaurant. He handed me something and said, ‘These are divorce papers.’ I was stunned and flabbergasted.”
That was the stand Holm took in court. He portrayed himself as a loyal husband and dedicated business manager. Maintaining that he was entitled to live in the manner to which he had become accustomed chez Collins, Holm asked for $80,000 a month in temporary support. Declaring that the prenuptial agreement wasn’t legally binding, he wanted an even split of the couple’s property and of the $5.2 million Collins had earned since the wedding. Collins’ response to his arguments: “Lies, lies, lies,” she scrawled on her notepad.
Mitchelson contended that the 20-percent agreement was valid. Calling Holm “aeon man,” the attorney alleged that a portion of the money Peter had managed remained unaccounted for; besides, the $2 million in salary and expenses that he already had extracted was “a lot for a 13-month marriage.” Said Mitchelson: “He’s a big, strapping fellow. If he wants more money, he can go out and earn it.”
Throughout the hearing, the subject was usually money. Lots of it. Seven-figure salaries. Million-dollar homes. Complimentary BMWs for two after Peter arranged a publicity appearance for Joan. Nasty glances careened across the courtroom on a regular basis. Peter, forbidden by a restraining order from talking to Joan, used his spare moments on the stand to stare soulfully into her eyes . She’d stare back, occasionally softening. Was a reconciliation in the offing? If not, who the hell was winning the case? The main barometer of success seemed to be the press. Each day an envelope marked “Confidential” would be messengered from Collins’ public relations firm. Inside were photostats of articles about the hearing from the London and New York papers. Collins and her camp would pour over them, gauging public reaction.
Thursday morning brought a sign that something was up. Suddenly communicative with the media, Collins waved a victory sign to the camera crews on her way into the courtroom and sashayed over to a PEOPLE reporter parked inside. “I feel fabulous—ready to win,” she said. “I’ve finally gotten myself back together.”
Her secret tonic was discovered hours later, when a flurry of activity announced the arrival of a young woman who looked to have been invented by Frederick’s of Hollywood. Wearing a white babushka and a skintight white dress with a zipper down the front, she tottered into the courtroom in leopard-print spikes. She was Romina Danielson, 23, a bronzed bombshell who had been married to a friend of Holm, real estate developer Axel Danielson, 80. In histrionic testimony delivered throughout the afternoon, Holm was accused of being Romina’s lover during his marriage to Collins. Barely audible and appearing sedated, Romina said the affair began in 1985. “Peter called me his passion flower….He told me the color gets deeper and deeper red if the flower had not been pulled from the ground. He said I haven’t blossomed yet.”
Weeping, Romina told the court that Holm had hatched a scheme to stay with Joan for a length of time, then split with jointly held property. About 10 minutes into her testimony, she wilted. “We continued our…sexual liaison through 1985. There came a time when I thought I was pregnant….” Incredibly, on that note, her head rolled back and she slithered down in her chair, moaning and sobbing. A wide-eyed, smiling Collins stood up, straightened her skirt, picked up her purse and walked past the faded heap of passion on her way out of court. The room erupted. Romina came around and clawed at her bodice to free her heaving breasts as she gasped for air. Mitchelson and a female sheriff dashed to her side. With the cameras crowding in, she screamed hysterically until she was trundled into an ambulance. “I didn’t believe it,” recalled Mitchelson. “I couldn’t have scripted that scene any better.”
By Friday, Holm was wondering if Mitchelson had written the script. By a fortuitous twist of fate, Romina—whose testimony Peter had called “rubbish”—was indisposed and thus unavailable for cross-examination. Judge Earl F. Riley ordered her testimony stricken from the record, but its memory lingered: Riley thanked both lawyers for “a very interesting trial” before ruling that the prenuptial agreement was valid.
Leaving the court, Collins was triumphant but somber. “I’d always hoped that if anything went wrong, Peter and I would remain friends and walk away from it,” she said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do that. I wish him well. He’s a stubborn man.” Mitchelson came up and threw his arm around her. She gave him a big kiss. The two of them posed, smiling for the cameras, and the court was finally afforded the sight of a truly happy couple.