“I’ve changed,” says British actress Joan Collins, explaining why she returned a $100,000 advance for U.S. publication of her memoirs, Past Imperfect. The flamingly frank exposition of her love affairs with Warren Beatty, Ryan O’Neal and an unnamed man who appears to be Harry Belafonte created a sensation at home, and that’s as far as she wanted it to go. “People in America might think I’m still like that,” she adds demurely.
The transformation of Collins’ life refers only to the loves in it, which the erstwhile sexpot now limits to four: her three children and her third—and, she hopes, permanent—husband, U.S. producer Ron Kass. In other respects, the brunet bombshell who burst upon the States in the 1950s, tagged as “Britain’s Bad Girl,” is remarkably unchanged—at 46—as she prepares to detonate here again.
Her statistics are as startling as in the more sexist time when they were a matter of public record (38-24-37). That she makes evident in her raunchy new movie, The Stud. “It’s a piece of exploitation,” Joan admits of a work done very much on the cheap and in the family. Her husband produced it, and her sister Jackie (PEOPLE, Aug. 27, 1979) wrote the screenplay from her novel of the same title. Joan plays the oversexed proprietress of a disco, and a lot of it was shot in Tramp, the chic London joint owned by Jackie’s husband, Oscar Lerman. “We couldn’t find anyone to put up any money for it,” notes Joan, “so I wangled an invitation to the 1977 Cannes Film Festival and met some English distributors who agreed to chip in. We sold me like a jar of coffee on a supermarket shelf.” The Stud, which cost $600,000, grossed almost $20 million internationally before it opened this fall in the U.S. (after judicious cutting to change its “X” to a more marketable “R” rating).
A sequel to The Stud, also written by sis and starring Joan and with an equally succinct title, The Bitch, has just opened in London and is bound for the U.S. in December (“The biggest present you will ever get from Santa!” claims the Variety ad). It’s enough to raise the question: Can the confessional Past Imperfect, which has already built up a strong underground interest in Hollywood, really be far behind? Is its postponement coyness or calculation? After all, Swifty Lazar is her wily agent, but Joan, who concedes that she’s crassly cashing in on the two movies, insists that was never the case with the book. “It was more a catharsis project for me,” she says. “I’d always been somewhat juvenile in my attitude to life, letting myself be carried on by advice from others. My aim was to get to know myself.”
As the autobiography details, Joan was the daughter of a theatrical agent and a ballroom dance instructor. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but was lured away by the Rank Organization at 17. In her first U.S. movie incarnation, beginning in 1955, she made “mostly mediocre” films, but with actors like Edward G. Robinson, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Gregory Peck and Paul Newman. She got more attention from her off-screen liaisons which also included non-showbiz heavies, like hotel heir Nicky Hilton and Raphael Trujillo, son of the late Dominican dictator. Along the way, she married two English actors: Maxwell Reed for four years and Anthony Newley for seven. By the latter, she had two children, Tara, 16, and Sacha, 14, who mostly live with Newley. Her daughter by Kass, Katy, 7, travels everywhere with Mom and Dad (100,000 miles in the past 16 months).
While Collins is of two minds about her image (“I’m flattered, but being just a sex symbol is a cul-de-sac”), Kass is not averse to it. “In one nude scene in The Stud,” Joan reports, “I wanted to wear a towel. He said it was a cop-out. He tells me I have a great body, so what the hell?” Her plans for the New Collins are more decorous. She’s active in UNICEF and other children’s charities. Joan and Ron have become relative homebodies in their homes in Beverly Hills and Mayfair. Though they run into Joan’s old lovers inevitably, they are on rather good terms with all of them but Newley.
Professionally, Joan will appear next in Kass’ The Lady and the Champ as the elegant wife of a British politician, and come March she will star for the first time on the London stage in Noël Coward’s Design for Living. “My aim is to keep on working and to do things which have some merit—which my efforts until now have not had,” she says with characteristic candor. “I certainly don’t want to be taking my clothes off and wearing black stockings in five years.” That is not to say Joan Collins feels over the hill. “A woman in her 40s is in her prime,” she believes. “It’s what the 30s were 20 years ago.”