"She's smart. She's sexy. She's provocative," booms the voice behind the video promo. "She's the kind of woman every woman would like to be."
"Really?" laughs Joan Collins. She certainly didn't write this script.
"I wouldn't dream to presuppose that every woman wants to be like me," she says. "I think that I might be the kind of woman that some women would like to be . . . in a way . . ."
The 52-year-old actress, also known as the bejeweled, begowned, bewitching Alexis Carrington Colby on ABC's "Dynasty," is seated on a gilt French chair protected by a drawn curtain and beefy bodyguard. She has just flown in from Los Angeles to attend the Video Software Dealers' Association convention in Washington, specifically to plug a series of Paramount video films to the press and distributors. The publicist says Collins has only 15 minutes to chat, barely enough time to list her lovers, let alone get down to what makes the only living former fiance' of Warren Beatty such a sultry, scandalous scoundrel.
She is smaller and prettier than one might expect, wearing a tight lavender silk dress, her chestnut hair tousled in freshly coifed curls. Younger looking too. The makeup on her pale green eyes has been applied with a heavy hand, her lip gloss looks like it went on with a roller, there are sizable rocks on each earlobe and a multicarat but reasonably moderate, by Beverly Hills standards, diamond ring on her left hand, and an engagement ring from her hopeful fourth husband-to-be Peter Holm, a Swedish businessman. She crosses her legs and reaches for a jeweled cigarette case.
"I think there's a certain attitude that I have in certain things that a lot of women admire," Collins says, her English accent a curious blend of upstairs breeding and downstairs debauchery. "I think I have a sort of fighting spirit."
She's a scrapper.
"Not a scrapper in that way. I don't like scraps. But in terms of having an innate belief in myself, which can't be negated by other people's opinions of me, so that that innate belief in what I can do and my potential has nurtured me through the years in which I was not particularly successful."
Long the butt of Hollywood jokes, Collins has stuck it out. Now, she is considered more of a celebrity than an actress. A rec-room word. She stands for everything glitzy, trashy and bitchy. She stands for money and power. The female J.R.
She already has a line of McCall's fashion patterns, her own perfume "Scoundrel," a line of costume jewelry and the just-introduced Joan Collins Hat Collection. And now: the Joan Collins Home Video Selection. Like the rest of the merchandise, Paramount is banking on the fact that people "will trust Joan Collins' taste."
These are films personally selected by Collins. Each contains a short introduction, showing Collins in a cozy setting introducing her selection. The first three films are "Once is Not Enough," "The Carpetbaggers" and "The Last Tycoon." It's a brilliant idea. Paramount has found a way to re-release old turkeys, disguised as capons.
"Joan will tell your customers why it's the kind of film they can enjoy again and again," the press release bleats. "And she'll throw in some spicy inside Hollywood information now and then, because . . . well, just because she's Joan Collins."
Born in London, Collins made her theatrical debut at the age of 9, playing the part of the boy in Ibsen's "A Doll's House." After that, her gender was never in question. Considered the poor man's Elizabeth Taylor, she made her mark in a string of eminently forgettable films, in which her physical charms were displayed to the fullest. They include "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing," "The Opposite Sex," "Rally 'Round the Flag Boys!," "Road to Hong Kong," "If It's Tuesday, This Must be Belgium," "Tales From the Crypt," "The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones," "The Stud," and "The Bitch," -- the last two properties penned by her equally sultry sister, pulp princess Jackie ("Hollywood Wives") Collins.
This year, she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series for her portrayal of Alexis. Up to then, the only award Collins could possibly claim was for her love life. In her richly detailed autobiography "Past Imperfect," Collins confessed to bedding more actors than the Hollywood branch of Mattress Discounters: Warren Beatty, Ryan O'Neal, Terence Stamp, Harry Belafonte, Nicky Hilton, Anthony Newley, Sydney Chaplin, Rafael Trujillo and others. She married three times -- to Maxwell Reed, Newley and Ron Kass -- was engaged to Beatty and rejected the advances of Richard Burton. She has two children by Newley and one by Kass. "The majority of my time," she says matter-of-factly, "I spend in my home with the child who is still living with me."
Collins, unlike many of her Hollywood counterparts, seems to have her spiked heels firmly on the ground.
"I'm much too smart to take dope," she says. "I think I have a very good grounding in life. I had a solid upbringing, a very strict father and a very loving mother. I didn't come into this business all wide-eyed, thinking it was going to be fairyland. I knew it was going to be tough. It happens that I got to be very successful when I was very young, had my success, then sort of waned for a while. But it was good because I had time to have children and then I was lucky to be able to come back -- even though I had to deal with rejection a lot, and a lot of difficulty.
"Actresses over 40 are considered, you know, psshhhhht. Put in the slag heap. I felt very strongly that wasn't right. I consciously wanted to make a point for myself. Then I realized I was also perhaps making a point for other women, not just actresses."
Not surprisingly, Collins bolstered that point by appearing in Playboy. And, good heavens, her fiance', at 38, is a younger man. They haven't set the date yet. "But we're talking. I've been married three times. It's something I find rather nerve-racking, I must admit." Her previous marriages were long-run romances, one lasting 11 years, one lasting eight. "I consider the marriages were successful. I had beautiful children from them. People change, you know? You change as the decades change. I'm certainly much different now than I was when I was 19 or 20.
"I am a Gemini. I have many different sides."
So inside that tough cookie there's a cream center?
"Of course," says Collins. "I've got all sorts of different facets, you see. I think the facet the public is most familiar with is the in-control, slightly dominating, slightly assertive or aggressive, if you will, female. But that is not the way I am all the time.
"I have a certain amount of shyness. I think most actors do. I was very shy when I was a child. I think that could again be one of the reasons why the character I play on 'Dynasty' is popular. Although she's painted as a dire devil, she has a side that is quite warm and vulnerable and I think quite witty in a way."
Collins has certainly sunk her incisors into the role. Some would say she has become Alexis.
"It's called acting," she laughs. She sips coffee from a glass cup and takes out another cigarette. "I based the character on a very good friend of mine who unfortunately died. She was a jet-setter. Very amusing, very interested in men and power, but very likable by both men and women. The part of Alexis I don't like particularly is the part the writers like. They're always writing in these nasty things for her to do, and saying how terrible she is. Four years ago, she blew up a gun at Krystle, who shouldn't have been riding a horse anyway when she was pregnant.
"I think she's Alexis probably made to be more bitchy . . . " Her voice trails off. She fingers the diamond ring. "I think one of the things is the way I deliver the zingers sometimes. I deliver quite a lot of zingers, which I like to do."
The zingers, as she calls them, are lacerating remarks most of us wish we had the gumption to deliver.
"I know. I'd like to say them too, actually," she laughs.
"I don't. I'm getting better, actually. I've learned quite a bit from the old broad."