By Joan Collins
- Having had five husbands, I guess I should know a thing or two about marriage. And you may be surprised to learn that I still believe strongly in the institution. But no couple, I believe, should imagine that they’re going to live happily ever after. There will always be arguments and pitfalls, particularly if you stupidly marry too young. Or simply choose the wrong person.
Looking back now, I can see that my first four husbands all put me down, criticised and insulted me far too often. And although only the first was ever physically violent towards me, words often linger longer than bruises.
Was it my own fault that I brought out such a perverse streak in these men? Or was I just a lousy chooser?
For most of my teens, I had no interest in boys or men at all. I knew absolutely nothing about them and had never even seen a photograph of a naked man.
By the time I was 17, though, I decided I was ready to emulate my more worldly classmates at drama school in London by ‘doing it’, as they described making love. But there were two problems: I had no idea what ‘doing it’ entailed — and the first man I developed a serious crush on turned out to be gay.
Soon afterwards, I was lucky enough to get the lead in I Believe In You, a British movie, which also starred the actor Laurence Harvey. At 23, he was absurdly sophisticated, wearing Savile Row suits, frequenting the best restaurants and clubs, and smoking cigarettes from a holder. We started dating and I decided I’d definitely ‘do it’ with him. Alas, it was not to be. ‘But why?’ I wailed one afternoon after he’d turned down my tentative girlish advances with: ‘No, you must wait, my darling — you’re not ready yet.’
At 18, I thought I was quite ready enough, and I was hurt. I was even more hurt when, a few days later, I attended a party given by the character actress Hermione Baddeley.
She lost no time in giving me a piece of her mind by saying in a loud voice: ‘If this is the new Jean Simmons, as Larry’s told me, Jean has nothing to worry about — you haven’t got her looks or her talent.’ I dashed out in tears.
Larry rushed after me and confessed, to my horror, that he was actually living with the old bag! I was so humiliated and disgusted that I never attempted to ‘do it’ with him again.
To pacify me, Larry escorted me a few nights later to La Rue nightclub, where he introduced me to one of my idols, Maxwell Reed. He was the very film star whom I’d once vowed to my fourth-form classmates I’d marry.
Rampant: Joan reveals she could not handle the Hollywood actor, now husband to actress Annette Bening
'For most of my teens, I had no interest in boys at all. By the time I was 17, I decided I was ready to do it'
Technically, he raped me by giving me a strong ‘Mickey Finn’ drugged cocktail disguised as an ordinary rum and coke. The act, if you can call it that, was awful and degrading. He ripped off my clothes when I was unconscious and I was violently sick afterwards.
However, because I’d ‘done it’, which nice young girls seldom did then, I attempted to wipe the incident from my mind and actually started dating him. Oh, foolish child. At just 18, I was about as au courant in the ways of the world as 11-year-olds are today!Stupidly, I was flattered when Max proposed, even bragging to my school-friend Beryl: ‘Told you I’d marry him!’
The sex, I have to admit, was awful. But since Mummy had told me that women just have to put up with it, I gritted my teeth, thought of England and watched television. Luckily, the TV set was at the bottom of the sofa.
As our wedding day approached, I realised I didn’t really want to marry Max. But my parents were adamant that I couldn’t live with him instead.
‘What will people think?’ screeched my mother in horror.
‘I’ll never be able to show my face in the West End!’ said Daddy, a showbusiness agent.
And if a man so much as glanced at me in the street, he’d threaten to ‘cut up that pretty little face so no one will ever look at you again’.
The last act of our ridiculous marriage came when a swarthy Middle Eastern gentleman who was ogling me at a nightclub offered my husband £10,000 if he’d let me sleep with him. Max wanted to close the deal.
‘He’ll even let me watch,’ he hissed, as the Arab sheik grinned at me lasciviously. ‘And with the ten grand he pays us, we can go to Hollywood, baby, buy a new car, hit the big time!’
Bursting into tears, I ran out of the club — all the way back to my parents’ flat in Harley Street. Luckily, I was offered a Hollywood contract not long afterwards, which involved moving to Los Angeles. But I had to wait three years for a divorce. It cost me £10,000 — a fortune in 1956 — which I had to borrow from 20th Century Fox. I left the court with my sister, Jackie, poorer, wiser and with a growing distrust of men. That was divorce number one.
Not that I was short of male company for long. In fact, I spent so much time socialising that when I finally left my rented apartment, the oven still had its plastic wrapping inside it.
I certainly wasn’t interested in marrying again. And after ill-fated relationships with two notorious playboys — Arthur Loew, Jr, the son of the founder of MGM, and Nicky Hilton, heir to the hotel group — I decided to give up on men for a while. And then I went to the West Indies to film Island In The Sun and met its stunning star, Harry Belafonte.
He was 31, six foot one, with melting brown eyes, a strong nose and close-cropped black hair. His sexual allure was accentuated by tight trousers and a shirt opened to reveal caramel- coloured skin.
Although we had no scenes together, the all-British crew teased me relentlessly when they noticed how often Belafonte — who was married — threw me suggestive glances.
‘They say his ambition is to make love with as many beautiful women as he can. Better watch out — you’ll be next,’ teased Nick Roeg, the camera operator who later became a distinguished director.
The actress, here clad in a £2,000 white mink midi coat, was married to producer Ron Kass for 11 years
‘No way,’ I said, and meant it. To have any kind of a relationship with a black man in the late Fifties was totally off limits.
But, one night in Grenada, Belafonte and I took a walk along the beach in the moonlight. His husky voice held a hint of forbidden promise.
‘Now, Miss Collins,’ he said, ‘I’m leaving tomorrow, but I’ll be at the Coconut Grove [an LA club] in April — will you come?’
‘Oh yes,’ I said. And I did.
At the Coconut Grove, I watched Belafonte performing calypso songs and jazz. He was mesmerising, and we soon began an affair, away from prying eyes, in my tiny apartment.
But, after a few exciting liaisons, we knew we had to cool it. He went back to his wife and I moved on. Alas, to another married man.
Of course, I told myself married men were off limits.
But George Englund, then a 32-year-old MGM producer, suddenly popped up. And before I could pause to reflect, we’d begun a full-blown affair that lasted 18 months.
Oh, the horror of falling in love with a married man! Although he vowed to divorce his wife, Cloris, that was just his way of keeping me on the hook.
Then, one afternoon, some months into our relationship, Cloris came knocking at my front door, screaming: ‘Is George there? I know he’s in there — I insist on seeing him!’
He was — and he was terrified. But I assured his hysterical wife that I had no visitors and she scurried off.
I then asked George the $64,000 question: ‘Are you still sleeping with Cloris?’
He swore on his three children’s lives that he wasn’t. He said he was sleeping in his office, which I simply didn’t believe.
So one night I cruised past the back of his house — and saw George and his wife in their bedroom, getting ready for bed. I was so shattered I marched straight into MGM the next day, past panic-stricken secretaries, to beard him in his office.
We had a huge row and he finally admitted that not only was he sleeping with Cloris but also that she was pregnant. ‘But we only did it once!’ he said weakly.
‘A likely story,’ I screamed, then drove home in a fury. But George was soon promising that this time he was definitely getting divorced — and so our pathetic romance dragged on for a few more months of misery and broken promises.
Fate took a hand one evening at a restaurant. I couldn’t help noticing that a young man, who was dining with Jane Fonda and another couple, was staring at me.
‘That’s Warren Beatty,’ I was told. ‘He’s Shirley MacLaine’s actor brother, but he hasn’t done much.’
I looked over at Warren, who smiled and raised his glass. ‘Cheeky,’ I said to my companions. ‘He’s quite pretty, though.’
Warren called me the following week. I was surprised that he’d managed to get my number, but if you want something badly enough in Hollywood, you can usually get it. In fact, I soon found out that young Mr Beatty almost always got what he wanted.
Warren was 22 and insanely ambitious. He was good-looking but — as he used to tell me — there were better-looking and younger guys out there, which is why he sometimes told people he was 20.
At 26 myself, I found him extremely endearing in a boyish way. He soon moved into my apartment — but not before George had begged for a meeting to ‘work this thing out’.
I was quite tempted to give in, to say the least. But I’d made up my mind. I knew I needed to get away from George’s toxic merry-go-round. I said goodbye to my married lover with a heavy heart.
Although I wasn’t madly in love with Warren, he and I were actually very compatible, even if he needed to have sex several times a day, which often wore me out.
So we continued playing happy families and not long afterwards, Warren actually proposed, presenting me with a large gold ring studded with pearls.
By then, we were staying in Paul Newman’s apartment in New York, where Warren was finally shooting his first movie — Splendour In The Grass — with my friend Natalie Wood, who was married to Robert Wagner.
Unfortunately, however, I was committed to going to Rome to make an epic called Esther And The King.‘I don’t want you to leave me, butterfly,’ Warren said sadly.
And, once I started the 10-week shoot, he bombarded me with telegrams, calls and letters, telling me how much he missed me. He also suspected I was having an affair, which I definitely wasn’t.
I was enjoying a rest from all that! But Warren was very persuasive, and I flew back three times to see him.
During my third visit, we decided to marry the following year, and I began to design my wedding dress.
The papers made a big deal of our engagement and I was getting quite excited. Certainly, I paid little attention at first to rumours of a budding romance between Warren and Natalie.
How ridiculous — he was always calling me! I’d failed to take account of the fact that Warren was permanently on the phone to everyone he knew.
After I returned from Rome, Splendour was a huge hit. My fiance then went straight on to The Roman Spring Of Mrs Stone, opposite the fragile 45-year-old Vivien Leigh — and soon there were rumours about them, too.
In the 18 months we’d been together, he’d gone from being a total unknown to a hot, rising star. Physically, he was a man transformed: the spotty, myopic youngster had been replaced by a sophisticated Italian-type gigolo with a deep tan, exquisite clothes, dyed black hair and a great haircut.
Not only did he look magnificent, but he knew how to slather on his in-your-face sex appeal. To his evident delight, he was starting to become catnip to women, which didn’t help our relationship one bit.
When Princess Margaret was introduced to him at a Hollywood party, I noticed that even her eyes lit up. Having always had a penchant for a handsome face, she soon had Warren locked into an animated conversation.
And who knows what else happened? After all, even before they met, Warren had told me he admired her beautiful blue eyes and vivacious personality.
In LA, where we were living together in my apartment, Warren and I started having horrible fights — one being about the rent, which he claimed he couldn’t afford. The final straw was when my mother and 15-year-old brother, Bill, came to stay for a week. Warren made it plain that he deeply resented them being there.
‘It’s my house,’ I’d scream, ‘and they’re my family.’
After which he’d sulk and go for long drives alone. But maybe he wasn’t alone for long, as rumours of a romance between Natalie Wood and Warren were soon surfacing again.I’d had enough. When I was offered the lead in The Road To Hong Kong, to be shot in the UK, Warren tried to dissuade me. The script was cr*p, he said — ‘Why would you want to do it?’
‘To get away from you,’ I replied.
It was a sad ending, but I knew that our relationship of almost two years was doomed. Marriage to Warren would never have lasted because he simply loved the ladies too much.
How right I was. In the end, his list of conquests — among them Natalie Wood, Julie Christie, Leslie Caron, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn — read like a Who’s Who of Sixties and Seventies glamour queens.
You could say he became a legend, but he also became a joke. Indeed, he was often referred to as a phallus on legs.
For me, though, Warren Beatty was just a rebound. And, young as I was, I really should have known better.
The last time I saw him was at a Hollywood screening. All charm, he told my husband Percy: ‘I still love this woman.’ ‘Thanks for telling me,’ said Percy, playfully challenging him to a fight.
Not a chance, of course. Now Warren’s happily married to Annette Bening, we kiss and hug whenever we bump into each other and spout protestations of how we must get together for dinner.
Since this is Hollywood, where talk is cheap, I doubt it will ever happen.
- Adapted from PASSION FOR LIFE by Joan Collins, published by Constable & Robinson on October 24 at £25. © Joan Collins 2013. To order a copy at £20 (p&p free), call 0844 472 4157.