Joan Collins She's more of a diva than me. But you should see her without make-up, says Stephanie Beacham
Call someone a diva in showbiz these days, and you are likely to get sued.
And let’s not even think of what happens if you call them a bitch, to boot.
Thank God for Stephanie Beacham, then. She’s trying to decide whether she rates higher or lower on the diva scale than her partner-in-shoulder-pad-crime Joan Collins.
'Of course, we are both terrible divas. Let's not kid ourselves. Neither of us likes shoddy anythings,' said Stephanie Beacham of her and Joan Collins
And it is with some regret that she thinks she will have to declare Joan the winner.
‘Of course, we are both terrible divas. Let’s not kid ourselves. Neither of us likes shoddy anythings.
'Joan always managed to be a bigger diva than me, though. I’m the kind of person who tries to be a diva, but doesn’t quite pull it off.
‘In real life I’m probably more like the character I played in Coronation Street than the one I played when Joan and I were in Dynasty.
'You might find me slouching around in Ugg boots. I don’t think you’d find Joan doing that.
‘I’m not sure she’s got a bus pass, either. I have. That isn’t very diva-like, is it Although my travelcard does have a picture of me as the Wicked Witch from Snow White, from my panto days.’
Still, Beacham is further up the diva scale than most.
Early in her acting career — when she was being mentored by Ava Gardner, of all people — the glorious Miss Beacham told a reporter that she had been born in Casablanca, because she thought the reality (Barnet) would be too disappointing.
And, for the best part of 50 years, years she has clearly sashayed (mostly in sequins) through a TV, film and stage career, doing a rather good job of convincing everyone else of her diva-esque status.
'Let's face it, Joan and I both made fortunes from being bitches. We should not let the “bitch” die,' said Stephanie
‘The most hilarious thing from those Hollywood days was when I started work on The Colbys.
'The wardrobe people asked me what colours I liked to wear and I told them cream and white.
‘Their faces fell and they said: “Oh, that might be a problem. The set is white.” I said: “You will have to paint it, then.” I was joking. But they did. They painted the whole damn thing.’
What about being called a bitch then
When it was announced this week that La Beacham and La Collins would be teaming up again, albeit for an advert rather than a TV show, the headlines were all of the The Bitches Are Back variety, which prompted the Guardian — who else — to run a piece questioning whether it was ever acceptable to use the term these days.
Stephanie is quite horrified that there might be any question of not using it.
‘Let’s face it, Joan and I both made fortunes from being bitches. We should not let the “bitch” die.
'The only thing I have trouble with is when “bitch” is used simply to describe a strong woman. Strong men get to be Alpha Males, whereas strong women are bitches. That upsets me.’
Some of us are more surprised that the return of such iconic figures as Alexis Carrington and Sable Colby should only have come about through an advert — for the chocolate bar Snickers.
Isn’t it a bit undignified. A bit, er, Anthea Turner She laughs (possibly remembering that she has also, in her time, been in the Celebrity Big Brother House, and on the Strictly dancefloor).
'The only thing I have trouble with is when “bitch” is used simply to describe a strong woman,' said Stephanie
‘Well, if you are the empress of Hollywood, like Meryl Streep, you probably don’t need to do adverts. But everyone does them these days.
'I was flicking through a magazine the other day and there was Gwyneth Paltrow, trying to flog something. Does she need to Really
‘Obviously you can go through your career only doing the sort of jobs that feed the soul.
'You can have six months of hard labour in a play, or one day’s fun labour to sell chocolate. Which one would most people choose’
Does she need the money
‘Absolutely. /01/14/article-2086528-00D173DB00000190-496_468x430.jpg” width=”468″ height=”430″ alt=”'I did live that sort of lifestyle – and I paid for it. I made a million from my Hollywood days – and lost a million, too,' said Stephanie” class=”blkBorder” />
'I did live that sort of lifestyle – and I paid for it. I made a million from my Hollywood days – and lost a million, too,' said Stephanie (above in The Colbys)
Perhaps surprisingly, it was Joan who suggested her old friend for the part in the new TV ad.
The myth that we all loved to perpetuate, when they were playing sworn enemies in Dynasty, was that Joan and Stephanie were at each other’s throats off screen as well as on it. Sadly, it wasn’t quite like that.
‘It is always more interesting to read that actors hate each other, isn’t it’ says Stephanie.
‘But Joan was very welcoming to me. She wrote me a lovely note when I first arrived in Hollywood. And we are friends.
‘I think the key is that we aren’t actually rivals. We have very different lives. I wouldn’t hanker after her place. She would hate my life — which is mostly about walking the dogs on the beach. We are very different.’
Have they changed over the years She reckons they have both mellowed. And physically Well Stephanie is actually quite candid about ageing, admitting ‘it sucks’.
‘I don’t like the fact that I am losing definition in my chin. I think I’ve actually left it too late for the facelift thing, but if someone could do something with my jawline, I wouldn’t rule it out. That does pain me — seeing the skin get slack and knowing that you can’t do a damn thing about it.’
As yet she hasn’t gone under the scapel.
‘I’ve never bought into all that. As an actress, I want to look real. I stand behind people in Hollywood and I think: “Honey, this isn’t a real look.” ’
She won’t confess to whether she has ever peeked behind Joan’s ears, in the hunt for telltale scars, but she does reveal she is one of the few people on the planet to have seen her without make-up.
Even Joan’s sister Jackie once said that her sibling always came down to breakfast with full war-paint on.
So spill the beans, Stephanie. Does Joan look different, sans-slap.
‘Of course she does, we all do. But in, truth, I don’t think anyone would want to see either of us without make-up.
'I was once in the queue at the BBC canteen and Edward Fox came up to me and said: “Great make-up!” I think he thought there was some wonderful special effects thing going on. In fact, I wasn’t wearing any at all.’
Stephanie ended up in bed with Marlon Brando. For professional reasons, of course. She was naked; he was wearing Y-fronts and Wellington boots
She does agree that she often seems more real than Joan who, at 78, is 14 years her senior.
‘You’ve got to remember, Joan was brought up in that era of the studio system, where everything was controlled by the studios. And they created stars. It wasn’t like it is today, with every misdemeanor being reported in Heat magazine.
‘I just missed that era. And I have made different decisions. I’ve let myself go many times for a part. I’ve done Tenko, for goodness sake. I looked monstrously dreadful in Bad Girls. I had blackened teeth once to play Queen Elizabeth.
'Joan, meanwhile, has always personified glamour. She is glamour. That’s why she has survived.’
That said, Stephanie hasn’t done too badly on the survival stakes — and the fact that she has retained a healthy sense of humour about the insane nature of the Hollywood lifestyle is to her credit.
There is something of the Tinseltown script about her own life. While her early years in, yes, Barnet, were conventional — her mother was a housewife, her father an insurance executive — it wasn’t an easy childhood.
Diagnosed as deaf in one ear at an early age, she was bullied at school.
Those exquisite cheekbones, when they emerged, however, led to a stint of modelling which, in turn, opened the door to an acting career.
She has played opposite some of the greats, and has some corking stories to tell, including of the time she ended up in bed with Marlon Brando. For professional reasons, of course. She was naked; he was wearing Y-fronts and, for some reason, Wellington boots.
In 1971 she married the actor John McEnery and went on to have two children — Phoebe and Chloe — with him, but the union was a disaster.
‘He was a spell-binding man but a terrible husband,’ she admits.
McEnery was unpredictable and unfaithful and their divorce, in 1978, left her a single mother ‘which had never been part of the plan’, and the strain of trying to hold a career together while bringing up two small girls nearly destroyed her.
In her autobiography, she wrote of a near suicide attempt when she drove deliberately down the wrong side of the road, at speed. She calls it a ‘death dare’. Only the quick reactions of a driver coming in the opposite direction saved her
Ultimately, she says, it was learning to find some sort of truce between work and home. But the plight of the working mother today still makes her shudder.
‘It’s a terrible dilemma for a woman. Every good bit of work I did made me a less good parent. I always adored my children, but I sometimes think I did very badly as a single parent.’
Commercially, the Eighties were her prime decade. Her hair — always the crowning glory — became as big as the shoulder pads in The Colbys, Dynasty and the series Connie. Her bank balance swelled.
She embarked on a series of affairs with younger men, and seemed to be having the time of her life. Then, in the Nineties, the bubble burst.
‘It’s the old story. I bought a house at the top of the market, and lost a million selling it.
'I sat on the stairs of my friends’ house and cried my eyes out. I went from having everything to nothing.’
She has clawed her way back, possibly by saying yes to projects that she would prefer to have rejected. But she says she is happier for it.
There have been other jolts, too — she has had skin cancer twice — which kind of ‘forces a rethink about what is important in life’.
Today, living in Malibu, with her doctor partner Bernie, she says she is happier than she has ever been.
Yet one senses that if they ever revived Dynasty, she would be back on set in a flash.
‘Oh, I think they absolutely should bring it back,’ she says. ‘Joan and I both think it would be wonderful to do it again.
‘Obviously, it couldn’t be exactly the same show because we have lost so many of the cast.
'And nowadays, I think the characters would have to be more psychologically developed. Back then, it was enough for audiences that there was glamour.’
But there is one major tweak she would make to a returning Dynasty.
‘I wouldn’t make the female characters secondary ones, like they were in the original.
'We were the wives and the partners. I’d put the women in charge, right from the off.’
Spoken like a true diva.