The author of 'Behind the Shoulder Pads: Tales I Tell My Friends' talks to PEOPLE about her career-defining role of Alexis on 'Dynasty' — and the word that's followed her around ever since
Dynasty was a decade defining nighttime soap opera. The series, which ran on ABC from 1981 to 1989, chronicled the rich and warring Carrington and Colby clans of Denver. At the top was Blake and Krystle Carrington, played by John Forsythe and Linda Evans.
During its first season, however, it struggled in the ratings. Enter Alexis Carrington Colby, played by Collins.
"My agent told me about the show," Collins, now 90, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I'd never heard of it. I said, 'What is it? A Chinese restaurant?' I was in Mallorca at the time. He said it was about to finish its first season and lagging in the ratings. And they needed a character to spice it up."
Collins read some scripts. "I thought, 'This is great. And it will be a, what, six, seven, eight-week gig?'"
It would become, of course, an eight-year gig.
Alexis was a villain. The scenery chewing, can't-take-your-eyes-off-her character would come to define the series — and fashion — as much as any other. The character was also, many times, called a "bitch." In fact, in a 1983 episode titled "The Threat", the word was used for the first time in a prime time network series. (It also featured a fight between Evans and Collins in a lily pond.)
But Dynasty was not the first time her name was associated with the pejorative term. While promoting a movie in 1979, Collins looked up to see her name being pulled by a plane.
"I was in Cannes, on some yacht with Kirk Douglas. A banner went by, flying above the yacht: Joan Collins is The Bitch," she recalls. "I said, 'Oh, Kirk, I hate that. It should be Joan Collins as The Bitch.' And he said, 'No, honey. Joan Collins is The Bitch. That means that you really nailed it as a star.'"
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Collins did not agree, she says. "But, you know, you don't argue with Spartacus."
Collins would not become any more comfortable with the word in the coming years. And certainly never found it fun — or funny — to be called that.
"I think it's a misogynistic word," she explains. "I never came to embrace it. It's an all-encompassing word that I think is quite cruel."
She also finds it all too reductive to label Alexis as a "bitch."
"I happen to think that Alexis was a very vulnerable and sad character. Because she had been banished from her children by Blake Carrington, who was a murderer. You know?" she says. "We never hear about this, of course, because he's a man. Do you think anybody ever mentioned that? Never, never once, not a single article or anything. It was never mentioned that, perhaps, Alexis Carrington became somewhat of a bitch because of the way she was treated, when she also was extremely witty and had great, great lines of dialogue, and was a big go-getter in terms of what she achieved. And if she tread on some people to get it... Well, so did many men in business."
She pauses. "They don't call men bitches."
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