Joan Collins is turning 80 this month and she’s given us a lot in her lifetime. She’s given us high glamour as Alexis Carrington on Dynasty. She’s given us a perfume called “Scoundrel.” And most important for me, back in 1999 she gave us a little self-help tome titled, My Friends’ Secrets. In the book she interviewed her famous friends about health, beauty and what they would take with them if they knew they’d be stranded on a desert isle; talking with the likes of Shirley MacLaine and Shirley Bassey, Twiggy, Joanna Lumley, Morgan Fairchild and Michelle Phillips and more. Practically everyone who was important on TV in the ‘80s and guest spotted on a sitcom in the ‘90s. I think the book’s target audience was supposed to be women approaching senior citizenry, which was not exactly me when I discovered the book. I was an awkward sixteen year old boy with bad hair and braces (I could also throw in gay but I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you couldn’t have figured that out). But I have to say, the targeting of middle aged women has never really made any sense to me, because most of the brilliance in My Friends’ Secrets are things that a human being that age should already know. And if they didn’t know it by then, well, pour a yourself a double scotch, girlfriend, because at the after forty point, it’s a little too late in the game. But imparting that brilliance to a sixteen year old or a twenty something does make sense because they have time to do something about it. As Queen Joan enters her octogenarian years she is still Turning. It. Out. in sequins and big hair, and it seemed a worthy tribute to highlight what can be gleaned from her life and those of her glamourous friends’ as well.
1. Don’t fight your own change.
You’re not always going to be who you are now. When I first found this book, I was having a Joan Collins moment. I took advice from her on the superficial of life. The importance of moisturizing, how to maintain good posture and why the question, “What would you bring to a desert island?” should always be answered with a high SPF sunscreen. Eventually though, I moved on and had an Arlene Dahl moment. Then a Morgan Fairchild moment, then a Jacqueline Bisset moment. What matters to you is going to be constantly evolving and what you recognize as worthy of your attention won’t be the same in ten years, twenty years or forty years. Right now, I’m having an Ali MacGraw moment. Love Story is streaming on Netflix and I just did her 1994 yoga video, Ali MacGraw: Yoga, Mind & Body. Namaste, darlings.
2. It’s not always necessary to prove yourself.
One of Joan’s closest friends was the writer, Gore Vidal. It seems grossly unlikely that a woman who made her name performing in overwrought, overacted melodrama and high fussed glamour would be BFFs with one of the most pointed and intelligent scribes of the twentieth century, yet there you are, best buds. Now that I think of it though, Alexis’ catfights with Krystle were really very similar to the Vidal/Buckley debates… Anyway, the point is the intelligent people are the ones who will recognize your true value. Forget about the people who don’t get you or write you off.
3. Don’t get mad, get everything.
In Joan’s interview with Ivana Trump, subtitled “Blowing Your Own Trumpet,” she talked about the need to move on. After Ivana divorced Donald, she was depressed and resentful. I think it’s hard to understand why considering who she divorced, but perhaps it’s because this was back when his hair was the only overtly repulsive thing about him. Eventually though, Ivana got over it and became as much of a merchandising, franchising, sell-out that she rivaled her own ex-husband. Holding on to anger is only holding you back.
4. Always rely on your sense of humor.
When Joan was first starting out, she dated a big movie producer named Arthur Loew Jr. Joan and Arthur had a somewhat rocky relationship and they once exploded into a fight at a party. Furious, they lit into each other, while shocked party-goers viewed on. At one point Arthur screamed at her, “Joan, you are a fucking bore!” To which Joan yelled back, “Arthur, you are a boring fuck!” In any brawl, it’s better to go for the punch line than the actual punch.
5. Employ some chutzpah.
Pioneering actress, Diahann Carroll, co-starred with Joan on Dynasty as Dominique Deveraux. Diahann had started watching the show when taking time off from a play. She decided while watching it week after week that she wanted to be on the show. So, she called up the producer, Aaron Spelling, and asked for a job. She told him, “I want to be the first black bitch on television.” Be clear about what you want and you’ll probably get it.
6. Develop a more relaxed, laid back attitude towards partying.
When part of the 1960’s group, The Mamas and the Papas, Michelle Phillips did a pharmacy’s worth of drugs. Today, I don’t know about the leaves being brown or if the sky is gray, but Michelle actually is safe and warm in L.A., still smoking pot and told Joan over girl talk, “I wouldn’t dream of having a meal without a glass of wine.” Joanna Lumley and Joan both smoke ‘em when they got ‘em, but don’t think of themselves as nicotine dependent. Joanna’s breakfast consists of black coffee and a cigarette, “I’m not a tremendous smoker but I can’t see it as the biggest enemy either. I don’t think it’s that much worse than drinking too much alcohol or breathing in fumes from cars.” And let’s face it, if you should take notes from anyone on the subject of vices, it’s from the woman who played Patsy Stone, sweetie darling.
7. It’s actually OK if the “one and only” thing never happens for you.
Jacqueline Bisset, one of the most stunning beauties that ever was, never married, and despite never having made it official with one guy, her choice of “one thing to bring to a desert island” was a man. She’s had a series of relationships with men and has let each enhance her life without allowing it to drain her when the relationship played itself out. Don’t hold onto someone when you’re no longer bringing out the best in each other. Joan is happily on husband number five and professes to be on good terms with most of the previous Mr. Joan Collins title holders.
8. Eat right. Seriously though.
A fast metabolism may be one of the greatest blessings ever bestowed on any of us, but for most of us, it doesn’t last forever. And you don’t get to look smashing at 80 like Joan does by shoveling in pizza every day. Do not be a diet obsessive but eat food that gives you energy. If you’re smart, you’ll throw some blueberries and broccoli down your gullet on the reg.
9. Exercise for you.
Stop doing burpees if you don’t like them. Find a way to use your body that you actually enjoy. There’s a zillion different motions you can make with it so there are plenty of options, but don’t kill yourself with the weights if you’re not having fun with it. You’re much more likely to burn yourself out than burn calories that way, and you don’t want to surrender permanently to being a sedentary slob. Go for a swim, jam out in spin class, do some Ali MacGraw yoga. Or if you really, truly enjoy it, do some burpees, but just know that on a fundamental level I do not understand you.
10. Dating Someone Younger Might Be Something To Look Forward To.
In your twenties, dating someone even a month younger than you can be unsettling, even nausea inducing as a reminder of what you once were or what you might still be. But looking at the examples par excellence set by many of these women, it could be worth a try in a decade or two. Joan’s current husband is thirty years her junior. When asked about the age difference, she replies, “Well, if he dies, he dies.”
11. Take Care of Your Skin
If you think botulinum toxin A is right for you down the road, great. If not, that’s great too. But you might as well get a head start by investing in a solid cold cream and a good astringent.
12. It is safe to look within.
Arlene Dahl takes a half hour every day reversing the flow of blood by lying upside down on a slant board and meditating. Shirley MacLaine practices Chi Gong daily. And Ali MacGraw, when feeling polluted by the nature of the Hollywood beast, gave it all up to go find herself and study yoga in the mountains of New Mexico. Not that you have to do anything so drastic as standing on your head or giving up your career, but you could probably spend 15 minutes with yourself every day, finding center and living more introspectively.
13. The Hard Stuff Just Has to Be Plowed Through.
It’s alternately reassuring and discomforting to find that many of these elder’s personal philosophies are summed up in trite but true sayings. Hollywood social queen, Audrey Wilder’s motto was, “Keep on truckin’.” Reassuring that those hackneyed adages can be relied upon. Discomforting to know that sometimes, it doesn’t get any deeper than that and that it’s really that simple.
14. Never forget how flattering shoulder pads can be.
Lastly, the most important lesson to take from Joan’s eighty years of fabulous. If she’s taught us anything it’s that when all else fails, you have the ability to change your outlook just by changing your look. Throw on a power blazer and own it. Strut into that boardroom prepared to fire the board of directors on the spot if they don’t give you what you want because YOU have the controlling interest in Denver Carrington. And most of all, your opinion is the only one that matters when it comes to you.