Joan Collins’s Diary: Springtime in the City of Angels

Plus: The British actors who’ve mastered an American accent, and the basements of Belgravia

26 April 2014

9:00 AM

26 April 2014

9:00 AM

Ahh! Spring has sprung at last! Or has it? Leaving a warm and sunlit London last month we expected balmy weather in Los Angeles but the skies were grey and murky and, like Lena Horne sang in ‘The Lady is a Tramp’: I hate California, it’s cold and it’s damp. It’s necessary to dress in three layers in the City of Angels. It can be seriously frosty in the early morning, when the movers and shakers don their sweats and pant down the boulevards of Sunset and Beverly. By mid-afternoon, however, it’s boiling and everyone strips to sleeveless. Not that Los Angelinos are big in the sartorial stakes. Whenever Percy and I are in the lift, wearing what we consider normal wear for a restaurant dinner, someone will invariably blurt out ‘Gee, you’re so dressed up! Doing something special tonight?’ Trainers, baseball caps, jeans and tees are perfectly acceptable in every boite in this state of milk and honey, but just let them try getting into LouLou’s!

Iconic star Mickey Rooney died last week, age 92, to outpourings of grief from his many fans, although ’tis said he wasn’t exactly Mr Popularity with his colleagues. But his conquests were legendary. Rooney was almost the last of the stars from the fabulous golden era of Hollywood, which lasted from the 1920s to the mid-1950s. I arrived there as a very young actress at the very end of this golden age — when the gilt was beginning to tarnish — and I was practically the last starlet to be put under contract. When I met Rooney shortly after I arrived, I learnt how quick with a quip this nine-times-wed actor could be. Looking me up and down, he leered ‘Hey! Didn’t we use to be married?’ ‘No, that was Ava Gardner,’ I riposted.

An actor’s (or actress’s) life has never been easy. For all the wealth and fame Rooney achieved, he was reported to have left an estate of only $18,000. The perception is that actors are a lucky pampered lot who work in a glamorous and easy profession. The sad fact is that 90 per cent of actors earn well below the minimum wage and their ‘shelf life’ is extremely short, and as they get older it’s the law of diminishing returns. My agent announced that in the 100 pilots currently in development this season, there were only two significant roles for women over 60. This is why I’ve always believed that all actors (and actresses!) should add another string to their bow. Man does not live on Shakespeare alone, to paraphrase, which is why after writing several books I was delighted to launch my own line of beauty and skincare products. As I’ve been big on make-up since I was a teenager, I feel I’m quite an expert on the subject of paint and potions, and I firmly believe makeup is the best skincare treatment you can have: ‘Botox no! Base yes!’

The quiet and lovely street in Belgravia which I moved to more than 20 years ago is now groaning under a sea of vans, trucks and assorted building-related vehicles — it is nothing but a long building site. Workmen are excavating many metres below the basements of these empty listed houses, and very empty they are too, even after they’re finished. Sadly many of the residents of this famous street don’t live here, as most are in their own country, wherever that may be.

It’s astonishing, the number of great British actors who are now featuring in American sitcoms and series and have a completely authentic American accent. There was a time when many British actors’ American accents were execrable, but this new breed is right on the button. I remember the late Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate and Butterfield 8 giving us his Yankee accent and it was quite risible. We were good friends and often laughed about it. But now — quelle différence! I had no idea Damian Lewis of Homeland fame was from St John’s Wood, nor that Hugh Laurie, so brilliant in House, was educated at Eton and Cambridge. Christian Bale and Ewan McGregor are always terrific, and Anglo-Irish Daniel Day Lewis was indistinguishable from the most famous American of all time, ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln. But the young man who seamlessly not only plays a completely believable American, but also is the virtual reincarnation of Anthony Perkins at the same time, is the 22 year-old Freddie Highmore in the riveting Bates Motel, a series which explores the back-story of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Freddie Highmore gives a terrifying yet vulnerable performance as an awkward, disturbing teenager — along with a stellar supporting cast including the always impeccable Vera Farmigia, he makes this series unmissable TV.

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Joan Collins is an actress and businesswoman. Joan’s new book Passion for Life is available now.

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  • Keith D

    She sees my good deeds and kisses me windy. It might be like that right now Joan, but you’ll be all toasty in a month or two. Lucky girl.