I've spent advance, says defiant Collins

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The Independent Online

Joan Collins, without a script or her name in lights, took the starring role in a New York drama yesterday when she testified in court during the continuing legal battle with her publishers, Random House.

Miss Collins and the publishers have confronted each other this week in a far from common law matter. Random House want the return of a $1.2m advance they gave the actress in a two-book deal. They claim the material Miss Collins delivered was simply not good enough. The former Dynasty star is countersuing Random for what she claims is the unpaid part of a $4m agreement.

The actress played the real-life part of a hostile witness in court yesterday. Under tough questioning from Random House's attorney, Robert Callagy, Miss Collins acknowledged that during a 1992 law suit, when she sued the Globe, a supermarket tabloid, she had admitted suffering from writer's block.

In the case, Miss Collins sued for $20m over photographs, taken in 1991, which showed her gymnastically cavorting with a then boyfriend. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in 1993. When the photographs first appeared, Miss Collins said she was distraught and could not work.

Mr Callagy inquired: "You tell the Globe one thing when you're suing them, and you say another thing here when you're suing Random House?" "No, no," said the 62 year old Collins.

"Don't you have any shame?" Callagy asked, before an angry objection by Miss Collins' attorneys. Miss Collins left the witness box leaving Mr Callagy's question unanswered.

Random House maintains Miss Collins simply failed to deliver "ready for press" material. The actress says she delivered the two contracted books. Miss Collins will testify again when she presents her case. To add spice to the entire courtroom proceedings, Miss Collins is on record as stating that Random House will be in trouble regardless of the outcome. She says she has already spent the entire advance.

The court earlier heard that the Random House editor Joni Evans said the 690-page novel submitted by Collins in September 1991 was "not a real submission." The book's provisional title was Hell Hath No Fury. "Primitive, off-base, jumbled and disjointed" were adjectives used by Miss Evans to describe the book's literary merit.

However, during cross- examination, Collins's lawyer, Donald Zakarin, asked Evans: "She turned in - however good, however bad - a story that had a beginning, a middle and an end, a completed manuscript?" Evans paused before concluding, "No."

Miss Collins has written previous best sellers - Past Imperfect, An Autobiography, and the fictional Prime Time. She claims the case is not about the quality of her work but is contractual. However, the US media, starved of prime-time court drama since the OJ Simpson case, are not bogged down in legal detail. They have a glamorous star in court, and according to one TV news producer: "Our audience love this."