Sighs and scattiness as Joan steals court drama's final act

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The Independent Online
Taking the stand one last time in the courtroom confrontation with Random House, her former publisher, Joan Collins was all pumped up. Even her hair-do, a swirl of raven-black armour, had a formidable quality that had not been there before.

And the giant lapels of her suit, with Henley regatta stripes in brilliant blue, emitted the clear warning: "Just try it".

Robert Callagy, the Random House lawyer who last week reduced the actress to Kleenex-dabbing snivels, did try it, but with scant success.

In her last and best performance of the week-long trial, Ms Collins played a calculated melange of defiant, dismissive and memory-defective scatty.

Mr Callagy attempted for half an hour yesterday to demonstrate inconsistencies between answers the defendant had given during this trial and in related depositions two and three years ago.

Ms Collins, delivering loud sighs into the microphone, exuded irritated boredom, verging on contempt. "You're giving me a memory test," she snapped, directing an exasperated glance at the jury. "You whip backwards and forwards, Mr Callagy, you're confusing me."

Then, with a doe-eyed smile, she admitted, "I have a terrible memory." As Ms Collins stepped down, so the trial, in which Random House is sueing the actress for the return of a $1.2m advance paid for two novels which it says she never satisfactorily completed, was reaching its climax. With only the closing arguments remaining, the jury was expected to deliver a verdict either late last night or this morning.

A defeat for Random House could expose all publishers to challenges by other authors who suffer rejection at the hands of editors and suddenly feel the urge to strike back.

Ms Collins, however, has had a special advantage in this trial. Her contract for the two novels very unusually set no standards for the quality of what she finally submitted. The issue before the jury, therefore, was simply about whether she gave Random House two "complete" manuscripts. But orbiting that central point were two other questions.

Were the two manuscripts handed in by Ms Collins two separate books at all, or did she cannibalise the first book, The Ruling Passion, to gerry- build the second, Hell Hath No Fury? And did Ms Collins wilfully spurn offers of help from her editors, or did Random House, by contrast, fail to offer the assistance she needed to knock the books into shape?

One thing was certain: in this courtroom, Ms Collins, her face splashed across the New York tabloids, has been granted a publicity tour by Random House the likes of which she could only have dreamed of if the books had actually made it to the shops.