Poor old Joan

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The Independent Online
Joan Collins ain't Shakespeare. She is a rich writer of poor stories. Her books are not bought for their lucid examinations of the dark night of the human soul, nor for their grand evocations of time and place. But in the mid and late Eighties, when Dallas and Dynasty ruled the airwaves, they sold.

This week, however, Joni Evans, a senior editor at Random House, explained why the publisher was after a refund of Joan's $900,000 advance. She told an American court that the material in two manuscripts delivered to her by Ms Collins was "very primitive, very much off base ... it won't fly, it is dated. I didn't believe it, it was dull, it was cliched."

Exactly. That's what Joan does. So why weren't they published, like all the others?

Let me show you what I mean. Last year a new Collins, Too Damn Famous, did hit the bookshelves, though not printed by Random. If it, too, suffers from the vices that Ms Evans complains of, this would prove (would it not?) that the problem was not lack of effort on the part of Ms Collins, but a shift in Random's sensibilities.

I'll begin our textual analysis by seeking primitiveness, which I construe to mean poor characterisation and crude description. Thus: "Mamie de Montpelier was elderly and rich, and knew exactly what she wanted from her new husband - sex and plenty of it - in return for the use of her glittering Palm Beach mansion and all the trimmings. The shiny black BMW she had bought him, the even shinier pale silk suits from Bijan of Beverly Hills, the diamond-encrusted solid gold Rolex, and the diamond and gold identity bracelet which she liked him to wear."

Hmm. That probably deals with dullness, too.

Now, how about cliched? At random I lifted these phrases: "The two actresses made a fascinating contrast - they were like night and day, darkness and light, black and white ..."; and: "Again he lifted his glass in a toast and she felt herself blush like a schoolgirl."

Dated? "Jean-Claude pulled a black alligator notecase from the pocket of his dinner jacket, and in black ink from his Cartier fountain pen wrote ..."

My favourite, though, is the charge of implausibility. Consider this from Too Damn Famous. J-C (who is 40) and Katherine (42) are getting it together: "They made love all through the night ... By the time the grey morning light filtered through the cheap blackout curtains [don't ask], she was weak from lovemaking, but at that point he became more insatiable.... They ordered room service at noon ... so that they could make love again - and again - and again. Finally they slept in one another's arms."

Time for a sperm count. It's all night - three separate acts, perhaps? Then at dawn he's insatiable, so we'd better allow two more. Again and again and again - another three. Making eight times all told. And Joni Evans thinks the book she received was implausible.

No, if anything in this court case is unbelievable it is Joni Evans and Random. I reckon that the Joan Collins they got was largely the Joan Collins that back in 1990 - for the incredible sum of $4m - they had originally contracted.

Trouble was, as the ink dried on the contract, the era of soaring share prices, vast real estate profits and a new class of young, rich and beautiful people was already coming to an end. Dynasty went, Roseanne and EastEnders took over. In the recessionary, confessional Nineties, the real tribulations of the rich and famous turned out to be far more gripping than the artificial and escapist universe of poor old Joan.

She has become yesterday's fantasy, unbankable, fraying at the edges. All the photographers cruelly caught the moment on Thursday when the perfect eye was dabbed by veined talon.

Some time in 1991 or 1992, Random realised that they were never going to recoup their investment. So they hired a bigshot lawyer and moved to get their money back, before Joanie could get the rest of hers. These days executives don't need to watch old Dynasty videos to learn about ruthlessness and greed. They are already experts.