Collins (Past Imperfect, 1984) is a survivor. For almost 50 years, she has cobbled together a career in mass-market cultureincluding TV shows, pulp fiction, and scores of mostly forgettable movieshappily sporting the doe eyes, pancake makeup, and slash of red lipstick they taught her to wear at Fox, where she went to work for Darryl Zanuck in the '50s. Among the events she recollects here are: being touted as a "vestpocket Ava Gardner"; being picketed by an estranged husband with a sign reading, "Joan, you have our million, 13,000 sq. ft. home. . . . I am now homeless. Help!"; and chatting with Jayne Mansfield, who made small talk as a makeup man shaved her pubic hair into a heart shape. She's had four husbands, younger lovers, and was propositioned by Robert Kennedy (she heroically declined). Though Collins philosophizes about this-and-that ("Fidelity seems to be a trait in short supply with most men, male `equipment' being able to rise to stimulating opportunities with alacrity"), there's not much introspection here. Of Peter Holm, her much publicized third husband, she says simply, "His tyranny, dual personality and definite sociopathic tendencies were making me feel as though I was playing Ingrid Bergman's role in Gaslight." But Collins matter-of-factly describes her life's challenges: Her daughter Katy was hit by a car and badly injured, and Collins spent years as her family's breadwinner, making quickie movies in order to pay the bills. She rarely complains, though like Dynasty's Alexis Carrington, she can be bitchy. Describing her former editor Joni Evans, who testified against Collins in her lawsuit against Random House: "I was surprised by her raddled appearance and how much older she looked since last we'd met."
In an earlier age, this would have been perfect reading for under the hairdryer.