Book Excerpt: Joan Collins on Staying Young

ByABC News via GMA logo
October 24, 2006, 8:32 AM

Oct. 24, 2006 — -- Sensational at 73, Joan Collins looks great and still has the claws for a glamorous catfight.

After a career that's spanned decades, she's slapping her old friend Linda Evans every night in the traveling stage production, "Legends," and is happier than ever with a husband 35 years her junior.

We should all be so lucky.

So how does she do it? She's telling us in her new book, "The Art of Living Well."

More than just a beauty book, it's a guide to living it up in every aspect of your life.

Chapter 1
You're as young as you look
Think young, live young, forget the word "old"

I never give my own age much thought. Whenever I see it printed in a newspaper, I subconsciously think, "that can't be right, it's impossible." You see, I truly believe you are as young as you look and feel. However much some journalists may criticize me, I know that I look, feel, and behave several decades younger than my actual age, and much of that is because I believe you are what you think you are. This is called positive affirmation and it's a really strong tool. Your mind can control the way you feel, and the way you feel is an important factor in determining how you look. If you feel well and happy your face will reflect this, but if you are down in the dumps and having a miserable time, your face will soon show this too. In fact, you get the face you deserve by the time you're forty, and one of the keys to looking and feeling younger is being active. The date on a person's birth certificate may not be the best measure of their age.

"Growing old is something you do if you're lucky"
I don't really believe that age matters or, that in this tremendously ageist society that we in the Western world live in, an individual's worth should be judged by the year in which they were born. Older people are sometimes derided and mocked by those who are younger, and it's often an attempt at weak one-upmanship. Yes, they may be younger but unfortunately, sometimes, they are also overweight, unhappy, and living a less-than-healthy lifestyle. Since hopefully today we're all going to live longer, it's essential that we live healthier, more fulfilling lifestyles whatever our age, and you're never too old to start this.

One of the main secrets to staying young is staying healthy. I've sometimes had to suppress a smile when some young lady, who has obviously not taken care of herself through diet or exercise, says admiringly, "Ooh, I hope I look as good as you do when I'm your age!" Although it's intended to be complimentary, it's actually a back-hander. I find the attitude of certain young people -- i.e., that being young is to be a superior being -- rather pathetic, and certainly short-sighted because being young doesn't last, and the less you take care of your inner and outer self, the sooner you will lose that glorious bloom of youth.

Let's face it, with today's life expectancy of eighty or more years for women in Britain and the States (around seventy-five for men), you will be truly young for less than a third of that time and for most of your life you will be officially classed as middle-aged. (I'm not particularly keen on that word either, but I guess it's the only one available.) Youth, as we tend to think of it, actually lasts a terribly short time. Not counting childhood, aged sixteen to thirty-five, youth is less than twenty years. Not much time, is it?

People started to tell me that I wasn't young anymore early on in my career. When, at twenty-five, I told a Hollywood producer my age, he informed me cynically, "Twenty-five? Honey, that's not young in this town anymore." At thirty-one, when I wanted to start acting again, after having two children, my agent told me: "Joanie, you're much too old to be in the movies anymore. Retire, dear, go back to being a housewife and raising the kids." Needless to say, I did not take her advice although she put forward a pretty good case for early retirement for actresses.

Then, when I turned forty, I took off most of my clothes and frolicked on a swing in The Stud, much to the shock, horror, and amazement of all and sundry. But I didn't give a damn. I knew I looked good, very good in fact, and my figure was better than it had ever been, thanks to working out and eating super-healthily.

The Stud became a huge hit, and it was because of that movie that I was given the opportunity a few years later to play Alexis Carrington in the hit TV series Dynasty. Interestingly enough, one of Dynasty's female producers tried hard to prevent me from getting the part because of my age (forty-seven). So if that other Hollywood male producer I mentioned thought twenty-five wasn't young anymore in this business, imagine what the other Hollywood producers, who were considering me, along with Sophia Loren and various other actresses, thought? Luckily for me, Mr. Aaron Spelling insisted on casting me, so against all the odds I journeyed to Hollywood once more to take on that juicy role and the rest is TV history.

At forty-nine I posed for a Playboy layout, and yes, I took off most of my clothes. By this time it had hit me how unbelievably ageist not only Hollywood, but most of the Western world was towards women over thirty, and I decided to figuratively thumb my nose at them by proving through my photographs that women "of a certain age" could still be sexy and alluring. So many older women have thanked me for "coming out of the closet," as it were and I was given much credit for being the forerunner of the movement who believed older women could still cut it. Today fifty is almost the new thirty-five and being in your sixties is comparable to how being in your forties was in the twentieth century.

When you're older there are so many views you can express that you don't always feel comfortable stating when you're younger. And there have been some great sayings about getting older too. For example, "Old age has a great sense of calm and freedom -- when the passions relax then hold them. You are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only but of many." Plato said that, but I don't agree with him -- particularly about the passions. The economist Bernard Baruch said, "Old age is always fifteen years older than I said, Old age is always fifteen years older than I am." That's brilliant. At seventeen I remember thinking thirty was ancient, and at thirty, I thought forty-five was pretty old, and then at forty-five, I thought I was in my prime. Think positively. As Groucho Marx said, "Growing old is something you do if you're lucky." I think that's great. I mean, so you're getting older? So what's the alternative? No one wants to die, however old they are, and as someone said to the late, great Billy Wilder, "Who wants to be ninety-five?" "Someone who's ninety-four," retorted Billy.

After nine years of playing that devious, loveable, and hateful bitch Alexis, in haute couture and various stages of deshabillé, I decided to go back to my theatrical roots. I did several more plays, television shows, and movies, and now in my sixties, I'm happily married to Percy Gibson, a wonderful man who is more than three decades younger than me. To him, it doesn't matter a bit how old I am, and it doesn't matter to me either. We are extremely happy together and astonishingly compatible in every way. He loves me not only for the way I look but also for my tremendous enthusiasm, energy, and joie de vivre, which I was lucky enough to be born with and intend to keep for as long as I can. When people ask me, sotto voce in surprise, "So what about the age difference between you and Percy?" I usually shrug, smile, and quip, "So, if he dies, he dies."

Actually, it amazes me that the older woman-younger man relationship comes in for so much criticism. More and more bright, intelligent, and attractive women are marrying and having relationships with men who are ten, twenty, and even thirty years their junior. Many of them say they've never been happier, and I have to say, I agree.

So how do you stave off the aging process? In this chapter, I shall attempt to impart the advice, wisdom, and knowledge I've gathered and studied pretty much since I was a teenager when I first started out in this business. From the moment we are born our skin starts to age, as does our hair, bones, and teeth -- everything. Just look at the skin of a newborn and that of a ten-year-old, then compare the ten-year-old's complexion with that of a twenty-five-year-old and you see the difference.

My mother, Elsa Bessant Collins, was really beautiful. Blonde and blue-eyed, she had the pale delicate skin that goes with the territory and she took great care of it, too. I always remember her using a product called Glymiel Jelly on her hands and knees, and she tried to get me to use it but it was so thick and gloopy that I wasn't tempted. Mummie and her eight sisters had excellent skin, as did my father's two sisters and my paternal grandmother, Hettie, and they had masses of paints and potions on their dressing tables. Fascinated, I used to watch as they anointed themselves and they really seemed to get pleasure out of the feminine arts of adornment.

Women weren't ashamed to enjoy pampering themselves with makeup, perfume, and hairdos then. And it worked. Looking at pictures of my family and their friends, they all seemed groomed and glamorous. But women seemed to age much earlier then than they do now, perhaps because they were not so well-nourished as today's women. If you look at a photograph of a twenty-five-year-old in the forties or fifties, she'll look thirty-five.