There was a rumor that Joan Collins was so broke before being cast as Alexis on Dynasty that producer Aaron Spelling had to pay for her groceries. Joan denies it, but it’s a fact that her role in that 1980s nighttime soap took her from unemployed middle-aged actress to international superstar. “To have survived and made an excellent living as an actress is something I’m quite proud of,” she says.

At 90, Joan continues to act when a good offer comes along. “There’s a perception about getting old that’s outdated,” she says. “People are living longer and living healthier.” In fact, she sounds positively irate when she’s asked if she will ever retire. “Us who have gotten older feel like we are allowed to work in a profession that has [use for] older people.”

Married to theatrical producer Percy Gibson, she lives what she calls “a gypsy life” between London, New York and her summer home in the south of France. “Joan will be the first one to tell you that it’s expensive to be her. She lives a lavish life, and she likes nice things,” says a friend, who explains that Joan spends her money on fine wine, designer clothes and travel. “If she can talk and walk, she won’t retire.”

Born in London in 1933, the future Dynasty diva made her stage debut at age 9 and began working in the British film industry at 17. From the start, her dramatic dark hair, gray eyes and buxom figure stereotyped her as a bad girl. It continued after she moved to Los Angeles, where Joan was often cast as a sexpot or juvenile delinquent. It upset her at first: “Then I shrugged and just got on with it,” she says.

In real life, Joan avoided the worst of Hollywood’s casting couch predators by developing an attitude. “A lot of the time, I would just laugh in their faces,” says the actress. “It was tough. I was used to Hollywood men being rude.”

Richard Burton and Frank Sinatra made passes, but Warren Beatty, then 22, won her heart. His eyes met Joan’s when he was dining at a restaurant with Jane Fonda — and before long he and Joan were living together. Their passionate relationship ended shortly after Joan became pregnant and decided not to have the baby. “It would have ruined my life,” she says. “I didn’t have a tinge of regret.”

She kept working, but even after some 50 film roles, Joan was not a star. Then Dynasty came along. The nighttime soap’s ratings skyrocketed after she joined the cast in 1981, but it took a while for Joan to realize that Alexis was the role of her life. “I just happen to be the busiest flavor-of-the-month brunette,” she said in 1982.

Of course, Dynasty was no flash in the pan. Although she would never be paid as much as her costar John Forsythe, by 1985 Joan was earning a cool $1.5 million a season. She’s lived a fabulous life ever since. “I’m very lucky,” Joan admits. “But you make your own luck sometimes, right?”