- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

By Joan Collins
Hyperion, $23.95, 354 pages.

The dust jacket to say nothing of the author's high glam photograph makes the reader of pop romance fiction want to plunge straight away into a tale of, and I quote: "Unbridled ambition and romance. Ruthless betrayal. From Broadway to Hollywood, four generations of women who will trade anything for stardom."
Well, yes, I suppose that is a fair gloss on what "Star Quality," the latest novel by Joan Collins, an icon in her own time, is largely about. Presumably Ms. Collins is out to emulate and preferably surpass her younger sister Jackie in sales of sexy female fiction.
The sex it should be noted is very soft-toned here, rather in the department of tender foreplay than any bodice-ripping action. The story trudges along from World War I in a regular "Upstairs Downstairs" mode with spirited redheaded Millie McClancey fresh off the boat from Ireland going to work as a maid in a London ducal household. Millie has ambitions and a strong will and a good voice. The duke has a maddingly handsome son who has an eye for fetching new maidservants. You can almost take it from there. Handsome son killed in the war. Millie left with a beautiful little daughter.
Millie has discovered the London music halls in her first weeks in the capitol and is instantly seized with the desire to become part of that world. She makes it to the boards in London as only a heroine of romance fiction can. Then the show she's in is brought to Broadway. But Millie has an enemy, a fellow servant who's envious to the marrow of her bones.
Patsy, a fellow servant, loathes Millie on sight, and continues to with a rare intensity over the decades. When Millie rehearses in the kitchen, Patsy spits out, "If I were an audience, I'd pay not to see you perform. You've no voice at all, and you dance like an elephant."
Needless to say, Millie not only becomes a star of the London music hall, but American producers see the show she is in, and lo, in no time our Millie is the toast of Broadway. Lovers come along, including Marco with mafia ties, busy with the gains from Prohibition, but Millie is losing her looks, can't get work. Then comes the lucky break, a wonderful new show and a wonderful new lover. But there are men in the shadows watching, and a lighted match to a gas stove in a borrowed apartment sends Millie and her wonderful lover up in flames.
By-by Millie. It is then and onto the adventures of her beautiful 21-year-old daughter Vickie. In no time Vickie's reading for the role of Scarlet O'Hara, but we all know Vivien Leigh starred in "Gone With the Wind." Vickie makes it in films nonetheless and Hollywood's next in the cards. Ms. Collins has a jolly bit of fun sprinkling in some old gossip and period flavor.
Vickie has a long fling with married major star Cooper Hudson. He won't leave his ill wife because he's a man of conscience and a devout Catholic. So then Vickie has a daughter Lulu, a perfect little beauty who grows up with a turn for lesbianism, wild multipartner sex quite discreetly described and drugs, just a few paragraphs to show we are passing through those wild and freewheeling Sixties.
Lulu and her mom wind up starring in a hit television series and what do you know Lulu had had a baby girl out of wedlock like mom and grandmom before her and we end on an evening of triumph at Radio City Music Hall, a charity bash with proceeds going to UNICEF. Billy Crystal is master of ceremonies. Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington and the two Toms: Cruise and Hanks are on hand and Lulu's daughter, age 14, whose single "Devil's Eyes" has been number one for six weeks will perform. She bears her grandmother's name of Millie. The circle has been rounded. Happy upbeat end.
The only shortcoming in the plotting is that nearly all bad things that happen to this multigenerational showbiz family come from one single character, Patsy, the fiendish maid in the original ducal household, who is unremittingly jealous of Millie's ascent in the world and will do just about anything evil even with the aid of her son and then her grandson. It all makes for too tidy and coincidental a tale. Ms. Collins might have done better just to let the story flow along without introducing such an outdated device. Still, as sexagenarian (69) authors go Ms. Collins certainly very nicely displays her own "star quality" in the dust jacket picture.

Cynthia Grenier writes The Mag Trade column for The Washington Times.

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