Deep Diva Dish | Performing Arts

A name-dropping memoir by Joan Collins and a massive, vital biography of Madonna.

Collins, Joan. Behind the Shoulder Pads: Tales I Tell My Friends. Permuted. Nov. 2023. 288p. ISBN 9798888451625. $30. MEMOIR

Dame Collins’s latest book delivers stories she has never told before. Beginning with her youth in London during World War II with her younger sister, Jackie, there was training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and early acting success at 17, when she was discovered by Hollywood. There she experienced misogyny and learned that the so-called casting couch is real—and Collins names names. With a career spanning 70 years, she has many anecdotes about actors, the jet set, and the British royals. She takes readers with her as she hobnobs with the glitterati in St. Tropez and attends the Met Gala and several Oscar ceremonies. The book also discusses her movies and TV roles, especially on Dynasty as Alexis Colby, known as much for her shoulder pads as her ruthlessness. Collins is candid about her personal life—an abortion, financial setbacks, and nasty divorces—but today she is happily married and is grateful for what she calls her “happy gene,” her ability to see the bright side of life. VERDICT A well-written, fun, name-dropping tell-all about the rich and famous as only a 90-year-old who has seen it all can offer.—Rosellen “Rosy” Brewer

Gabriel, Mary. Madonna: A Rebel Life. Little, Brown. Oct. 2023. 880p. ISBN 9780316456470. $38. BIOG

Pulitzer Prize finalist Gabriel’s (Ninth Street Women) massive biography of singer Madonna follows her life from her Michigan childhood to the conclusion of her Madame X tour of 2019–20. The book devotes considerable space to Madonna’s companions and collaborators and offers an in-depth look at her work and inspirations. Her albums and tours receive song-by-song descriptions, with looks at the wider history of their eras, which results in a deep cultural context for Madonna’s career. Significant attention is given to her connection to LGBTQIA+ communities, her activism for HIV/AIDS, and her philanthropic efforts in Malawi. A minor flaw is that the author’s highly sympathetic view, effective at critiquing the persistent sexism and scaremongering that has dogged Madonna’s career, sometimes skims past more difficult criticisms that could have offered an even deeper understanding of her complexities as an individual and artist. VERDICT Impressive in size and scope, the 880 pages of this tome might deter some readers. However, casual and hardcore fans of Madonna (or of pop music in general) will still benefit from making a beeline for this book. A vital pick for public libraries and institutions with collections on women artists or 20th- and 21st-century music and pop culture.—Kathleen McCallister

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing