Going big in the 1980s

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 20, 2013

The 1980s were defined by big hair, big shoulder pads and over-the-top soap operas such as Dynasty.

Just how big were the shoulder pads?

Speaking over the telephone from her home in Washington state, actress Linda Evans, 70, quips: "Joan and I had dresses with shoulder pads so huge, we couldn't get through a door at the same time."

She played the role of dutiful wife Krystle to oil tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) while British actress Joan Collins was her b****y nemesis Alexis, Blake's ex-spouse.

Dynasty was on American television screens from 1981 to 1989, and was the No. 1 ranked series for the 1984-1985 season. It is celebrated in the documentary The '80s: The Decade That Made Us. The second run of the programme on National Geographic Channel will be from today to Friday.

There was far more to the fashion than just shoulder pads, though. Even now, Evans sounds like she can hardly believe what she got to wear on the show. She says enthusiastically: "Oh my God, it was every woman's dream. For nine years, we were just indulged beyond belief."

Beverly Hills was her personal shopping mall and she could simply point at gowns from Valentino or Christian Dior and they would be brought to the studio.

And if nothing caught her fancy,

series costume designer Nolan Miller would whip out his sketch pad and ask: "What do you feel like? Something with fur? Something with sequins?"

Not for nothing has the 1980s been called the decade of excess. The show was also famous for the claws-out catfights between Krystle and Alexis.

Evans had learnt how to do stunts on the western television series The Big Valley (1965-1969) and she says with a laugh: "I was pretty good at fighting but Joan did not like it. She was very much against doing physical things although she was a real trooper. Because they were such big ratings-getters, once a year, we would have a fight and, by golly, she'd show up and give it her best."

While they both came away with "a couple of bruises" from those scenes, there was nothing serious. Evans adds: "If we'd ever hurt each other even once, they would never have done it again."

Off-camera though, despite the tabloids' constant effort to play up their rivalry, the two were friends.

In fact, they knew each other before they did Dynasty. "She used to come to my house in Malibu with her husband and her children. When they hired her, I thought, 'How fabulous is that.'"

Evans declares: "We never had one fight during Dynasty."

Beyond the backstabbing, scheming and plotting, there was at least one positive aspect to how women were portrayed in the show.

She says: "I think that Alexis was a wonderful example that a woman could stand toe to toe with men in business. She was definitely very powerful."

The show turned Evans into one of TV's biggest stars in the 1980s and also gave her a measure of power by giving her financial independence. She says: "I certainly knew I never had to work another day in my life, I could do whatever I wanted for the rest of my life."

Before Dynasty came along, she had been wondering how she was going to keep up with her house and car payments. The twice-divorced Evans - she has no children - now lives on a 28ha property "with old growth trees and a river running through it".

She has her own well, an organic garden, solar house and she shares it all with her new puppy Alexie - "No 's'," she says with a laugh.

After Dynasty, she pretty much stayed out of the limelight. She says: "I retired because I didn't have to work and because I did nothing but work for 10 years."

Given that fellow 1980s soap staple Dallas was successfully revived for TV last year, perhaps the time is ripe for Dynasty to reign again.

Evans muses: "I never say no about things but I'm just not sure how they would do Dynasty without John Forsythe." Forsythe died from pneumonia at the age of 92 in 2010.

Occasionally, an offer comes along that she cannot say no to.

Take the cooking reality show Hell's Kitchen. She recalls: "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse because I wanted to work with all those world-class chefs and find out what they knew so I went to London for two weeks to do that show."

For the record, she was the winner of the show's fourth series in 2009.

While she might have semi-retired from showbusiness, she has kept herself busy with a series of projects.

She toured with a play, Legends, with Collins for 30 weeks in 2006 and 2007, and wrote a book, Recipes For Life: My Memories (2011). "I'm learning to ski at this point in my life. I mean I'm just having a wonderful life," she says with gusto.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 20, 2013

To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to