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by Bamber Gascoigne

Jackie Collins (1941-2015)


British- American bestselling novelist, whose stories about lust, love, power, and violence in Hollywood gained wide success. Part of the fun of Jackie Collins' stories is their not-so-well hidden references to well-known celebrities, hot shots, and juicy events reported in such magazines as National Enquirer. Her books have sold more than 500 million copies in some 40 countries. She once said that "the important thing is I get people into the bookstores who probably wouldn't be there otherwise." Collins was the younger sister of the actress Joan Collins (b. 1933).

"Being a studio head was the treacherous no-man's-land between high-powered agent and independent producer. The saving speech of every deposed studio head was: "I need more creativity. My talent is stifled here. Too much to do and too little time. We are parting amicably. I'm going into indie prod." In the industry, indie prod (independent production, to the initiated) equals out on your ass. Canned. Can't cut it. Tough shit. Don't call us we'll call you. And so... most indie prods faded into oblivion after one failed movie." (from Hollywood Husbands by Jackie Collins, 1986)

Jacqueline Jill Collins was born in Bayswater, London. Jackie's father, Joe Collins, was a successful theatrical booking agent and intended both daughters to go into the theatre. Elsa, her mother, had worked as a nightclub hostess. She died of cancer in 1962.

Jackie and Joan grew around the enterteinment business and they both were encouraged toward acting career. However, Joan was often favoured by their father. "I get an awful inferiority complex when I'm with Joan," Jackie wrote in her journal in 1953. ('Jackie Collins: the reality of life in Joan's shadow' by Vanessa Thorpe, The Guardian, 13 June, 2021) But when Joan Collins established herself as a star in Hollywood, Jackie found her talents in popular fiction. Her novels The Stud (1969) and its sequel, The Bitch (1979), were later made into films starring her famous sister, and Chances (1981) and Lucky (1985) have been made into television mini-series. The Stud was produced by Joan Collins' then-husban Ron Kass.

The Stud and The Bitch were British-based novels, but later the scene changed from the clubs and discos of London to California. In The Stud the narrator says, "Yeah, I'm very popular now, everyone wants to know me. Funny thing isn't it? I'm the same guy, talk in the same voice, the clothes are a little more expensive, but that's about the only difference. You wouldn't believe it though, the ladies practically fight to climb in the sack with me. You would think I was doing them a big favor, and listen, they way things have been going I think I am!"

Since her childhood, Collins was an avid reader, and at the age of nine, she began to write her own stories, some of which were illustrated by her sister Joan. Enid Blyton's books inspired her, and dirty limericks, which she copied into her diary and charged all the girls in schools a few pence to read them (Spokane Chronicle, Wed., Aug. 17, 1988).

During a rebellious adolescence, Collins was expelled from Francis Holland School for smoking behind a tree and waving at the neighborhood flasher. Instead of reading her school books, she read Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, and continued with Harold Robbins, and Terry Southern. "I couldn't wait to start telling sexy stories myself," she said in an interview. ('Jackie Collins: By the Book,' The New York Times, 21.2.2013) Robbins gave her an exemplary model on how to become a bestseller. In 1959 she married the London businessman Wallace Austin; they had two children. Wallace, who was 12 years her senior, was a wealthy businessman. They divorced four years later owing to his neglect and substance abuse. Wallace committed suicide by takin an overdose of barbiturates. In 1966 she married Oscar Lerman, a businessman and nightclub owner. From the 1980s they lived in California, U.S. The marriage lasted 27 years until Lerman's death in 1992. Collins' fiancé of five years, shopping mall developer Frank Calcagnini, died of cancer in 1996. Arnold Kopelson, a multi-awarded producer, was her longtime companion.

Between 1955 and 1965, Collins appeared in bit parts in British feature films and TV series, such as Barnacle Bill (1957), an Ealing Studios Production, starring Alec Guinness, Undercover Girl (1958), a low-budget B-movie, Rock You Sinners (1958), a musical set in the early days of rock 'n' roll, The Safecracker (1958), directed by the Academy Award-winning actor Ray Milland, Intent to Kill (1958), shot in Canada, Passport to Shame (1958), a X-rated prostitution drama, During  One Night (1960), directed by the Canadian-born Sidney J. Furie. In addition, Collins was seen in one episode of The Danger Man series, and in The Saint, 'Starring the Saint' (1963), set in the film world. Roger Moore (The Saint) later mentioned her briefly in his book of memoir: "Dot's father, Arch – or Pop as he was called – had his eyes out on stalks when he caught sight of Diana Dors' and Jackie Collins' bikini-clad bodies." (My Word is My Bond by Roger Moore, 2008, p. 68)

Like her sister, Collins went to Los Angeles in search of a film career, but she was never offered a decent role, and she returned to London. Collins claimed that at the age of 15, she had a brief affair with Marlon Brando. It was long after Collins had gained world fame, she got an opportunity to be a TV star – she hosted a series for E! Entertainment Television called Jackie Collins Presents (2004-), and had a short-lived chat show, Jackie Collins' Hollywood (1998).

In 1968 she made her first bestseller, The World Is Full Of Married Men, achieving overnight success. At the time of the publication the book was considered shocking because of its sexual content. "It's a nasty book, filthy and disgusting" said Barbara Cartland, famous for her popular romantic fiction, and continued: "I hardly slept after reading it." In Australia the book was banned. Since the 1960s Collins published steadily romance fiction.

After the death of Jacqueline Susan, author of Valley of the Dolls, Collins followed her as the "Queen of Trash Lit" – or the soap operatic romance with much sex. "I write very raunchy books," Collins said, "but they always emphasize this theme: You can meet a man, and he can be incredibly flawed, but the right woman is going to change him and they'll have a wonderful relationship, which not only is sexual, but also is intellectual." ('Dishing dirt with Jackie Collins, who says her novels pale before real life' by Gary Dretzka, Chicago Tribune, July 20, 2001) Her fast-paced stories drew on her own or her sister's experiences in the film industry. She was called seriously a "raunchy moralist" by the French film director Louis Malle and ironically "Hollywood's own Marcel Proust" by Vanity Fair magazine. Collins described herself as "an insider who can write like an outsider about the inside". ('Jackie Collins: My Hollywood Survival Guide for Posh' by Ivor Davis, Sunday Express, 19 May, 2007)

Hollywood Wives (1983), which sold around 15 million copies worldwide, did not only pave the way for the new type romantic "blockbuster" such as those by Jilly Cooper or Joanna Trollope, but also to such celebrities as Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton  and Courtney Love. The novel brought into the romantic genre more of everything from melodrama to sex and glamorous locations. Though the formula remained the same as at the beginning of her career, Collins' stories from the glamorous world of Hollywood were immensely popular.

During the years, the quality of her writing improved, scenes with sex or drug abuse were closely woven into the plot, and the novels had much greater depth of characterization. Collins also used tongue-in-cheek humour – there are characters like Dick Cockranger. He female figures are as strong as Robbins's men, but they know that the in the male-dominated world, the odds are against them.

Collins wrote her books in longhand on white typing paper or yellow legal pads, at least ten pages a day, until the manuscript was finished. Some of the material was drawn from her own experiences and from observing people around her. The readers were left wondering, how much was true and how much was a part of her inventive imagination. An avid reader of hard-boiled fiction, her favorite male writers included Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Andrew Gross, Robert B. Parker, Mickey Spillane, and Joseph Wambaugh. Especially she admired Elmore Leonard. In 2013, she was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Jackie Collins died of breast cancer in Los Angeles on September 19, 2015, at the age of 77. Just before her death, she promoted her new novel on television.

Hollywood Husbands (1986) covered the sinful lives of the rich and famous, who cruise the town in Ferraris and Rolls Royces. The central male characters are three friends – Jack Python, one of the most famous talk show hosts in America, Howard Soloman, the head of Orpheus Studios, and Mannon Calble, movie star, director, producer, hot property – "in Hollywood when you're hot you're hot – when you're not you may as well be dead". They have gone through expensive divorces and a number of affairs but the competition becomes serious when Jade Johnson enters the scene. "Jade Johnson was twenty-nine years old. She had shoulder-length shaggy copper hair, gold-flecked, widely spaced brown eyes, a full and luscious mouth, and a strong, square jaw that saved her from being merely beautiful, and made her face challenging and alert." Hollywood Kids (1994) focused on the spoiled, aimless children of the rich, powerful, and famous. Hollywood Wives (1983) was made into a television mini-series.

Collins' famous series heroine is Lucky Santangelo, the author's alter ego and a "bitch" character, who was first introduced in Chances. This novel established the family feud between the Bonnattis and the Santangelos. Lucky is the daughter of Gino, leader of a crime family.Her adventures continued in Lucky, in which she was married three times, Lady Boss (1989), depicting how she became the head of Panther Studios, and Vendetta: Lucky's Revenge (1996), in which she struggled with her arch-enemy, the Bonnatti family, and got back her kidnapped husband Lennie Golden, the handsome Hollywood writer-director.

Dangerous Kiss (1999) developed further the saga of the street-smart Lucky. "Well, to me, Jackie's Hollywood is the 60's with money," wrote Michiko Kakutani in his review of the book. "Free love still reigns in Jackie Land: people are still having promiscuous sex with many anonymous partners without protection, while at the same time experimenting with mind-expanding drugs in a consequence-free environment." (The New York Times, June 15, 1999) In the story Lucky's supermodel goddaughter, Brigette Stanislopoulosis, is raped and force-fed heroin by her vicious Italian husband Carlo. But this is not all: her sister-in-law, the actress Mary Lou Berkeley, is murdered in a carjacking.

After a hiatus of 8 years, Lucky Santangelo made a comeback in Drop Dead Beautiful (2007), in which she has troubles with her daughter and faces an old enemy. Lethal Seduction (2000) and Deadly Embrace (2002) dealt with the loves and sins of the dangerous Castelli family. Madison Castelli's father, Michael, is accused of a double murder, and Madison's wonderful, sexy boyfriend is missing. Madison herself was first introduced in the L.A. Connections series. She is a well-respected journalist, "who specialized in insightful profiles of the rich, famous, and powerful." In Deadly Embrace Collins doesn't waste time in starting the action. Already on the page four three men burst into a restaurant, where Madison is sitting with her friend, and one of the men shouts: "Don'tcha move, assholes, or I'll blow your mothafuckin' heads off." At one point, Collins planned to write a book about Lucky at the age of 15. One of her hopes was to get Angelina Jolie to star in a movie adaptation of her novel.

For further reading: Past Imperfect: An Autobiography by Joan Collins (1978, updated in 1984); Hollywood Sisters: Jackie and Joan Collins by Susan Crimp, Patricia Burstein (1989); Their Own Worst Enemies: Women Writers of Women's Fiction by Daphne Watson (1995); Contemporary Popular Writers, edited by David Mote (1997); 'Collins, Jackie,' in 100 Most Popular Genre Fiction Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies by Bernard A. Drew (2005); 'Collins, Jackie' by Anne Brumley, in Encyclopedia of American Popular Fiction by Geoff Hamilton and Brian Jones (2009); 'Jackie Collins: By the Book,' in The New York Times, February 21 (2013); 'Jackie Collins: the reality of life in Joan's shadow' by Vanessa Thorpe, The Guardian, 13 June (2021). Note: Joan Collins published her first novel, Prime Time, in 1988. It is set, of course, in the film world and is populated with nasty characters: "The network wanted a glamorous manipulating bitch, a rotten-to-the-core heartless tramp, a deviously ambitious but sexily elegant woman of the world, a female so mean and gorgeous that every man watching would either want to make love to her or give her a taste of her own medicine, and whom every woman would envy or emulate of the show was a hit." Other popular writers drawing their subjects from big business, the media, or the film industry: Judith Krantz, Shirley Conran, Harold Robbins

Selected works:

  • The World Is Full Of Married Men, 1968
    - Maailma on täynnä aviomiehiä: romaani (suom. Mario Talaskivi, 1968)
  • The Stud, 1969
    - film 1978, dir. by Quentin Masters, starring Joan Collins, Oliver Tobias, Sue Lloyd. A millionaire's wife installs her lover as manager of a discotheque, but he becomes bored and wants a place of his own.
  • Sunday Simmons & Charlie Brick, 1971 (published under the title The Hollywood Zoo,1975)
  • Lovehead, 1974 (retitled The Love Killers, 1989)
  • The World Is Full Of Divorced Women, 1975
  • Lovers and Gamblers, 1977
  • The Bitch, 1979
    - film 1979, dir. by Gerry O'Hara, starring Joan Collins, Kenneth Haigh, Michael Coby. Sequel to The Stud. A woman of much influence in London's underworld has a temporary liaison with a young gangster wanted by the Mafia.
  • Chances, 1981
    - Loistavia tilaisuuksia: romaani (suom. Sirkka ja Lippo Salonen, 1986)
    - NBC miniseries, 1990-, dir. Buzz Kulik, starring Vincent Irizarry, Michael Nader, Anne-Marie Johnson, Sandra Bullock and Nicollette Sheridan
  • Hollywood Wives, 1983
    - Unelmakaupungin naisia (suom. Sirkka Salonen, 1985) / Hollywoodin naisia: romaani (suom. sirkka Salonen, 1987)
  • Sinners, 1984 (originally published as Sunday Simmons & Charlie Brick in Great Britain in 1971, and Hollywood Zoo in the United States, 1975) 
  • Lucky, 1985
    - Lucky (suom. Leila Koivukangas, 1987)
    - NBC miniseries, 1990-, dir. Buzz Kulik, starring Vincent Irizarry, Michael Nader, Anne-Marie Johnson, Sandra Bullock and Nicollette Sheridan
  • Hollywood Husbands, 1986
    - Hollywoodin miehiä: romaani (suom. Leila Koivukangas, 1988)
  • Rock Star, 1988
  • Lady Boss, 1989
    - Lady boss (suom. Osmo Saarinen, 1993)
    - NBC miniseries, 1992, dir. by Charles Jarrott, starring Kim Delaney,  Jack Scalia and Alan Rachins
  • American Star: A Love Story, 1993
  • Hollywood Kids, 1994
  • Vendetta: Lucky's Revenge, 1995
  • Thrill!, 1997
  • Power, 1998 (paperback, L.A. Connections series)
  • Obsession, 1998 (paperback, L.A. Connections series)
  • Murder, 1998 (paperback, L.A. Connections series)
  • Revenge, 1998 (paperback, L.A. Connections series)
  • Dangerous Kiss, 1999
  • Lethal Seduction, 2000
  • Hollywood Wives: The New Generation, 2001
    - TV mini-series, prod. Renée Valente Productions, Puma Productions, Voice Pictures, dir. by Joyce Chopra, starring Farrah Fawcett, Melissa Gilbert,  Robin Givens, Dorian Harewood, Jeff Kaake  
  • Deadly Embrace, 2002
  • Hollywood Divorces, 2003
  • Lovers & Players, 2006
  • Drop Dead Beautiful, 2007
  • Married Lovers, 2008
  • Poor Little Bitch Girl, 2010
  • Goddess of Vengeance, 2011
  • The Power Trip, 2012
  • The Rock Star and the Lifeguard, 2012 (short story, originally written for Rolling Stone Magazine, Super Summer Double Issue, July 19-August 2 1984; Issue #426-427)
  • The Power Trip Prequel: An Original Short Story, 2012
  • Confessions of a Wild Child, 2013
  • The Lucky Santangelo Cookbook, 2014
  • The Santangelosis: The Final Chapter, 2016  

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