A few words with Jackie Collins
Duane Wells | June 30, 2008
If Hollywood had a heart, Jackie Collins would be its pulse. Almost nothing illustrates that point better than the literary icon’s impressive A-list abode, which sits in the flats of Beverly Hills, nestled comfortably in the crosshairs of the world she writes about with more authority than almost anyone else.
Walking up to the gate that surrounds the Beverly Hills compound of the famed Hollywood raconteur is in and of itself an authentically grand Tinseltown moment. So much so that I am almost instantly inspired to question whether I was more intimidated by the sprawling manse that stood before me or the iconic best-selling author who calls the contemporary, all-white spread home.
Like one of the more memorable characters from any of her twenty-six best sellers, Jackie Collins’ home is larger than life. In fact, it is precisely what you would expect from a woman who has made a cottage industry out of laying bare some of Hollywood’s dirtiest secrets along with some of the players who might not want you to know about them.
Dwarfed by the dramatically high ceilings in the entryway to her home and the massive doors that open into it, Collins seems almost human sized as I approach her.
Dressed in black pants, a black top and an ecru tuxedo jacket with satin lapels and adorned in the kind of jewelry Angelenos in her zip code deem suitable for daytime, Collins extends her hand, flashes a warm smile and simply says in her crisp British accent, ‘Hi, I’m Jackie.’ She then led the way to her spacious, leather booked lined office casually chattering away as if we were old chums about to sit down for a spot of afternoon tea and a smattering of gossip.
Once seated in the large, plush chair that dominates the sitting area in her library, Collins, or Jackie as I am now beginning to get comfortable calling her, apologizes for running behind schedule, insisting that while she was on time, the radio journalists she had just met with before my arrival were not so punctual.
As she speaks, there is an ease in her manner that borders on earthiness. None of the pretenses or affectations manifested by some of the high-flying characters she has brought to life on the printed page are evident as she begins querying me and the two other invited journalists assembled for this convivial chat about our own personal lives.
It had become abundantly clear at that point that the house was far more intimidating than the woman.
Niceties aside, Collins gets down to business, clearly eager to discuss her new book Married Lovers, yet another deliciously sexy Hollywood tale about L.A. A-list power couples caught up in a web of scandal, greed and a devastating crime of passion. The heroine in Married Lovers is Cameron Paradise, a beautiful, grounded 24-year-old fitness trainer who must navigate her way through a world filled with sex-crazed movie moguls and spoiled Hollywood princesses set against the often-times dark side of what happens after the final cut in La La land.
With 26 books under her belt, Collins acknowledges that it’s not always easy to keep up her tradition of creating strong female heroines with distinct voices and personas, but admits she feels she has done so with Cameron Paradise.
“It becomes more difficult because you can’t keep on writing the same character and I don’t,” Collins says about the challenge of birthing her heroines. “One of the reasons I made Cameron blonde was [because] I didn’t want her to be confused in any way at all with Lucky [Santangelo], but she’s completely different from Lucky. She comes from a completely different background and the fact that she put up with an abusive husband makes her completely different.”
Despite the challenges, however, the author still brims with enthusiasm at the prospect of writing more tough as nails heroines in the future, if only because she believes her female characters have something that she feels was lacking in the women characters she read in books as a girl.
“It’s great creating these women because I think as a kid growing up, I would read a lot of Harold Robbins and the women were always available. They [men] could have them whenever they wanted. They never did anything but the kitchen and the bedroom. So it was sex or cooking and that was it. Now my women, they all have a little bit of me in them. They like the music that I like. They have the same kind of world view as I do. Like Lucky Santangelo… vengeance is vengeance. If somebody does her wrong she’s going to see that they get punished for it. I mean she killed a guy in one book and nobody said a word, which was great! He [the guy Lucky killed] had arranged for the murder of her mother, her brother and her fiancée so she was totally entitled to kill him,” Collins says with hearty laugh.
So is that how it works, I ask?
“That’s how it works honey, so you better be careful,” Collins retorts chuckling. “My women always go where women have not dared to go before and they can kick ass and they proceed to do so."
While helping her sell more than four hundred million books over the course of her career, Collins also believes her penchant for writing tough women has in some ways made it more difficult for her books to make the transition to the big screen.
“Actually, all my books should be movies, but the industry is run by men who are little scared of strong women,” Collins explains.
“So all the executives are sitting around now going, ‘We can’t believe that Sex and the City has made so much money’ because they think the only movie going audience out there is 19 year-old boys who want to just see jerk-off jokes.”
Expounding on the rampant sexism in Hollywood, Collins points out that while male characters embodied by actors like Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood are allowed to walk through movies killing hundreds of people, it’s a different story for women as the movie Thelma and Louise pointed out.
“It [Thelma and Louise] was on the cover of Time Magazine!” Collins exclaims. “It was so disgraceful [faux gasps]. These women killed a rapist! How dare they?
“Nobody says a word about Arnold Schwarzenegger killing hundreds of people on screen. They [Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis] killed a rapist on screen and their punishment was that they had to die in the end because the film was produced by a man. It’s a rite of passage in Hollywood. Any actress in Hollywood has to play either a hooker or a stripper, preferably both and I think it’s because men run Hollywood."
Hollywood’s continuingly sexist tendencies are not the only thing the authoress laments about the town and the business she has grown to love so much. She also misses some of the surreal players that made Hollywood such a dynamic place to write about.
“Businesswise, Hollywood has changed. It’s just run by big companies now,” Collins sighs with an air of weariness. “There’s no personalities. There used to be personalities. The last of the personalities I think are like Quentin Tarantino, and he has to go to a studio to get a movie made. He can’t get a movie made on his own. Oliver Stone is a fantastic character, but he’s a moviemaker, not head of a studio. There used to be characters who were heads of studios… who could rule everything. In a way it’s kind of sad because they just want to make these dreadful slasher movies and jerk-off movies, as I said before.”
Speaking of dreadful, Collins is also critical of the new breed of Hollywood wives whose calculating Stepford-esque ways she finds wholly uninteresting.
"The new Hollywood wives are these very ambitious women who want to run a production company, who want to write a book, who want to make a movie, but they’re not quite talented enough," she says. "They married a mogul because of their looks and now that they’re Mrs. So and So they think that they can do it. But it’s not that easy. You have to start off with a passion. You can’t marry into a passion.
“They’re a different breed,” she continues. “They’re very tough, but not tough in a particularly nice way. Tough in an ‘I want’ kind of way. The other thing is they all look the same now. They’ve all got the long straight blonde hair, the botox’d faces, the puffed up lips, the fat cheeks, the same clothes and the same handbags. Even the actresses now… you look in the magazines and you go, now is that Lindsay or is it… what’s her face… Ashlee Simpson? Ashlee Simpson looks like everybody. I mean she’s very pretty but she actually was better when she was a little edgier. I love Lindsay [Lohan] because at least Lindsay’s ballsy and she’s out there doing her own thing and she doesn’t care what anybody says.”
Picking up on Collins’ affinity for LiLo, I feel compelled to ask if Lindsay Lohan could be a character in one of her books.
“Oh definitely,” Collins respond,s without missing a beat.
Actually the author says her readers have already seen a character similar to Lohan in some of her novels.
“I have an interesting character who I’ll be bringing back again called Birdie Marvell who’s been in a couple of books now. She’s a little baby diva. [Though] Not quite such a baby anymore.”
Asked if she had any advice for the fictional Birdie Marvell or Lindsay Lohan or any of Hollywood’s other wild children, Collins immediately replies with the characteristic bluntness of the true Hollywood insider that she is:
“Yeah… wear panties and don’t get too stoned.”
This week, best-selling author Jackie Collins is celebrating the release of her twenty-sixth best-selling novel, Married Lovers. Like the previous tomes that have made her both a household name and one of most-read authors of all time, Married Lovers is a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood and the twisted melodramas that play out when the cameras are no longer rolling.
Even though her characters are so much more than the sum of a series of thinly veiled regurgitations of the real-life Tinseltown stories that frame them, Collins makes no bones about the fact that she does draw a great deal of inspiration from actual Hollywood personalities.
“I love writing about the characters in Hollywood. It’s too good to resist,” the literary titan says with a conspiratorial laugh.
That said, the sometimes controversial author admits that the thin line between fact and fiction she occasionally walks in her books can sometimes get her into some sticky situations.
“When I wrote Hollywood Wives, one of the wives … one of the big wives came up to me. She was married to a movie star. She came up to me and she said ‘I’m so mad at you. You’ve written my husband. He’s Ross Conti in Hollywood Wives. How dare you!'” Collins recounts in her clipped British accent.
“She looked like she was about to slap me! So I just looked at her and I said, ‘Honey, I wrote a fading superstar and there’s plenty of fading superstars in this town. It’s not your husband.’ Of course it was her husband, but I couldn’t tell her that,” Collins roars.
On another occasion, it was the Hollywood raconteur’s photographic hobby that led to a run-in with the wife of a famous actor.
“I take pictures everywhere I go,” she explained. "I was taking these photographs of this very famous old time movie star who happened to be having fun dancing at a party. A certain other movie star’s daughter called me the next day and said, ‘Jackie you know those pictures you took last night? Can I have them?’ I said, ‘Sure. I always send people prints.’ Then she goes, ‘No I mean can I have the roll of film.’ I said, 'What the fuck are you talking about?’ She said, ‘Oh… well, so and so… the movie star’s wife wants the roll of film.’ So I said, ‘Tell her that my pictures have never appeared anywhere except in my photo albums and that she cannot have the roll of film but if she’d like a proof of the picture of her husband making a fool of himself, I’m happy to give it to her.'"
Collins cocks her head in a posture that says ‘and that was that’ as she finishes speaking, evoking the same kind of no-nonsense approach to life embodied by the characters she creates.
Outside of Hollywood, Collins also admits to finding a well of inspiration in her close-knit circle of friends.
“My two best friends are gay. Two males. They tell me everything and they’re such sluts. Total sluts! But I love it and they love it,” the author says.
“Some people say that I write a bit like a man because I can get into a man’s psyche very easily. I have so many male friends that I feel like I’m one of the boys, in a way, and it’s great. I like being that, but I do feel that I can get into the way a man thinks probably because I’ve had so many male friends… platonic friends who will tell me everything all about their relationships.”
Not one to mince words no matter the subject or the gender, Collins makes it her business to tell it like it is no matter whose psyche she happens to be exploring. World be damned if they don’t understand. It is in part to this attitude that she attributes her success.
“I’ve always danced to my own tune,” she says flatly. "People say to me, ‘Why do you write about good-looking people?’ And I say, ‘Why not?’ They say, ‘Why are your men always so well endowed,' and I go, 'Why not?' “I’ve always done whatever I wanted to do. That’s been I think one of the reasons that my books have been successful because I don’t hide people.
“I write what I want to write. No editor comes to me and says ‘Oh, you can’t do this or you can’t do that’ or ‘you must do this or you must do that.’ I give them a title and I deliver the book… preferably six weeks before it comes out [chuckles] and what you see is what you get. I delivered this book [Married Lovers] at the end of April.”
Collins takes a similarly functionary approach to her critics.
“My biggest critics are the people who have never read me. I can’t read boring books. I’m not a literary snob. I don’t care,” she says.
“I’m a story teller. I’m a street writer. I was thrown out of school at fifteen and I didn’t care. I just wanted to get out into the world. I tell stories and I tell them in my way. I was bottom at everything in school, [but] top at composition and writing. I just want to tell stories and that’s another appeal of my books. They’re not perfect by any means. There’s no literary description. If I describe a room I want you to get it in two sentences or one sentence. If I describe a person, you’ve got to get the visual image immediately. Not everybody wants to read long boring literary books. The want to read The Bitch!”
And don’t even get Ms. Collins started on the new crop of writers who tout themselves as her heirs apparent.
“They’re like somebody’s assistant and then they write about it.” Collins says disdainfully of some of the writers who claim to be following in her footsteps
“I call them one hit wonders. They have this huge success with one book and then they try to come back with another book and it never happens. And they’re always comparing themselves to me which I find hilarious [Laughs]. They say ‘I’m the new Jackie Collins’ and I’m like, 'hey baby, I’m still around!'”
Still around indeed. At present Collins is currently working on three new books... Goddess of Vengeance, the new Lucky Santangelo book, Heat and a third book whose title she said had just come to her earlier in the afternoon.
“I’m writing an interesting hooker in my new book which I came up with the title to today,” she says excitedly. “Tell me if you like it. It’s called… Poor Little Bitch Girl.”
I tell her I don’t just like it, I love it, which makes her laugh heartily.
“My original title for that book was A Very Beverly Hills Murder and I thought that sounds a little James Patterson, so…” she says, her voice trailing off with twinge of knowing cattiness.
In addition to her pending projects, Collins says she may “eventually” try her hand at non-fiction.
“I might write an autobiography because I’ve managed to keep my private life very private,” she says, seemingly contemplating the idea. "So one of these days.”
But don’t expect that day to come any time soon. With her newest projects likely to keep her busy through 2012 and an endless fount of inspiration flowing from the fame and foibles of Hollywood’s A-list, Jackie Collins life story, like Tinseltown’s, is still being written.
Hallelujah for that.
— Jackie Collins' Married Lovers is in stores now. For more on Jackie Collins, visit www.JackieCollins.com. – Issued by Gay Link Content
A few words (some foul) from Joan Rivers