The Bachelorette (Sunday Style)
Jackie Collins is back! Cleo Glyde has a gossip with the original (and the best) bonkbuster author about men, marriage and her new Lucky Santangelo novel.
“I was sitting next to this huge movie star the other night at a party,” confides the husky, cut-glass British voice down the phone. “He is notorious in this town for hitting on every woman he comes across — at whatever age. I whisper to hi, ‘How does this work? Do you use a condom?’ And he goes, ‘Oh nooo.’ ‘Why not?’ I reply, horrified. He turns to me and says, ‘Because it’s worth it!'”
We both laugh down the phone line at the sheer wrongness of this. It’s high-octane girl talk time as I grill Jackie Collins, the Hollywood-based author who took sordid sexual gossip, sprinkled it with glitter and conquered the world with 500 million book sales — and counting. Collins, now 77, is just as camp and fun as I knew she would be and I’m having a ball.
The author’s fame and fortune is based on a daring that was way ahead of its time. It was 1968 when she debuted The Word is Full of Married Men, her ‘raunchy’, ‘racy’ ‘bonkbuster’ about cads and the women who love them. This was the book that got me in trouble when I was caught sneaking it home form the library as a schoolgirl in the pre-internet era — back when smut was still under lock and key.
“Oh wow, did I teach you everything you know about sex?” laughs Collins.
The R-rated, jet-set shenanigans in her books may get all the attention, but her knack for painting a picture is the bedrock of her appeal. As a reader, your nose is pressed up against the glass like a Dickensian orphan’s. The peccadilloes, motivations and highly visual characterisations of a ruthless starlet, all lithe body and polar-bear-white crop; a bored kleptomaniac Hollywood wife whose youth is starting to curdle; a shambolic, sex-addicted pop start who can’t remember the last time he kissed a woman he slept with…
Collins is one of the world’s bestselling authors. Her back catalogue has never been out of print, and her contemporary readers clearly couldn’t care less that porn is now a mouse-click away. Sex scenes with characters you are fascinated by — rather than anonymous set-ups — can still be way hotter.
“You bet,” she says. “If you don’t care about the characters, why the hell would you care about their sex lives? Internet porn is so boring! The women look totally miserable, whereas in books you can become that person and your own erotic fantasies take over. I just get you to a certain point; you do the rest.”
Like the dark shadows in a horror movie that let our own primal fears scare us…
“Exactly! The power of imagination. That’s what’s so great about reading — I’m a television addict, but a great read is even better, because you can see the cast in your mind’s eye and feel their feelings. If it was just the raunch, people wouldn’t still be reading — it’s the characters.”
And now an all-time favourite is back — Collins’ ultimate sexually empowered, smart heroine, Lucky Santangelo. She’s the alpha female Collins adores writing — with a panther-like sexuality that slays men, a vulnerability kept in check and a matriarchal strength that holds a whole crime family together. Collins’ latest novel The Santangelos follows other Lucky volumes such as Vendetta: Lucky’s Revenge (1996) and young-adult prequel Confessions of a Wild Child (2013).
And strap in: there’s a new character, Willow, who has been instructed in the dark arts by a bisexual drag queen. “I love Willow because she is so real!” says Collins. “She is out there working in this city. I based her on several young girls that I know, all the young models and actresses. Everyone’s playing musical beds.”
You can’t help smiling at the worldly cynicism of Collins, who’s nobody’s fool. She says she learnt about men literally and figuratively at her father’s feet. Joseph Collins was a London theatrical agent, and Jackie remembers hiding under the table on card nights as a kid, hearing how men objectify women. “Women were sisters, mothers, daughters or sluts. My father was just like Mad Men‘s Don Draper — nice suits, very handsome, always a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other — and woman galore.”
Collins says he was confronted by her burning so brightly as an unapologetically sexy author. “As a total chauvinist, my father was shocked by my books. He had a fit when he saw the four-letter words and sexual situations — I don’t think he read any after the first one. I guess he was proud of me,” she shrugs.
In her fictional universe, however, he heroines are having none of that. Her Hollywood novels satirise a culture that prizes messed-up goddesses for the beauty. Steel magnolia Lucky has that very ’80s brilliant-in-the-boardroom-and-bedroom erotic edge.
Women with traditionally male qualities like control, power and corporate strength resonated early with Collins. “I grew up reading Mickey Spillane and adventure stories — Women were stuck in the kitchen or bedroom; men just clicked their fingers to have a fabulous orgasm. I thought, “I don’t think so! My heroines are going to really kick it, be strong, have fabulous careers and become wonderful mothers. At the same time, they’ll be wild, strange and wonderful.'”
Any family that could produce one feisty Collins woman is remarkable. The fact that the ultimate card-carrying showbiz diva, Joan Collins is a sibling is camp squared. The sisters’ relationship is part of the Jackie legend, along with her passion for animal prints, her tawny mane and the fact she still writes her books in longhand.
My all-time favourite Jackie Collins character is Fontaine Khaled, from the 1969 classic The Stud – played on-screen by none other than big sis Joan. Fontaine cheats on a boring, rich husband, orders her toyboy around and spits out lines like, “I thought I’d f*cked the working-class taboos out of you, Tony.” I once made the pilgrimage to London’s Sanctuary Spa (recently closed) to see where the fruity orgy scene had been filmed.
When I tell Collins that, she shares, “I said to Joan the night before they shot that scene, “We’re going to make it very subliminal; you think you see something, but you don’t really.’ ‘Yes darling, I totally agree,’ she said. When I saw the dailies the next day, there they all are, stark raving naked and going at it. ‘What the hell happened here?’ I said. ‘The tequila came out,’ the crew told me.”
As much as the press love to hint at a sibling rivalry, Collins asserts that the sisters catch up regularly. “Joan was here last week, so I planned a girls’ night out. Me, Joan, Melanie Griffith and Kris Jenner. How’s that for a group! It was a fun night, I can tell you. I love a survivor. Melanie and Kris are both in their late fifties — Melanie survived fame and her crazy Hollywood childhood with all those lions and tigers. Look what Kris is going through with Bruce at the moment [Kris Jenner’s former spouse made her worldwide debut as a woman on the cover of Vanity Fair]. If I put a husband’s gender transition in a book, who would believe it?”
Collins finds the flak Kris Jenner gets for being Hollywood’s pushiest ‘momager’ sexist. “Oh, please. Ryan Seacrest created the Kardashian reality show with her and people just think, ‘Good old Ryan, look at the all the money he’s made.'”
Collins tells me that while The Stud still sells strongly on DVD, it’s a nightmare to get her feisty divas onto the big or small screen in today’s superhero-dominated movie market. “Apart from a few creatives like Tarantino, accountants run Hollywood now. My books were made into three of the most successful mini-series ever. I’m pitching a 10-part series of The Power Trip, but I’m in development hell because the posers that be are more interested in movies about 17-year-old boys than women-focused projects,” she laughs.
But no bean-counting mogul will ever get to sign off on Collins’ most fabulous creation: her own life. For someone so clued into the perils of Hollywood, she has enjoyed solid, long-lasting relationships (after a brief, ill-fated first marriage) with husband Oscar Lerman, 10 years her senior, who died in 1992 of prostate cancer, and her later love, LA exec Frank Calcagnini, who died in 1998 from a brain tumour. “I had a wonderful long marriage, a loving fiancé and have three beautiful daughters [Tracy, 54, Tiffany, 48 and Rory, 46] who are my best friends and never got into drugs or Hollywood bullsh*t.”
Her own wild streak remains a mile wide. “Try juvenile delinquent. Joan was a star in Hollywood and my parents always wanted a boy, and got my younger brother — so I was the pushed-aside middle child who snuck off at night and created my own life. As a kid reading my father’s Playboy magazine, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I want to have a fabulous car, great apartment and fantastic stereo equipment. Now I’m here, doing exactly what I want.”
Collins happily inhabits the role of Merry Widow with nothing left to prove. “I nursed two men through terminal illnesses, but that made me realise I don’t need to be in another permanent relationship. I want to control the remote, darling — I don’t want a man wrestling control out of my hands!”
(Reposted from Sunday Style)