Jackie Collins and Her Lucky Break (Express.co.uk)
Written by Charlotte Heathcote. Original article posted here.
As Jackie Collins’s highly-praised 28th novel is published, the raunchy novelist speaks about how one of her inspirations was Enid Blyton, and how her character Lucky Santangelo saved her life…
WHEN I set out to interview Jackie Collins, I was told by her publicist what time to arrive at her favourite London hotel, to bring her white flowers and Marks & Spencer chocolate. And to only wear black. My eyes widened. Had those 400 million book sales gone to her head? Had the decades spent living in Hollywood turned the London-born author into an egomaniac diva?
Thank the Lord, the publicist was joking. The joke being that Jackie is charming, welcoming and thoroughly winning company. In a conversation that ranges from being held at gunpoint to whether she’ll marry again, Jackie answers every question directly, with no hint of the standard: “I’m sorry, I don’t talk about that.”
In London to promote her 28th novel, Goddess of Vengeance, I meet Jackie fresh from the TV set of a breakfast show and busily tweeting (Jackie adopted the medium early on because she loved the direct access to her fans). She is sitting at a desk in her suite dressed in black trousers and a turquoise power jacket, oozing old-school glamour and polish. At 73, she barely looks 50.
Goddess of Vengeance welcomes back Lucky Santangelo, one of her best-loved characters and, fixing me with a piercing gaze that doesn’t waver once throughout the interview, Jackie admits: “She’s the woman I would like to be. There’s probably a bit of overlap. She’s strong but she still has a vulnerable streak. She’s very direct and I do have to learn to say ‘no’ to people. I’m a people pleaser.”
She has similar affection for another Goddess of Vengeance character, Denver, essentially the book’s moral compass with a sceptical take on the shallow side of Hollywood. “if I hadn’t been a writer, I’d liked to have been a lawyer and fight for women’s rights.” She considers. “Or a bartender.”
She continues: “The director Louis Malle called me a raunchy moralist. I think that really sums my books up because there’s a very strong moral theme to them: if you cheat on your wife, you’re going to get caught. I’ve always attacked the double standard through my books and I still do it because it’s apparently OK for men to cheat but not for women.
“I’ve never written desperate women and I don’t write bonkbusters either. I write relationships. Yes, my books are light and fun and people enjoy them but I always try to say something about what is going on in the world.”
Jackie was made aware of double standards at an early age. The daughter of theatrical agent Joe Collins, she says: “I used to sneak in with the hostess trolley when my parents were entertaining and my father would be sitting there with a bunch of guys and they always told these dirty jokes. My father had that Mafia mentality where women are either mothers, sisters, daughters and wives or whores.”
So, as a teenager, Jackie couldn’t rebel quickly enough, getting expelled from school for smoking, gleefully burning her uniform and joining big sister Joan in Hollywood when she was just 15. She followed her into acting, without ever taking it too seriously. “It was just a bit of a lark to make some money. I did lots of crappy things like The Saint and a movie with Alec Guinness called Barnacle Bill. He had to jitterbug with me and throw me over his shoulder, which wasn’t easy for this very slight man. I always considered myself an out-of-work writer.”
She describes the period as “fantastic research” in which she met the people who would populate her 1983 novel Hollywood Wives, her first big hitter. “I loved every second of it.” Despite attempts to portray the sisters as rivals, Jackie speaks warmly of Joan. “I was never jealous of my sister. We used to fight because she was very prissy and I was the wild one. The newspapers have tried to make out that we didn’t get along but we’ve always gotten along. She was very good to me when I first moved to America and I was very good to her when I gave her The Stud to make as a movie. That translated into Aaron Spelling taking the character and making it into [Dynasty’s] Alexis Carrington Colby.”
It took considerable encouragement from her nightclub owner husband Oscar Lerman before Jackie finished her first novel, The World Is Full Of Married Men (1968), realising a dream of writing that she had nurtured since childhood. Incongruously, her raunchy, high-living, fast ’n’ loose novels were inspired by the books of Enid Blyton. “The Naughtiest Girl In The School? I totally identified with that. And The Faraway Tree, what an incredible imagination.
“I never thought I could do it but I believe in following your dreams. From Dickens I moved on to Harold Robbins.”
She laughs. “There you’ve got a really good storyteller who was a total male chauvinist. So when I created the character of Lucky, she was like a James Bond for women.”
Even when she became one of the world’s biggest-selling writers, she still came up against appalling sexism but gave as good as she got. “I remember doing an interview at the New York Times about 15 years ago,” she says, “and as I was walking out of the room, the guy pinched me on the ass. I wanted him to write a good piece so I had to handle it carefully. I turned around and pinched him back on the ass and we both walked out.
“You use your charm to get certain things when you want to say: ‘F*** you, you a******e.’ ” She credits Lucky with saving her from the masked gunman who threatened to shoot her in her car in 1990.
“When I was held up, I had an Uzi in my face and the guy goes: ‘Don’t move bitch, or I’ll blow your ****ing head off.’ I’m thinking: ‘how very rude, **** you, I’m not standing for this.’ At the time, I was writing the mini series of Lucky and I just took off. I somehow managed to manoeuvre my car and take off. Afterwards I was a shaking wreck but I think I was in Lucky mode; she saved me.”
The incident changed her irrevocably, she says, making her more Zen in her outlook. “I’m a hovering Buddhist. When you’re facing death because someone’s got a gun in your face and they could pull the trigger and blow you away, you realise how delicate life is. Nothing really fazes me and I believe in Karma so I don’t get involved in fights.”
Jackie was reminded just how delicate life is when Oscar, her husband of 26 years, died of prostate cancer in 1992.
She got engaged to businessman Frank Calcagnini two years later only to see him die of a brain tumour in 1998.
“Everybody thinks my life is so glam but there have been really bad times too,” she says. “Work was my salvation.”
It remains her driving force. As well as starting work on her next novel, the thrillingly titled The Power Trip, Jackie is two chapters into her memoirs in which she will finally name the real-life inspirations behind her larger-than-life characters.
The favourite author of Britney Spears and Madonna (“I immediately sent Madonna a signed book and I never heard back,” she says, ever so slightly huffy), she says people in Hollywood especially love reading her books because they can guess who the characters are based on.
So what is life like when you’re Jackie Collins? How does she spend her days?
Twitter aside, Jackie’s other great distraction from writing is television. She “loves” TV, reeling off the shows she watches: Benidorm, Dexter, Shameless, Gavin & Stacey. She has four Sky Plus boxes to keep up with her demand.
“I also love driving to the beach and sitting there looking at the ocean. I go out for dinner three or four times a week with friends. I love going to the movies. I love music, everything from Latin to rap to hip hop. I love photography. My family run in horror because I’m always taking their photographs and my house is full of thousands of them.”
She’s close to her three daughters, Tracy, Tiffany and Rory (“my best friends”) and has three very dear friends including Sidney Poitier’s wife Joanna.
“They all have a certain honesty about them. No bull. I’d like to think that was true of me as well.”
Jackie is clearly not lonely. Would she marry again? “No. Absolutely not. I like the single life, I love being able to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I have tons of friends for every occasion and I don’t want anybody getting control of the remote. That’s mine.”
However she writes daily, her perfect day involving “having nothing to do but write”.
“I think: ‘Great, I don’t have to get dressed, I can just put on a tracksuit, I don’t have to do my hair or make-up.’ I’m not a workaholic but work is my passion and my pleasure.”