‘RETIRE? I’LL BE WRITING RAUNCHY NOVELS WHEN I’M 95’ (The Lady)
So why has a woman who has sold more than 500 million copies of her raunchy novels, which have been translated into 40-plus languages, decided to get involved in this project? ‘Well, I’m all for anything that promotes books,’ she says. ‘And everybody likes a racy read. My passion has always been writing.
‘When I was expelled from school at 15, I was told I’d never be able to make a living as a writer because you had to go to college and get a degree. I started writing The World Is Full Of Married Men in my 20s and finally finished it in 1968, with my late husband, Oscar, urging me not to abandon it. It was an instant success.’
As a self-confessed people-watcher, she’s since become a seasoned chronicler of the goings-on in Hollywood. ‘If I’m writing about a rock star’s mansion, you can be sure I base it on somewhere I’ve seen for myself. If I’m writing about an imaginary movie star’s sex life, you can be sure I’ve been told the intimate details first-hand by someone very similar. These guys talk to me. They trust me.’
But she’s remarkably old-fashioned when it comes to repeating harmful gossip. ‘In Los Angeles, stories circulate all the time and I enjoy hearing them. The rumour mill never stops in that town. For all that, though, I loathe malicious gossip. In the end, my philosophy is that you get back the karma you put out. Oh dear, now I’m starting to sound like Madonna.’
The late French film director, Louis Malle, once described her as ‘a raunchy moralist’, something that clearly delights her. ‘For every bad deed committed by one of my characters,’ she says, ‘there’s a payback. You cheat on someone, you get your comeuppance.’
The mother of three adult daughters, Jackie now lives alone. She divorced her first husband, fashion entrepreneur Wallace Austin, in 1964. Her long-time second husband, gallery and club owner Oscar Lerman, succumbed to prostate cancer in 1992. And Frank Calcagnini, an Italian-American businessman, died in 1998, following a brain tumour.
These days, it is her work that defines her. ‘I’m a storyteller, not a literary writer. Two hundred years ago, I’d have been sitting round a campfire weaving stories people wanted to hear. I write all my books in longhand in a yellow legal pad. Then my secretary types them on to her computer.
‘I start with a title and a cast list of characters in my head. Then I let them take me off on a journey. I have no idea where I’m going but I do know it’s going to be a hell of a ride!’
It’s a style, of course, that lays itself open to criticism… ‘I don’t bother thinking about my critics. I wouldn’t waste my time. The more vicious the criticism, the more I always feel the critic must be a little bit jealous. I have so many loyal fans – men and women, young and old, black and white, gay and straight. They’re much more important to me than one person’s adverse criticism.’
She describes herself, with good reason, as an oldfashioned feminist. ‘I detest men who use women for their own gain – pimps, guys who run strip joints. I’ve always stood up for women’s rights.’
And she believes in marital fidelity. ‘Most men I know play around. And most Hollywood wives sit at their smart little lunches claiming they’d kill their husbands if they caught them out. What too many people don’t realise is that total fidelity is incredibly sexy. I always cite the example of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.’
Jackie’s single, most popular fictional creation is Lucky Santangelo, equally adept in boardroom and bedroom. ‘She’s like a James Bond for women. She does everything, says everything, that women would like to do and say. She lives her life in exactly the way she wants.’
Rather like her creator. She laughs. ‘Well, I certainly can’t imagine living with a man again. I’ve been engaged or married all my adult life and, while I regret the passing – of course I do – of the men I loved, I enjoy being single. If I suddenly want to take off on a three-day trip to Paris, I don’t have anyone telling me why it would be a bad idea. And that’s very liberating.’
That said, it must be difficult for a high-profile woman to find a man who likes her for who, rather than what, she is. ‘Oh, absolutely. However successful a man might be, he’s unlikely to make more money than I do. And, unlike Oscar and Frank, most men don’t like being referred to as Mr Collins. I’ve never been attracted to a guy who had his tiny little ego bruised every time someone got his surname wrong.’
Jackie’s success has made her a very wealthy woman; her personal fortune is conservatively estimated at £60m. So how did that impact on the way she raised her daughters? ‘I was always very sure,’ she says, ‘of how I wanted to bring up Tracy, Tiffany and Rory. I didn’t want a fleet of servants. If somebody rang my doorbell, I answered it myself. The girls had a privileged upbringing, but I kept them grounded.’
The girls have long since flown the coop, so how does Jackie enjoy her me-time? ‘I swim in my pool at home but, apart from that, I do no exercise. I’m too busy. And I eat whatever I want. Some of it’s good – bananas, steak, shrimp, for example – but I’m also a total chocaholic.’
If you believed half of what you read, you’d imagine that her equally famous elder sister is also a source of anxiety. She’s at pains to put the record straight. ‘Joan and I are very different people. We weren’t close when we were growing up. She was older than me and then she went off to Hollywood and became a movie star while I was still a schoolgirl. I was much closer to our brother, Bill. I adored him; still do.
‘But that was a long time ago. Now, if Joan and I are in the same city, we always see each other. There’s a myth surrounding our relationship that simply isn’t true. Would we want to live under the same roof? Absolutely not. But then that’s probably true of most sisters. I admire her hugely, though. She’s a very strong woman, with a great marriage. Percy Gibson is my favourite of all her husbands.’
In the meantime – and rather like her elder sister – the notion of retirement is complete anathema to her. ‘Retire?’ she says, scandalised. ‘Good heavens, no! I’ll still be writing raunchy novels full of hair-raising scenes when I’m a little old lady of 95.’
You’d better believe it.
The Power Trip, by Jackie Collins, published by Simon and Schuster, is available now in hardback and out in paperback in May. For more details: www.jackiecollins.com