Jackie Collins and a Home That Brings a Painting to Life (Wall Street Journal)
Jackie Collins, 76, is author of 30 novels, including “Hollywood Wives” and “Lucky,” part of her series on the Santangelo family. Her latest novel is “Confessions of a Wild Child” (St. Martin’s Press). She spoke with reporter Marc Myers.
My house in Beverly Hills was inspired by a David Hockney painting. In 1989, my husband Oscar [Lerman] and I visited an art gallery in London, where we saw Mr. Hockney’s “A Bigger Splash.” I couldn’t take my eyes off the pool and fell in love with the clean lines, suspended splash and overall tranquillity. Within days, I was sketching a design for a new home that wrapped around a pool based on the one in the painting.
I’m a measuring queen. I know exactly what I want, how high it should be, how far apart and precisely where things should be placed. You can’t leave these details to others. From ceilings and sinks to shelves and phone and computer outlets, they all had to be just so. It took a while to capture these measurements and work with Ardie on the details. Everything came out perfectly.
The two-story house took three years to build and was completed in 1992. It’s set back from the road, so it’s quiet and you really feel far away from everything. Instead of a separate pool house, which is pretty standard out here, we built a long, thin art gallery connecting the main house to the pool house. From the outside you’d think it was a bowling alley, and it could be if I wanted to set it up that way.
The interior of my home is filled with a mix of Biedermeier and Art Deco pieces. I have five writing desks but tend to work in two studies—one off my bedroom and the other next to my gym and sauna. I built the study off the bedroom with just one door so nobody can disturb me when I’m writing. I love the peace and quiet. It’s simply me and my characters.
The interior walls of my house are pale beige, as are the carpeting, marble floors and swivel chairs at my desks. It’s a relaxing tone and ideal to liven up with art and photography. I also love Buddhas—I have them all over the house, including one that’s 10-feet tall outside my dining room that’s lighted at night. Bronzes and artwork of large cats—like panthers and cheetahs—are my other obsession. They symbolize sleek strength and getting things done. There’s an amber Lalique panther on my desk, along with my Cartier Art Deco clocks.
I’ve always had a passion for what I do. I write seven days a week—usually from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. From Thursday through Sunday I write in the study next to my bedroom. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays I write in the quiet study next to the gym.
Each of my books takes about nine months to write. I use the computer for research, but I write in longhand on white typing paper or yellow legal pads with a black felt-tip pen. I have excellent handwriting and the words flow. Writing in longhand helps me think. Then each morning, my assistant types all of my previous day’s work into the computer. After she prints out the pages, I make changes in pen. I keep all of the original handwritten manuscripts in leather-bound books in my library.
I’m now working on two books: a novel called “The Santangelos,” about the entire Santangelo clan in my series—including Max, Lucky’s daughter —and a memoir titled “Reform School or Hollywood.” It will be a fun and interesting and sometimes outrageous ride!
I swim lengths in the pool at the end of each day—thinking about my characters and what they might do next. I don’t plan my story lines. I like to let my characters take their own direction, and the stories evolve as I swim.
Soon after my husband Oscar and I began construction on our house in 1989, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In 1992, just days before we were set to move in, he died. We could have moved in sooner but he wouldn’t do it. He wanted me to have a fresh start and not have the house remind me of him. I think working on the house with me every day kept him alive for an extra three years.
I moved in a month after his death but I still feel his presence. Hanging in my private study is a painting we bought in Paris of a swimming pool in a modern setting. I remember sitting in the gallery listening to Oscar bargain the guy down. I was so proud of him. He was such an amazing, wise man. I think of Oscar each time I look at that painting.