Date of Birth: 4 October 1937, London, UK
Birth Name: Jacqueline Jill Collins
Nicknames: Jackie Collins
Jackie Collins, was the British-born author of titillating blockbuster Hollywood novels, breaking into bestsellerdom with Hollywood Wives (1983), which sold 15 million copies and became her most successful book.
Her output never varied in format, every one of her 30-odd bestsellers featuring headstrong women and rampant men coupling for graphic sex in a whirlwind of lust, money, power and revenge. “It’s a good slam-bang story,” agreed one reviewer of Hollywood Wives, “punctuated with tongue-in-cheek naughty bits and without pretensions.”
Jackie Collins’s format, while scarcely original, was certainly a winning one; in a career spanning nearly half-a-century, she sold half a billion books worldwide.
Her elder sister, the actress Joan Collins, starred in film versions of two of her early books, The Stud (1969) and its sequel The Bitch (1979), and much was made of the see-saw relationship between the two siblings over the years, particularly when Jackie thought Joan had taken up with the wrong men.
During Joan’s marriage to Peter Holm and again during her affair with Robin Hurlstone, Jackie was distinctly icy, dispensing forthright sisterly advice along the lines of “How can you possibly marry Pete Holm are you mad?” and “Robin is the worst snob I ever met. How dare he correct my pronunciation?” The sisters were subsequently reconciled.
Having moved to Los Angeles from London in the late 1970s, Jackie Collins wrote of what she found there. “From Beverly Hills bedrooms to a raunchy prowl along the streets of Hollywood; from glittering rock parties and concerts to stretch limos and the mansions of the power brokers, Jackie Collins chronicles the real truth from the inside looking out,” observed one breathless piece of pluggery.
She claimed to offer her readers an unrivalled insider’s knowledge of Hollywood and the glamorous lives and loves of the rich, famous, and infamous inhabitants of an increasingly rackety Tinseltown. “I write about real people in disguise,” she declared. “If anything, my characters are toned down the truth is much more bizarre.” After one reviewer warned that Hollywood Wives should be read under a cold shower, the actor Roger Moore said he just hoped no one recognised him from one of the characters in the book.
Jackie Collins earned critical as well as popular acclaim, being hailed a “raunchy moralist” by the film director Louis Malle and, perhaps more gnomically, “Hollywood’s own Marcel Proust” by Vanity Fair magazine. Her fiction debut, The World is Full of Married Men (1968), set in “swinging” 1960s London, was said to have ignited the touchpaper of female sexual fantasy in much the same way as EL James achieved nearly half-a-century later with Fifty Shades of Grey. But, as Jackie Collins herself noted, there was one important difference: “My heroines kick ass. They don’t get their asses kicked.”
Her heroines certainly led voracious erotic lives. Jackie Collins wrote about empowered, rich and sexy women before mass-market popular fiction was considered ready for them. Fortunately for her, her early work coincided with the growing use of the birth control pill and the ascent of feminism.
In her eighth novel Chances (1981), Jackie Collins introduced her Mafia princess Lucky Santangelo, a character she placed at the centre of an Italian-American gangster series that progressed through Lucky (1985) and Vendetta: Lucky’s Revenge (1996), and which was still running in 2015.
As a writer she commanded enormous fees for her work, and in 1988 secured an advance of $10 million for three consecutive novels. Her agent, Michael Korda, described it as “the largest amount of money in American book publishing, about the same size as the Brazilian national debt”. Having sped through one of her novels, one Fleet Street critic sheepishly confessed to having rather enjoyed it. “It is a load of tripe, but who cares? This is Hollywood. This is showbusiness. This is Jackie Collins.”
Jacqueline Jill “Jackie” Collins was born on October 4 1937 in north-west London, the younger daughter of a variety agent, Joe Collins, and his wife, Elsa. Jackie started writing short stories when she was nine, which her elder sister, Joan, illustrated.
In an attempt to curb Jackie’s chronic truanting (using letters she forged from her mother) her parents sent her to the Francis Holland School in Baker Street, which bore the motto “That Our Daughters May Be As The Polished Corners Of The Temple”. When her teachers discovered her selling dirty limericks (which she had written herself) to fellow pupils at a penny a time, and instalments of her passionate saga Letters from Bobby, Jackie was asked to leave. “I was finally expelled after they caught me smoking behind a tree on the lacrosse pitch,” she recalled.
At school Jackie Collins aspired to study journalism but her father, counter to the traditional parental stance, insisted that she give up the chance of a steady job and follow Joan to Hollywood to become an actress. At 16, after a short period in repertory in Ilfracombe, Jackie Collins was sent to live with her sister in Beverly Hills. On the day she arrived she found Joan packing for a year-long location shoot in the Caribbean. “She left me alone in the flat with her car keys and some money,” Jackie Collins remembered, “and the one piece of advice she ever gave me: Learn to drive.”
Jackie Collins approached several casting directors and in the course of fending off the inevitable invitations to the casting couch was employed variously as a waitress, pin-up model and mechanic’s assistant in a Beverly Hills garage owned by two brothers. “I used to drag along Sunset Boulevard in an old roadster they gave me,” she recalled. “Of course, I was dating both of them at the time.”
After a less than successful attempt at becoming an actress, in 1960, when she was 23, Jackie Collins married Wallace Austin, a manic depressive and drug addict. Following the birth of her first daughter, Jackie Collins discovered that Austin was addicted to methadone. She began divorce proceedings in 1965, and the following year her husband committed suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates.
In 1968 Jackie Collins published her first novel, The World is Full of Married Men. Her publishers, WH Allen, urged her remove all the four-letter words to prevent the novel from being banned. “Women didn’t write about sex then,” Jackie Collins noted, “they wrote about women going off to the Cotswolds to have a nervous breakdown over a man.”
In contrast to the rampant promiscuity in her novels, Jackie Collins’s home life remained remarkably incident-free. After the success of her debut novel, in 1969 she married Oscar Lerman, owner of the Tramp nightclub in London, whom she met on a blind date. They had two daughters.
The Jackie Collins fiction factory began in earnest with her second novel, The Stud (1969) and continued throughout the 1970s. Despite having to invent ever more lurid plots, her output was consistent, and she produced a novel roughly every two years. She denied that she wrote to a rigid “sex and shopping” formula with a bedroom scene every 20 pages, and insisted that she never made any plot outlines before starting a novel nor any corrections afterwards.
“I know I’m not always grammatical,” she confessed, “but if I changed the grammar it wouldn’t be authentic Jackie Collins. A lot of people think they can write like me, but they can’t.” Her writing schedule was fixed: at least 10 pages a day, seven hours a day, seven days a week. “I like to write by the pool, she said, “listening to Lionel Richie add surrounded by all those phallic cacti.”
In 1978 the Collins sisters collaborated for the first time on the film version of The Stud. Surprisingly, given that Barbara Cartland had described the novel as “disgusting and filthy” and had claimed to have lost sleep reading it, the film was tepid soft pornography. It told the story of a waiter, embarrassingly played by Oliver Tobias, who makes his way to the top by sleeping with his boss, Joan Collins (in the first of what was to become an apparently endless run of “rich bitch” roles).
Although the film flopped badly in cinemas, the producers felt sufficiently confident to invest in the sequel, The Bitch, also starring Joan Collins. This, too, was a box office failure.
By the late 1970s Jackie Collins had been a bestselling author for 10 years and declared that she wanted to broaden her interests. Disappointed by the failure of her early films, and perhaps inspired by one of her own characters, she determined to retain total control of production on her next film, The World is Full of Married Men (1979). “I like to have power,” she said. “I like to think of myself as strong and positive.”
In the 1980s Jackie Collins attained the kind of fame usually associated with film stars. Her novel Hollywood Wives was an immediate success and was followed by Hollywood Husbands, described by one theatrical agent as “the definitive book about Hollywood in the 80s”.
Jackie Collins claimed that her research was done either at her husband’s nightclub or at real Hollywood parties. “I have to keep nipping off to the loo to make notes,” she remembered, “and I have to tone it all down for publication.” She believed that her books were successful because the public wanted to know who her characters really were. “Often stars come up to me at parties and say: ‘Darling, I’ve got a wonderful story for you, but you must promise not to put me in your books’. I always tell them they’re already in one.”
When Jacqueline Susann died in 1986, the tabloids crowned Jackie Collins “The New Queen of Sleaze”, but by the late 1980s her daily routine was more like that of a corporate executive than a novelist. By 1989 she was simultaneously acting as a consultant on the planned film of her book Rock Star, producing two six-hour miniseries of her novels, Chances, Lucky and Lady Boss, and planning a further novel Hollywood Kids.
“It’s not the money I’m interested in,” she once said, “ and I certainly don’t think of my books as literature, more a mild send-up. It’s the success I love, and, of course, the power.”
Shortly after the death of her husband in 1992 she moved into a mansion in Beverly Hills inspired by David Hockney’s painting of a swimming pool “A Bigger Splash”. She wrote all her books in longhand with a black felt-tip pen. Every morning an assistant typed her previous day’s work into a computer, and she kept the original handwritten manuscripts in leather-bound books in her library.
Jackie Collins was appointed OBE in 2013. Her marriage to Oscar Lerman lasted 27 years until his death. She later became engaged to a businessman, Frank Calcagnini.