A Novel Attraction
For more than four decades, Jackie Collins has riffed on the foibles of the rich and fabulous. Kevin West gets seduced by Hollywood's most salacious scribe.
To the relief of fans everywhere, Jackie Collins’s new book, The Power Trip, hews to her signature formula: rich and famous characters enjoying extramarital sex and other illicit activities until, at the end of five or six hundred pages, the good guys get their reward and the bad guys get what’s coming. “The classic advice to writers is to write about what you know, and to write,” says Collins, who looks like an exclamation point of teased hair and makeup amid the dessert-plate color scheme—all nougat, caramel, and crème anglaise—of her Beverly Hills living room. She has fully embraced both directives in her long and profitable career.
Ever since 1968’s The World Is Full of Married Men made Collins a best-selling author at age 31, she has cranked out books and television scripts the way most people schedule vacations—about once a year. Widely loved but not critically acclaimed, Collins occupies the tiniest of all niches for those who put words to paper: She’s a rich celebrity, and even odder, her star is locked in a binary orbit with her equally visible older sister, Joan. (For the record, Collins denies that there has ever been a rift between them since she first came to Hollywood to stay with Joan and her sister’s then boyfriend, Warren Beatty.)
The Power Trip’s timely plot involves a cruise aboard a Russian billionaire’s yacht that is disrupted by Somali pirates. The dramatis personae will have some readers drawing likeness to Roman Abramovich, Naomi Campbell, Posh and Becks, and John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. As ever, Collins denies that her characters reference real-life celebrities. “I find it funny,” she says. “I never confirm it. With Hollywood Wives, [superagent] Sue [Mengers] actually thought she was Sadie La Salle. And sure, there was a little bit of Sue, but it’s always a mix. The fans love playing the guessing game.”
Collins’s wild popularity—she has sold some 500 million books—perhaps distracts from the fact that her best page-turners, including 1983’s Hollywood Wives, display a reporter’s antennae for the lingo and class markers of an era. Louis Malle once called her a “raunchy moralist”; her own Twitter account suggests she’s a “kick-ass writer.”
“I was given the gift of being a storyteller,” says Collins. “I’ve never tried to be a literary writer, and I think that’s one of my strengths. People say, ‘You’ve had all of this success, you should write a more serious book.’ Why?”
Why indeed. Collins lives on a prime palm-lined boulevard in Beverly Hills in a mansion with a pool she designed herself to evoke a David Hockney painting. The interior is a Dynasty-era fantasy, with decor that runs from Buddhas to panthers—but the house also has seven desks, at which she works on a variety of projects simultaneously. (Right now she is busy with a young-adult novel based on her popular Lucky Santangelo series, as well as a Santangelo-themed cookbook.) The bulk of her leisure hours is spent catching up with the TV backlog stored on four Tivos. “I’m a popular-culture junkie,” Collins explains. “As a writer, I like to have my finger on everything. I write about people of all different colors, ages, and sexualities. I need to know.”
In her private life, she has known plenty, to be sure. Collins bedded Marlon Brando when she was young, was briefly married to a drug addict, then wed a nightlife impresario, became widowed after some 25 years, and nursed her third fiancé through a terminal illness. When asked the status of her love life today, she offers: “Pretty good, thanks. I live my life like a man. I have the freedom to do exactly what I want, and I have my little black book.”
Collins hints that she may write a memoir, but then again, maybe not, because she has already woven her best real-life material into the plots of her 29 “bonkbuster,” as she calls them, tales. “Observation has been my life. I came to Hollywood when I was 15, and I was a wild child. When you’re that age and you’re not bad-looking, you just experience everything—everything. You see people for who they are. And if you’re street-smart, you survive.”