Jackie Collins Husbands Her Energies to Turn Out Steamy Hollywood Sagas
updated 01/12/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 01/12/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
An author's delicate sensibilities often reach back into the recesses of childhood, and so it is for that leopard-clad literary lioness Jackie Collins. "I led a very wild childhood," she reports as she stabs the crust of her crème brûlée in a Los Angeles restaurant. "I was expelled from school in England for smoking and for waving at the resident flasher who used to stand there as all us kids went to play tennis in the park. I would wave and go, 'Hey, cold day today, isn't it?' "
That friendly English schoolgirl grew up to write books in which flashers seem like city councilmen compared with some of the characters. "I think I have achieved everybody's dream," says Collins. "Everybody wants to write a book, and I sat down and actually did it. Not only did I do it, I became No. 1 at it, and there is nothing more exciting than that."
Except, perhaps, possibly being No. 1 and richer even than her big sister. Joan Collins, 53, pulls in about $60,000 per episode of Dynasty. Jackie, 46, has commanded a $2 million advance for her last two novels. After every triumph, Collins buys herself a major goodie. Just two months ago she treated herself to a silver Cadillac Seville. It was a little love pat on Jackie's back for writing Hollywood Husbands (Simon and Schuster, $18.95), her latest tale of maxi-sex and mini-morals around and about Rodeo Drive. On her finger she wears a multiple diamond and gold "dinner" ring, which she bought after the 1983 publication of Hollywood Wives, which sold 10 million copies and went on to become a TV miniseries. Hollywood Kids is yet to come, and maybe even Hollywood Lovers. Imagine how Jackie's bijoux box and garage will bulge.
Imagine, also, how Collins feels deep down inside about all this success and you may be surprised. She's miffed. The author points out that while readers adore her 11 blockbuster novels, reviewers are not so kind. "My worst critics," insists Collins, "never read me. The people who really put me down do so because I'm Jackie Collins and I write a supposed kind of book, but they never read them. There's a lot of humor in my books that I think goes right over these critics' heads." Collins feels no embarrassment about writing the kind of books she does: "I like being disrespectful. I like the kind of notoriety my books bring me because it makes people talk about them."
In Hollywood, the Sodom of Jackie's latest sizzler, they're busy guessing who her fictional studs and sexploitators really are. Insiders think that Whitney Valentine Cable, a blond-maned actress with a smile as big as Texas, is modeled on Farrah Fawcett. Jack Python, a talk show host who burns up the airwaves and boudoirs of Beverly Hills, bears more than a passing resemblance to Warren Beatty. Collins only smiles at such speculation. "My characters are composites," says Jackie, who naturally said that last time, too, with Hollywood Wives, Though she won't play Who's Who, Collins will happily play who should portray whom in the miniseries, which is under negotiation. Donning her casting-director chapeau, Collins sees Don Johnson as Python. The part of Heaven, a fragile teen-about-town, would suit Madonna. "She projects a little-girl lust like Marilyn Monroe, and besides," says Collins, "we know she'll do nude scenes." As for soap star Silver Anderson, Heaven's mom, no one could do it better than sister Joan.
The Collins sisters claim to be good friends. "I am very proud of what we both have achieved," says Jackie, "and both of us wish our mother, who died 24 years ago, was alive to see our success." Their father, Joe, a retired theatrical agent, is also proud—but wary. "He thinks my books are pornographic," says Collins, "but he is 83 years old and if he liked my books, I would have to change my style."
Joe Collins and his dancer wife, Elsa, raised Joan Henrietta, Jacqueline Jill and their baby brother, Bill, in a London flat. (Today Bill is a real estate agent.) From age 10, Jackie showed her literary potential by composing dirty limericks. She invited friends to read them for a fee of 6 cents a page. "I knew sex sold at an early age," says Collins, who also knew that she wasn't cut out for a conventional life. After being expelled, she went to Hollywood to visit sister Joan. There Jackie hung out with out-of-work actors and nightclub singers and had a fling with Marlon Brando.
After a year or so in Hollywood, Jackie returned to England. At age 18, she married London businessman Wallace Austin and gave birth to a daughter, Tracy, now 23. The marriage lasted four years. "It was a very unfortunate first marriage," she says matter-of-factly. "Wallace was a drug addict, and he ultimately killed himself of an overdose. I divorced him because I knew he was going to do it. I figured four years was enough to wait for someone to kill himself."
Collins took a stab at acting, appearing in a handful of movies and TV shows like The Avengers and The Saint. In 1966 she married American businessman Oscar Lerman, and he has been her Hollywood husband ever since. Encouraged by Lerman, Jackie finished her first novel in 1967. The World Is Full of Married Men was published a year later to scathing reviews and was No. 1 in England within a week of publication.
Soon Collins was an expert in passion, pulp and the pleasures of publishing profits. Her impressive knowledge of the sexual landscape, she says with a mysterious smile, is as firsthand as her command of the Hollywood party scene. "I don't make up a thing," she explains. "There is life before marriage, and there is also a life after marriage. I have a lot of single male friends who tell me quite a few things indeed. One of them has a best friend who is a well-known madam. She tells him and he tells me, and we have incredible evenings talking about who is doing what to whom."
Collins and Lerman live in a $1.5 million house in Beverly Hills with their daughters, Tiffany, 19, and Rory, 17. Lerman commutes to London, where he is co-owner of the popular discotheque Tramp; two years ago he opened a Beverly Hills branch.
The next slice of (low) life from Collins will be a novel about the rock world. "One of these books is going to run me out of town," she says with a certain delight. Wherever she ends up, Collins considers her work something that will be priceless to cultural historians of the future. "My books will be around for a hundred years," she says. But Jackie is also modest—perhaps unintentionally—about her oeuvre. "People can look at me," she figures, "and say, 'If she can do it, there's hope for anybody.' "
—Written by Andrea Chambers, reported by David Wallace