Scandal, sex, money, power: Jackie Collins wrote it all

21 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Collins wrote about the rich and scandalous.

LOS ANGELES • Best-selling romance novelist Jackie Collins, whose first book was so steamy that it was banned in some countries, died of breast cancer in Los Angeles on Saturday, her family said.Fiction was such an established business by the 60s that even the most original authors could only continue familiar genres: romance, crime, thriller, literary.

Less than two weeks ago, as she contemplated her looming 78th birthday, Jackie Collins was in a firmly optimistic mood. “I couldn’t care less about my age,” she said. “I’m still here, I love what I do, and I have a passion for it … it’s better than the alternative.” They did not seem like the words of a woman facing a terminal illness. She was 77. “She lived a wonderfully full life and was adored by her family, friends and the millions of readers who she had been entertaining for more than four decades,” her family said in a statement, adding that she had battled breast cancer for more than six years. “She was a true inspiration, a trailblazer for women in fiction and a creative force. However, Jackie Collins more or less invented the form of storytelling now recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as “bonkbuster”, selling more than 500m copies of 32 titles that remained in print at her death at the age of 77 on Saturday. She wrote more than 30 books — and sold half a billion copies — of the kind she wanted to read: fast-moving “bonkbusters” of the rich and famous in Hollywood: their careers, sex lives, feuds, breakdowns and excesses. Books by other authors – including Judith Krantz’s Scruples and Shirley Conran’s Lace – encouraged the birth of the term for stories in which women went in search of sexual and financial fulfilment in a milieu of first-class cabins and five-star hotels.

She will live on through her characters but we already miss her beyond words.” Collins published her first novel, The World is Full of Married Men, in 1968. She described herself as “an insider writing like an outsider”, and as the younger sister of Joan Collins, and herself a leopard-print-wearing former model and actress with a rebellious history, she fitted in well. If she had a predecessor, it was Jacqueline Susann, whose scandalous hit Valley of the Dolls, featuring sex and drugs in the movie business, had topped bestseller charts two years before Collins started publishing. More than 500 million copies of Collins’ novels, which focused on the glamour and scandal of Hollywood, have been sold worldwide. “I did it my way, as Frank Sinatra would say.

As Susann died young without writing another book, Collins can be seen to have taken over and expanded the brand in books such as Lovers and Gamblers (1977), an 800-page account of erotic and economic betrayals in the worlds of music, movies and fashion that is probably her signature novel. I’ve written five books since the diagnosis, I’ve lived my life, I’ve travelled all over the world, I have not turned down book tours and no one has ever known until now when I feel as though I should come out with it,” Collins said to PEOPLE magazine on Sept. 14 during what would become her last interview. Collins also learned from Susann – and from another bestseller of the period, Harold Robbins – the importance of exhaustive media promotion of new titles, especially on television, where the author should ideally look as if they had just walked out of one of their own narratives, having lived it up before they made it up. Rest in peace.” Sitting in a London hotel suite to discuss her latest book, The Santangelos, with the Observer, Jackie had been equally effusive about their bond. “Joan and I are the best of friends,” she said. “We had tea a few days ago and she sent me beautiful flowers when I arrived in London.

She described writing as her lifelong obsession and confessed to rising at dawn to write out pages in long hand, regularly churning out prodigious numbers of pages. In 2001, for instance, she published Hollywood Wives: The New Generation, which followed Hollywood Wives (1983), Hollywood Husbands (1986), Hollywood Kids (1995) and Hollywood Divorces (2001). People magazine said the prolific author had been diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer 61/2 years ago and “chose to keep her illness almost entirely to herself”. “She was very shocked,” the author recently told the magazine of her sister’s reaction to the news. “She had no idea. After Mario Puzo’s Mafia saga The Godfather became one of the biggest-selling titles in publishing history, Collins published, in 1974, her own mob story, Lovehead, a suggestive title that caused some squeamishness among booksellers and was later renamed The Love Killers. Subsequently, organised crime became the most recurrent Collins theme apart from Beverly Hills infidelity, although, characteristically, the novelist set out to feminise the mob novel.

Power-suited in a black jacket and trouser ensemble (plus trainers, which she explained with an apology about her bad ankle), she was immaculately made up and on great form. We were emotional.” In an interview with The New York Times Magazine that coincided with the publication of her 25th book, Drop Dead Beautiful, she said she did not care what reviewers would say about it. The sequence of books about her – including Lady Boss, in which the heroine rather provocatively takes over a Hollywood studio – reached nine with The Santangelos, published just 11 days ago. Collins also followed the example of Puzo, whose Godfather character Johnny Fontane was a disguised version of Frank Sinatra, in encouraging readers to play spot-the-model. She described a ménage à trois between three female models at a recent Hollywood party and said, with a wink and her trademark dirty laugh “of course that’s going in the next book!”.

In interviews, Collins used a formula presumably intended to avoid legal or social difficulties, acknowledging that a character might contain an “essence” of Jones or Madonna or whoever. She was, she said, working on her autobiography, Reform School or Hollywood. “Yes, I am a private person,” she said. “But I have so much in my memoir I can talk about.” She was ready, she said, to talk for the first time about the death of her beloved second husband, Oscar Lerman, who died from prostate cancer in 1992, and about her fiancé, Frank Calcagnini, who she lost to a brain tumour six years later – and of what it means to care for a sickly loved one. “I want to talk about losing my husband and nursing two men through terminal illness because I think it will help people. The TV mogul Aaron Spelling, who had worked with Joan on Dynasty, turned Jackie’s Hollywood Wives into a 1985 mini-series that proved hugely attractive to audiences and advertisers, if not reviewers.

In the past all I’ve said about Oscar and Frank’s deaths is that I wanted to celebrate their lives, not mourn their deaths. “But I wanted to write about the experience of caring. Just over a week before her death, she flew to London for a trip that, as well as a final dinner with her sister, also included the promotion of her book on ITV’s Loose Women.

Frank came out of the doctor’s office to where I was sitting in the ante room and just said: ‘I’m fucked, I’ve got three months to live.’ Three months later he was gone. Among women novelists, probably only Agatha Christie before her and JK Rowling since have created such individualistic fictional worlds for such a huge and enduring readership.

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