Sunday 27 May 2018

Obituary: Jackie Collins redefined 'bonkbuster' genre with wild tales of Hollywood

Jackie Collins in 1974
Jackie Collins in 1974

Jackie Collins, who has died aged 77, was the British-born author of titillating blockbuster - or "bonkbuster" - novels such as 'Hollywood Wives' (1983), which burst onto the bestseller lists, 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 caught up 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.

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," announced her publisher.

"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.

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. 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 pill and the ascent of feminism.

In her eighth novel 'Chances' (1981), 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 $10m 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 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 'from her mother' which she forged) her parents sent her to a posh school for girls in London. When her teachers discovered her selling dirty limericks (which she had written herself) to fellow pupils at a penny a time Jackie was asked to leave.

Her father encouraged her to follow Joan into acting and she was was sent to live with her sister in Beverly Hills. Jackie claimed that within days of arriving, aged just 16, she was seduced by Marlon Brando.

Her acting career was unsuccessful and she returned to London where she married Wallace Austin, a wealthy clothing manufacturer who was also addicted to methadone.

She divorced him and went to work on her first novel, 'The World is Full of Married Men', which was published in 1968

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 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 story outlines before starting a novel nor any corrections afterwards.

In the 1980s she attained the kind of fame usually associated with film stars. Her novel 'Hollywood Wives' was an immediate success and was followed by 'Hollywood Husbands'.

Jackie insisted that her research was done either at the nightclub of her second husband, Oscar Lerman, or at real Hollywood parties.

In later life she moved into a mansion in Beverly Hills, where she wrote all her books in longhand with a pen.

Jackie was appointed OBE in 2013. Her marriage to Lerman lasted 27 years until his death in 1992. She later became engaged to a businessman, Frank Calcagnini, who died in 1998.

She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2007. Jackie Collins is survived by her three daughters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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