The late film director Louis Malle once referred to Jackie Collins as "a raunchy moralist." She recently told me, "It's my favorite description of me."
I can't say I agree, exactly. The best-selling author of 29 books that have sold in excess of 500 million copies seems to me far more elegant than raunchy; she is gentle and beautiful, with a soft voice and an irresistible laugh. OK, she can be a little salty! -- but in such a charming way.
Collins's 29th book, The Power Trip, comes out in February. It's an unabashedly escapist, juicy read: There's the Russian billionaire; the gay Latin singing sensation, Luca Perez; a gang of Somali pirates; a dashing, globe-trotting journalist; and the world's top supermodel. It's a fun book with a very satisfactory ending that cries out for a sequel. "Does exactly what it says on the tin," as they say in the author's native England.
We speak in the library of Collins's gorgeous house in the Beverly Hills flats, a white, white, classically minimalist palace she designed herself in a style recalling that of legendary '80s interior designer Kalef Alaton. The front door, guarded by twin panthers, opens onto a vast marble foyer off of which is the library, a handsome, warmly lit room with soft leather sofas, animal-print throws, and wonderful sculptures: golden panthers, a Buddha or two. The books reach to the ceiling, and there are hundreds of framed photographs lining the shelves. It's romantic, fun, worldly. There's a lovely Biedermeier desk from the Paris flea market at Clignancourt -- Collins's favorite place in the world, she says. Like the author herself, this room evokes both drop-dead glamour and a sensually inviting, approachable warmth.
Collins is very much of the world she writes about. Her sister is Hollywood legend Joan Collins, and Jackie herself did some high-profile acting early in her career -- for example, opposite Roger Moore in The Saint. Her late husband, Oscar Lerman, owned and operated London's most famous celebrity-studded clubs in the '60s, '70s, '80s, and beyond: Dollys, the Ad Lib, and Tramp. The absolute verisimilitude of Collins's over-the-top portraits of celebrity and wealth is perhaps the source of her lasting power and influence in Hollywood, where eight of her books have been made into movies and TV series.
Collins has always used her Hollywood mojo to promote a message of equality and tolerance. There's a sad personal reason for her strong advocacy of gay rights.
"When I was 15 and thrown out of school, I went to a drama school, a preparatory academy in England, and there was this lovely guy there called Peter," she says. "He was my first gay crush, really, and we got along like a house on fire -- and one day he committed suicide. And that made me think really deeply about the problems that some poor guys go through when they want to come out.
"I'll never forget Peter," she says. "He was so good-looking; he had curly hair, and he was tall and lovely. He just couldn't come out, and then he killed himself. He must have been about 17, maybe."
She is thoughtful for a while, in contrast to her usual vivacity. I ask her about her later involvement in gay rights issues.
"I did a book tour two or three years ago, for Married Lovers, and I had my own rock 'n' roll bus, and I went to 23 cities in the South," she says. "Harrah's Casinos promoted the tour. So I would stop and talk and sign books at every Harrah's -- there are tons... And there were so many young guys who would say to me, 'You've made my life so different. I can't wait to get to New York or Los Angeles; I can't wait to get out of here because you've shown me the way, that it is possible to have a normal life -- and I can't have it here, because nobody will accept me.' "
"I've written 29 books, and I've always had gay characters, right from the very beginning," she says. "Sometimes they might be a little cliched, and sometimes not. [For example] Cole, who is my gay fitness trainer, has been in several books with Lucky [Santangelo, the heroine of many of Collins's novels]. He is so gorgeous, and he keeps on having these affairs with older men in Hollywood who just want him for his looks."
Well, we've seen that happen.
"Oh, we've seen that! I had dinner the other night with a very -- I can't say his name, but a very, very famous gay man in Hollywood -- very rich, very famous -- and his much much much younger boyfriend. They'd been together about two years, and then the next week they broke up and the boyfriend was gone. And I'm thinking to myself, What happens to him now?"
You started writing at a time before things got so heavy -- before AIDS.
"Before AIDS, before gay men were even talked about in books, unless it was a gay book. Before women talked about sex. Before -- you know, it was 1968 when my first book appeared, The World Is Full of Married Men."
It was banned all over the place! Were you happy about that?
"I was happy because it went to number 1 within two weeks in England."
"I have a very positive outlook on life," Collins says. "You wake up in the morning and every morning is an adventure; you don't know what's going to happen that day. Things happen in a flash. I mean, I've had an Uzi held in my face by a masked gunman."
I read about that! And you escaped, like a hero.
"Well, because I was writing Lucky at the time -- I was writing a script for NBC and I was in complete Lucky mode, and so I thought, Fuck you, you asshole! With all that hate in your voice! I was scared after, but at the time I thought, This can't be happening, and there was so much hate in his voice -- that's what I remember more than anything. 'Don't move, bitch, or I'll blow your fuckin' head off.' Those were his exact words."
Wow! That is so central-castingly weird.
"Yeah! I wanted to say to him, 'Hey, buddy, that's really corny.' Talking of which, did you see Liz and Dick? Oh my god. I tweeted, and I said, 'It's pure ham.' "
Oh, and "with cheese"! I did see that.
"And I got an outraged tweet from some guy going, 'You slag. How dare you say bad things about Lindsay Lohan.' So you know, I tweeted him back -- usually, I never answer people like that. I said, 'Hey buddy, where's your anger coming from? I love Lindsay Lohan, I just hated the movie.' I thought, you know, Fuck you!"
People will say anything on Twitter. But do you find, when you answer your detractors, that they're immediately like--
"Oh they're like, 'Oh, I didn't mean it!' Exactly! 'Oh, I was just making a joke!' Yeah. Sometimes I block them."
"I know, it's lovely. It really is fun. And I enjoy Pinterest, too. Have you been on Pinterest? I've got a lot of boards. I've got 'Smokin' Hot': 140 incredible pictures of guys. You must look. Out of all of them, the most repinned is LL Cool J. He's got the greatest abs! It's so interesting to see who they repin and who they don't. And then I've got 'Fashion,' and I've got 'Dogs,' and I've got 'Food,' and I've got 'U.K.-centric,' and I've got 'Fans,' and I love it. I'm kind of addicted to it."
In addition to her vivid social media presence, Collins has a play in the works (Jackie Collins's Hollywood Lies) and several books, including a memoir, a cookbook, and a picture book called Hollywood Snaps. This, plus a full schedule of promotional activities and philanthrophic work.
Collins recently appeared in the third issue of Candy, the haute-fashion "transversal style magazine" by Luis Venegas.
"I much prefer to work with a gay photographer than a straight photographer," she says. "[Candy] is completely bizarre. Last time, he had James Franco on the cover, dressed as a woman... I did a six-page spread for them; we shot it here. Dressed as myself, but surrounded by the craziest gay male models. They had on backless -- not backless, um... assless pants. That's all they had on. Assless thongs. I'm putting makeup on one and I've got one on a leash. It's hilarious."
But once in a while, what this campy paragon likes best is to curl up with a good book.
"Reading is, today, a luxury. You've got the Internet, you've got movies, you've got television, you've got Sirius -- thousands of things, you've got magazines..."
And you want it all --
"And you want it all. I read Heartsick the other day, by Chelsea Cain. It's about a serial killer, but it was so good, and I was on a deadline and I thought, You know what? I am just going to lie here for, like, three hours and read this book. I'm just going to indulge myself. That is a very important thing in life. When you want to indulge yourself, do it. Because I work very hard, and if I want to spend a Sunday with no makeup on, lying on my bed, watching TiVo, eating chocolate, and reading magazines, I'm gonna fucking do it."