Louis Malle may have branded Jackie Collins a "raunchy moralist," but it wasn't her sense of ethical propriety that had her in a snit when Kenneth Starr dutifully reported to the nation the details of the pseudo-coupling between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. It was her literary pride. "Everybody said that the Monica Lewinsky stuff in the Starr report was like a Jackie Collins book," she told the Chicago Tribune in 2001, "but if I'd written it, the sex would have been better."
Unquestionably. Jacqueline Susann may be the Emily Bronte of the naughty bits, but Collins is surely Charlotte, having filled her books to the rim with skin since her first novel The World Is Full of Married Men appeared in 1968. Since then, there has been a string of sexy Hollywood moguls, sexy models, sexy wives of Hollywood moguls, sexy divorcées and sexy children of Hollywood moguls in such titles as Chances, Lucky and Throb as well as The Bitch and The Stud (both made into movies starring big sister Joan).
The critics, when they take notice at all, tend to sniff. ("While no one expects Lady Boss to be a literary banquet, certainly a yummy little snack is in order" is about the best to expect from The New York Times.) But those who can look past the satin sheets and champagne flutes see more going on in the Collins canon. Hers is a dissection of the vacuous, viperish entertainment class hiding behind designer sunglasses in Los Angeles. Vanity Fair called her "Hollywood's own Marcel Proust.” The Advocate hinted that she might be the Charles Dickens of Beverly Hills. And Joe Queenan, a Hollywood player himself, said Collins's 1993 novel American Star was nothing less than a lament of the American family's demise.
"It would be easy to self-righteously label this book trashy and worthless -- but it's not entirely either," the Detroit News wrote in a review of Collins's 1983 novel Hollywood Wives. "Jackie Collins has a talent for titillation and a knack for wooing the most reluctant of readers into a plot that spends 15 percent of the time peeking at people in the sack and the other 85 percent daydreaming about it. Deliberately or not, she speaks eloquently of emptiness through the lives of people who would seem to have everything: French poodles, Mexican maids, American Express."
And Judy Bass wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Collins's gimlet eye for detail is what makes her novels such a gas: "Collins caricatures the life styles of the rich and famous with devastating accuracy. She spoofs every nuance of their attire, speech and relationships, never allowing tedium or predictability to dilute the reader's fun."
There are a number of recurring characters in Collins's books, though none better known than Lucky Santangelo, the sexy (natch) film studio owner who has appeared in Lucky, Lady Boss, Vendetta: Lucky's Revenge and Dangerous Kiss. The Lucky series bring together all the required ingredients of a Collins cocktail: the rich and famous, the shifty Hollywood shenanigans, scheming opportunists and a bug-on-the-wall vantage point of every -- or every other -- bedroom in the 90210 zip code.
Time once wrote of a Collins novel that it allowed the reader the rare opportunity to watch adverbs mate. Of course. There's a high art to the lowbrow. The Village Voice, writing in 2000, understood that: "The beauty of the trashy novel is twofold: It's a lightning-quick read, and you can howl in smug superiority as you turn the pages. Lethal Seduction, the latest from well-appointed and leopard-print-swathed Queen of Trash Jackie Collins, is a prime example of page-turning, literary-hauteur-stoking fun."
But it might have been People, reviewing Vendetta: Lucky's Revenge, that most succinctly summed up the contradictory seductiveness of the Jackie Collins novel: "embarrassing to pick up, impossible to put down."
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Collins makes a mean meatloaf. "It's the herbs and spices," she told Biography magazine, "and my essence."
Collins spends about a year writing each novel, and does so entirely in longhand.
She eschews the stodgy demands of grammar. "I don't basically understand grammar," she is quoted as saying in Contemporary Popular Writers. "I call myself a street writer. I write purely by instinct. I've decided people don't speak in grammatical conversations.... The important thing is I get people into the bookstores who probably wouldn't be there otherwise."
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