Jackie Collins, the best-selling British-born author whose dozens of racy, page-turning novels chronicled the glitz - along with the sex, schemes and seductions - of the rich and the rapacious, has died in Los Angeles. She was 77.
In a statement on Collins’ Web site, her three daughters said she died of breast cancer. The family included older sister Joan Collins, the actress known for her work on the TV series “Dynasty.”
Over a career in which more than 500 million copies of her books were sold, Collins set many of them in the film capital in which she was herself a prominent figure. Among the novels was “Hollywood Wives” (1983), whose characters seemed to be thinly disguised and dismayingly flawed versions of real-life figures.
From then on, her work came to symbolize the fictional re-creation of the lives of Hollywood’s handsome and haunted as they navigated an environment of raw ambition and ravenous hunger for success and sexual conquest. Many of her books became feature films and TV movies.
Collins had made something of a splash long before that, with the appearance in 1968 of her first published novel, “The World is Full of Married Men.” A blend of show business and monkey business, it created the template for much of her later work.
In her lifetime, Collins experienced the evolution of critical and popular tastes and tolerance. Her first book was said to have been labeled disgusting filth by no less a literary arbiter than famed romance novelist Barbara Cartland. However, in 2013, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Collins the Order of the British Empire for services to fiction and to charity.
Although she had spent years living in an elegantly appointed Southern California mansion, Collins did not restrict her novelist’s eye to her immediate surroundings and was known for books about a family she called the Santangelos, with roots in organized crime. Its patriarch Gino, and his “dangerously beautiful” daughter, Lucky, were the central figures.
Her last book, “The Santangelos,” was published this year. It was the ninth in the saga.
The more her books sold, the greater her fame grew, and the greater became her access to the milieus about which she wrote. Few were regarded as having a closer acquaintance with the often-tawdry reality behind the glossy image, with the links between bedrooms and boardrooms, and with the sometimes drug-addled lives that were hidden from the prying eyes of the public.
From what she would tell interviewers, it appeared that her characters themselves would at times guide her pen.
“I swim lengths in the pool at the end of each day - thinking about my characters and what they might do next,” she told the Wall Street Journal last year. “I don’t plan my story lines. I like to let my characters take their own direction, and the stories evolve as I swim.”
From that start, she never shied from writing about sex. This lack of inhibition, she implied, enabled her to create scenes and situations that actually proved instructive.
Many people would tell her, she said, that they read her as children by flashlight under the bedclothes, and “ ‘I learned everything I know about sex from you.’ “
For someone whose creative process seemed to fluid and unfettered, Collins was extremely precise, to the point of being finicky, in how she wrote. It was usually between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., at one of several desks.
She wrote in longhand, with a felt tip pen, a ball point being unthinkable.
After she completed her work on legal pads, an assistant entered the pages into a computer. She was firm about it. “To me,” she once told the Los Angeles Times, “writing is writing. It’s not typing it on the computer.”
The task of composition was made easier because of what she described as her excellent handwriting.
Connoisseurs of literary merit were cool to her accomplishments, and she was sometimes referred to as the “grande dame of trash.” She professed not to care and suggested that a double standard was at work.
“They don’t say the same things about Sidney Sheldon,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 1990, referring to another novelist known for steamy depictions of sex. “I think some people are bothered by the language. It’s strong, but that’s the kind of language the people I write about use. . . . But there’s no violence in my books. If there is, it happens off screen. I think we’re too steeped in violence these days. But sex seems to upset people more than violence does.”
Jacqueline Jill Collins was born in London on Oct. 4 1937, to a mother who had been a dancer and a father who was a theatrical agent; she later described him as a philanderer.
From childhood, she harbored a desire to write, which showed itself early on when she created bawdy limericks. These were sold to schoolmates for pocket change.
Youthful hijinks led to her expulsion from school at 15. “I was thrown out for smoking, being truant, and waving at the resident flasher,” she told Los Angeles magazine. That was followed by a visit to her sister, already an actress in Hollywood, and an allegedly short affair with actor Marlon Brando.
Back in England after two years, she married at 18 to Wallace Austin, and they had a daughter. She described her husband, who was in his 30s, as a businessman and a gambler who became addicted to prescription drugs. They divorced.
Collins then embarked on a small-time show business career, turning up in British action and adventure shows, including “The Avengers.”
She married a much-older nightclub owner, Oscar Lerman, in 1966, and he was credited with encouraging her in her early ambition to write. “The World is Full of Married Men” was published, to public outrage. She said the book was inspired by the many propositions she had received from married male friends.
As she told it, newspaper editorials called it “the most disgusting book we’ve ever read.”
It did comparatively well, however, which she ascribed to her being one of the first women novelists with a female protagonist who was both strong and sexual. Later books included “Stud” (1969) and its sequel “The Bitch” (1979), both of which were turned into movies starring Joan Collins.
Soon afterward, Collins moved to the United States and published “Chances” (1981), her first book featuring Lucky Santangelo, a character whose determination to steer her own course reflected the author’s personality. Lucky was the focus of such later titles as “Lucky” (1985), “Lady Boss” (1990) and “Dangerous Kiss” (1999).
After “Hollywood Wives” appeared, provoking hostility in Beverly Hills and harsh reviews elsewhere, Collins defended herself by saying that she was only telling the truth about some women “right down to their tummy tucks, designer panties” and other accoutrements of decadence.
It sold more than 10 million copies and was made into a miniseries, features such actresses as Angie Dickinson, Suzanne Somers and Candice Bergen. Sequels included “Hollywood Husbands” and “Hollywood Kids.”
Lerman died of cancer in 1992. Collins’ fiancé, Los Angeles businessman Frank Calcagnini, died of brain cancer in 1996. Besides her sister, survivors include her children, including two daughters from her marriage to Lerman, and a younger brother. She held American and British citizenship.
She told a British interviewer in 2012 that she had been thinking about her legacy: “On my tombstone, I want to have the words: ‘She gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure.’ “ She laughed, “wickedly,” the reporter noted, before adding, “Take that as you will.”