Jackie Collins, the author of more than 30 always steamy sometimes banned novels about the rich and famous died on September 19 at the age of 77. Her death affected me greatly. See, me and Jackie go way back. Though we never met, I’ve felt close to her since the late 20th Century. It was 1985 or maybe ’86 when our relationship began.
It wasn’t love at first sight. In fact, I felt rather critical of La Collins. Did I really want to be seen reading Lovers and Gamblers on the number 2 train to work? No. I did not; I was a snob. I was an intellectual snob. I prided myself on my sophisticated tastes in literature: Jane Austen. Aldous Huxley. Robertson Davies and the occasional true crime non-fiction about Ted Bundy and others like him. I was one of those insufferable people who knew how to fold the NY Times in half and then in half again the long way and then in half the short way to make it a manageable size for the tight train and bus seats.
Not that I didn’t have my more popular amusements, my guilty pleasures, as they say: Ken Follett. Richard Condon. Thomas Harris. Superman comics. I loved them, too.
But Jackie Collins? No.
To be honest, Jackie wasn’t even on my radar. I knew who she was only because I was a fan of Dynasty and the very bad Alexis Carrington played by none other than her older sister, Joan.
And, then, something happened that brought Jackie into my life. I was writing satirical essays with a partner at the time and we were being published fairly regularly in the New York Times Book Review. And one day I said to my partner, “Hey! What if we did a scholarly paper comparing the Bronte Sisters and the Collins Sisters?”
A lot of you might not know that Joan is an author, too. At that time, she had two books to her name: Past Imperfect, a memoir and Prime Time, a lurid tale about Hollywood that may have had an evil or creepy doll in it, I can’t quite remember. It’s been a long time.
And my partner said, “Sure.” She was a good partner.
And so I began my research and it was in this way, a way that totally preserved my intellectual superiority, that I became familiar with the Collins canon.
I read Lucky. I read Hollywood Wives. I read Hollywood Husbands. I read The World is Full of Married Men. I read The World is Full of Divorced Women. I even read The Stud, which I had to search far and wide for since it was out of print.
I became an expert on La Collins’ writing and storytelling style:
Her use of italics—pages and pages of them – to indicate both flashbacks and psychotic fantasies.
Her obsession with nipples.
The way she disdained the power-mad, drug-fueled über-wealthy Hollywood lifestyle and, at the same time, made you want to live it yourself.
The way she always gathered all the characters together at the end on a yacht or in a fabulous Vegas hotel where one of her signature psychos was planning to detonate a bomb or open fire with an assault weapon.
The way the bad characters always got what was coming to them in the end and the good characters, even those who were once Mafia hit men, emerged shaken but alive.
The way she populated fabulous parties with fictitious renditions of real stars like Venus (who was surely Madonna) and Charley Dollar (who was surely Jack Nicholson) and then casually mention that Madonna or Jack Nicholson were mingling, too.
The way she deployed the word “lethal” as a means of describing both firearms and sex appeal.
Her characters were wealthy and shallow…when they weren’t poor and shallow, that is. And the characters she loved – like Lucky Santangelo and Venus and Lennie and Bobby – all had great bodies and lots of money and mega-sexual appetites that led to amazing, intense and mutually satisfying copulation.
But tucked in among the Hollywood hollowness and superficiality, Jackie showed us her morals. Jackie was accepting. Jackie was affirming. Jackie believed in the ultimate goodness and ultimate depravity – the yin and yang – of all people regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation. Her villains and her heroes and heroines crossed all gender lines. Her women were as strong, independent and sensual as her men if not stronger, independent-er and sensual-er!
Since that time so long ago, I have read every book that Jackie Collins ever wrote, her entire oeuvre. I have read them on the beach. I have read them on planes and, yes, I have even read them on the subway. I consider myself the pre-eminent Jackie Collins scholar in the USA and, possibly, in the world. I’ll miss her. The world is a sadder place without the prospect of more books about the strong, independent and lethally beautiful Lucky Santangelo.
The greatest moment of my life was when I heard through the grapevine that that essay had irritated both Jackie and Joan Collins.
Jackie Collins is dead; long live Jackie Collins.
-Randi Hacker is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.