Vanity Fair dubbed her “Hollywood’s own Marcel Proust,” and the late director Louis Malle called her “a raunchy moralist.” But Hollywood insiders tend to call Jackie Collins the Queen of Hollywood, because no one better understands the players in the city of dreams and what drives them.
While Hollywood itself may be in upheaval, the queen has a lot to crow about in the days leading up to the release of Poor Little Bitch Girl, her latest page-turner, which explores the lives of three very strong but very different women who all attended the same ritzy high school in Los Angeles.
Over the last four decades, Jackie Collins has sold some 400 million copies of her books in more than 40 countries, and not a single book she has written has ever gone out of print. Moreover, she has to her credit a whopping 27 New York Times best sellers, all of which she has delivered with clockwork-like precision.
“It always amazes me when I’m doing television shows that the host will say, ‘Oh, so you’ve churned out another book?’” she says. “I want so say to them, ‘Hey, wait a minute! You had Tom Hanks on. Did you say to him, “You’ve churned out three movies this year?”’ People are always surprised, but I love what I do.”
Collins voiced brims with her love for what she does when she talks about her latest venture — writing a and producing a film that will go directly to DVD and be mass-marketed in much the same way as a paperback novel. She’s also writing a cookbook with recipes from one of her most memorable characters, Lucky Santangelo, and she’s positively over the moon about the hilarious new song Josh Miller has written which is, in both name and spirit, an ode to her new book, Poor Little Bitch Girl.
It’s always fun to talk to Jackie about her new projects, but nothing beats dishing with her about the subject she knows best — Hollywood. In this no-holds-barred conversation, Collins not only talks about her new book but riffs on everything from the late-night television scandals involving Letterman, Leno, and Conan and the recent string of tragic deaths in Hollywood to her 2010 Oscar picks and the double standard Tinseltown maintains for openly gay actors.
The Advocate: I love Poor Little Bitch Girl and I know you love your strong female heroines, but I’m so ready for you to write a gay lead in one of your novels. Do you think you would ever do that?
Jackie Collins: Yes, I absolutely do. You know, Cole DeBarge — the gorgeous black fitness trainer — keeps coming back. He’s been in four books now, and I keep on giving him romances but not main romances. And of course Lucky Santangelo’s brother Dario was gay, and in Chances he had a huge part in the beginning of the book.
It’s so interesting — somebody did a sort of analysis of all the gay characters in all my books, and it was quite amazing the number of gay characters that I had written. But, you know, I write life the way it is.
Poor Little Bitch Girl seems to have been ripped not from the pages of Variety but straight from the headlines in The New York Times. There are shades of Eliot Spitzer, South Carolina’s Gov. Mark Sanford, and even maybe a little Heidi Fleiss and Victoria Sellers in this new novel. How much of Poor Little Bitch Girl was inspired by the headlines?
You’re very, very, very right. The Eliot Spitzer case did absolutely inspire me. So I created [the character] Annabelle, who’s lying in bed with Frankie Romano after they’ve just made love and they’re thinking about what they’re going to do next ... they’re lying there reading the paper and they’re reading about Eliot Spitzer. So that’s how that all came about. And then with Carolyn in Washington, I’ve always had that Chandra Levy case on my mind and I wanted to kind of mirror that a little bit.
And also, while we’re talking about this, Annabelle’s parents vaguely — vaguely — mirror maybe someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger if he was married to someone like Gwyneth Paltrow. [Laughs] Do you love that combination?
Without a doubt! That’s an odd pairing, but I think it’s really pretty dead-on accurate for Annabelle’s parents.
I know. I thought to myself, What’s the new accessory in Hollywood? The new accessory in Hollywood is a baby. But what happens when those babies grow up and get older? [These couples] don’t want this great, hulking daughter ruining their image. [Laughs]
So here’s a little chicken-and-egg scenario for you. When you’re writing, which comes first — the characters or the inspiration from the real-life headlines?
When I pick up my pen, I have no idea what’s going to happen. The [characters] just tell me that day, and I guess Spitzer was in the headlines that day and I thought, Yeah, this is what’s going to happen here. I’m writing the new book now. I haven’t actually started it yet, but what it’s going to be is running through my head right now, and that’s Goddess of Vengeance: The Continuing Adventures of Lucky Santangelo. [Laughs] Everybody says to me, “How old is Lucky now?” And I say “She’s the same age as Madonna.” That shuts them up very quickly. [Laughs]
You always have wonderful stories about your raciest characters, whom you talk about as familiarly as if they were your close friends. Who are some of your favorites in Poor Little Bitch Girl?
I was very enamored with Bobby [Santangelo Stanislopoulous]. I think he’s very sexy. He’s got that young John F. Kennedy thing. He’s a good boy, but he can also be a bad boy as is proven with Zeena. I particularly like the scene when she goes into the shower and grabs his balls! [Laughs] You know, it’s typical of a guy — he’s not going to tip her out once she’s there and she’s got his balls in her hand! [Laughs]
Touché. I love that you have such a sense of fun and mischief about your characters.
You know ... I try to make my books humorous too. I was reading this thing in The New York Times on Sunday about James Patterson, and he seems all uptight about the fact that he’s not taken seriously, but if you’re a storyteller, you can tell whatever story you want and it doesn’t matter whether you’re critically acclaimed or not. Who cares?
Speaking of stories, what are your thoughts about the scandals in late-night television surrounding David Letterman and the whole Jay Leno–Conan O’Brien ordeal over at NBC? I have to ask because in your last book, Married Lovers, you wrote about a talk-show host, so it’s almost as if your book foreshadowed the current meltdown in the world of late night.
I know. If I wrote [what’s going on now] would anyone have believed it? No. They would have just laughed me off the page. But here’s what I think. I think that the two best late-night show hosts are Craig Ferguson and Chelsea Handler. I think they’re both fabulous, so who gives a crap about the others? [Laughs]
Well, to be quite honest, Jay and Dave really only have a finite period of time left on television, when you really think about it.
Exactly. And I’m sick and tired of watching Letterman flirt with all those young starlets that come on [his show], and there he is banging half his staff. [Laughs] And Jay is only interested in getting back to his car collection. [Laughs] But yes ... I found [the scandals] intriguing.
I loved the jokes they were making about each other. I particularly liked the one Jay made about Letterman when he said, “Well, if you want to be ignored, you better marry him.” [Laughs] It’s gonna get really nasty when they get back on the air. I love that.
While we’re dishing about Hollywood, in the last year or so we’ve witnessed the sudden and shocking deaths of so many young stars ...
I know. Isn’t it awful?
It is. But you’re the expert ... Have you ever witnessed anything like this before? What’s really going on in Hollywood and what do you think is driving this deadly new trend?
It’s drugs. It’s all kinds of drugs. It’s pharmaceutical drugs ... it’s a mixture of drugs ... it’s insecurities. I always write about that rags-to-riches dream. They come to Hollywood and if they get everything, then it’s just too much for them to absorb. It’s much better when people are successful later in life. You look at somebody like George Clooney. All of a sudden he’s the movie star, but he’s taken it very well because he had years and years of struggling before this happened for him. I mean, he was on every failed sitcom on television. [Laughs]
Indeed. OK, so what are your thoughts about another trend, which is the slow trickle of openly gay actors coming out of the closet? Why do you think Hollywood has been so slow to embrace openly gay male leading men?
Well, that’s difficult isn’t it? I feel it’s very difficult for an actor to come out because then he’s labeled “gay” and the powers that be think that women don’t want to see those actors in love scenes with women. I think that’s ridiculous. I mean, there are so many gay actresses and they’re screwing away on the screen! [Laughs]
Do you think Hollywood’s reluctance to accept openly gay actors and actresses is a reflection of what we’ve been seeing across the country in the backlash against pro-gay ballot measures from California to Maine?
We live in Hollywood, we go to New York, and we go to the big cities, but when you think of what’s going on across the country, there’s still a great prejudice [against gays and lesbians].
I know because when I did my bus tour last year, I went to 23 cities and there would be [like] ... 500 people at every place. I would go to at the Harrah’s casinos, and they would be lining up to get books. Often there would be a young gay guy there and he’d be in some little town and he’d say to me, “Your books have inspired me. I’m saving my money. I’m going to try to move to New York, but thank you so much.” They weren’t accepted in the little towns they lived in, and I remember them so distinctly because there were so many of them. I thought it was very sad because we live in Hollywood where it’s like “what the hell,” but then you go to a little town and there’s still that tension.
And so the battle continues, unfortunately. Now let’s jump from Hollywood to Paris. What’s your latest venture, Paris Connections, all about?
I think it’s [about] the future. The future is selling a movie like you sell a book. You put it on the supermarket shelves and people buy it.
We start shooting [Paris Connections] on February 1 in Paris, and it’s going to go direct to DVD. It’s called Premiere DVD, and all the money for the movie is being put up by Tesco, this huge supermarket in England, which is kind of like Costco. They’re going to have it exclusively for their members for three months, so you can only buy it in Tesco stores. And then we’ll do a sale to America, hopefully through some place like Target or Walmart.
We’ve got Nicole Steinwedell from The Unit, we have Anthony Delon, the son of the famous French movie star Alain Delon — he’s so gorgeous — and we have Trudie Styler [Sting’s wife] and Charles Dance. So we’ve got a fabulous cast.
So Jackie Collins breaks yet another barrier, then?
Oh, absolutely, People are going to be jumping on this bandwagon. It’s exciting, because instead of a movie going direct to DVD because it just wasn’t good enough for the cinemas, we are making this directly for DVD. We don’t want it to go into the cinemas, and it’s going to be a really fabulous production.
And will you be going behind the camera for Paris Connections?
No, I’m just producing along with three other producers, and unfortunately I can’t be in Paris at this particular moment because I’m launching Poor Little Bitch Girl. [Laughs]
Before I let you go, I know you’re a big music fan, so I’ve got to ask who’s on your playlist at the moment.
The new Robin Thicke track with Jay-Z is fantastic. You’ve got to listen to that particular track. [Robin Thicke] is like the modern-day Barry White. I still always love Usher. Whatever he comes up with, I want to listen to. He’s so great.
I love Diddy. He’s got some great new tracks out there. And of course, the Black Eyed Peas — I’m crazy about them.
I very much like Mariah Carey. I think she’s fabulous. I love Norah Jones and Alicia Keys — those are two of my favorites. I’m dying for the new J. Lo, because I love J. Lo, and Marc Anthony, because I love Latin music. And Adam Lambert ... thank you very much! I love Adam Lambert! And you know, I kind of like the new John Mayer. I have eclectic taste.
Final question — with the Oscars a month away, who are you betting on to win?
Well, I loved George Clooney in Up in the Air. I thought he gave an incredibly nuanced performance. I thought he was great. For actress I’d say Gabourey Sidibe from Precious. And for movie I’d say Avatar and The Hurt Locker side by side. But my favorite performance of the year wasn’t in movies, it was on television, and that was Michael C. Hall on Dexter, the best show on TV.
Enough said. The Queen of Hollywood has spoken. Who am I to argue? Place your bets, folks.
Jackie Collins’s latest novel, Poor Little Bitch Girl, arrives on bookshelves everywhere February 9.