Personal Life

by Debbie J.

This chapter is a free excerpt from Biography of Jackie Collins.

After being expelled in 1952 at age 15 from Francis Holland School for truancy, smoking, and selling copies of her own book of dirty limericks, Jackie moved quickly into the world of adulthood. Her parents, despairing of her wild behavior, gave her two choices. She could end up in juvenile hall, in other words, reform school, or she could go live with her older sister in Hollywood. She chose the latter option and stayed for a time with older sister, Joan, a well-established actress who was already gaining notoriety dating hot Hollywood heart-throbs of the day.


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After being expelled in 1952 at age 15 from Francis Holland School for truancy, smoking, and selling copies of her own book of dirty limericks, Jackie moved quickly into the world of adulthood. Her parents, despairing of her wild behavior, gave her two choices. She could end up in juvenile hall, in other words, reform school, or she could go live with her older sister in Hollywood. She chose the latter option and stayed for a time with older sister, Joan, a well-established actress who was already gaining notoriety dating hot Hollywood heart-throbs of the day.

Around that time Jackie Collins purportedly had a fling with Marlon Brando, who was then 29 years old to her 15. She was partying at a club in Hollywood with sister, Joan, when a handsome young Marlon Brando sent a messenger over to their table asking to meet her. Brando was hot box office property at the time, riding on the wave of Academy Award nominations for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and The Wild One (1953). Jackie didn't hesitate, and they had what she later called "a very brief but fabulous affair."

In 1960, Jackie Collins married her first husband, Wallace Austin, who was 12 years her senior. They had a daughter, Tracy, in 1961, and were divorced in 1964 after four and a half years of marriage. Jackie later revealed that Wallace was a compulsive gambler, substance abuser and mentally unstable. Wallace eventually killed himself of a drug overdose. As she seemed to do with every experience in her life, Jackie viewed this time as a period of learning and research that helped her become knowledgeable about drugs and drug use, knowledge she used to inform future novels.

In 1966 Jackie remarried, to Oscar Lerman, art galley and nightclub owner. The wedding was held at the home of her sister, Joan Collins and then-husband Anthony Newley. From the time Jackie moved across the ocean to live with her older sister Joan at age 15, the siblings remained close. Joan Collins has always had a reputation for being sexually promiscuous, which she claimed was a deliberate attempt to gain leverage in a man's world. Joan has a long list of lovers that includes Charlie Chaplin, Robert Wagner, Nicky Hilton, Harry Belafonte and Warren Beatty, and her liberal lifestyle has earned her the title "The British Open." One of Joan's passions was George Englund, good friend to Marlon Brando.

No doubt influenced by her older sister, Jackie demonstrates a similar attitude of sexual liberalism, although this seems largely confined to the pages of her novels. She appears to have lived a less promiscuous lifestyle, remaining in a committed married relationship for 26 years and describing herself as a stay-at-home mom throughout her career. This is in sharp contrast to sister, Joan, who once bragged that she enjoyed being an adulteress as a way to take vengeance on an unfaithful husband.

For a time Jackie followed her older sister into acting, appearing in a number of British B-list movies during the 1950s and appearing on two television series, Danger Man, and The Saint during the 1960s. Becoming tired of always being called Joan Collins' sister, for a time she changed her name to Lynn Curtis, even appearing in several television shows under that name. Jackie soon discovered that acting was not where she wanted to be, although she considered it a valuable research ground for her subsequent novels.

Husband Oscar Lerman encouraged her writing and supported her in publication of her first novel, The World Is Full Of Married Men, in 1968. He co-produced the screenplay adaptation of the same novel in 1979. The marriage proved to be a happy, long, and stable one for 26 years, until Oscar's death of cancer in 1992. They had two daughters, Tiffany, born 1967, and Rory, born 1969. Lerman also adopted Collins' daughter, Tracy, from her first marriage.

The following year Collins published her second book, The Stud, which told the story of the many sexual affairs of Fontaine Khaled, owner of a fashionable London nightclub. In 1978 Collins co-wrote the screen adaptation of The Stud, which featured her older sister, Joan, in the role of Fontaine. A sequel to The Stud, The Bitch, was published in 1979, and also made into a film the same year. Joan Collins reprised the role of Fontaine. Collins' third novel was set in the United States. The novel was called Sunday Simmons & Charlie Brick, but published in the UK under the name The Hollywood Zoo. In 1984 it was republished under the new name Sinners. With Lovehead, published in 1974, she entered the world of organized crime in which many of her subsequent novels would be based.

In the 1980s, Jackie Collins and family moved full time to Los Angeles, and in 1981 she published Chances, which she called her "Harold Robbins-type" novel. She introduced lead character Lucky Santangelo, the beautiful daughter of gangster Gino Santangelo. Lucky would feature in eight more Collins novels.

Living in Los Angeles provided Jackie with first-hand research material for one of her most successful novels, Hollywood Wives, published in 1983. Hollywood Wives debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and sold 15 million copies around the world. The book was marketed as a scandalous affair and brought Jackie Collins on equal celebrity status with sister Joan, who by now was riding at the peak of her career with her role in television drama Dynasty. Hollywood Wives was made into a television mini-series in 1985, produced by Aaron Spelling and starring Candice Bergen, Stefanie Powers, Angie Dickinson, Anthony Hopkins, Suzanne Somers, and Rod Steiger.

Over the next few years, Jackie wrote three more novels in 1985: Lucky a sequel to Chances, 1986, Hollywood Husbands, and Rock Star in 1988. In 1990, Collins published the third Lucky Santangelo novel, called Lady Boss. That same year she co-produced television mini-series Lucky Chances, which combined the first two Lucky Santangelo novels. Nicolette Sheridan was cast in the lead role, with Sandra Bullock as Maria Santangelo, Lucky's mother, who is murdered when Lucky is only four years old. Sandra Bullock credited the role of Maria Santangelo as one of her first important chances at stardom.

On April 2, 1988, Jackie's father, Joe Collins, died of a kidney infection at age 85. In 1992, Jackie became a widow when, after 26 years of marriage, Oscar Lerman died of prostate cancer. In 1994, Jackie was engaged to Frank Calcagnini, a Los Angeles business executive, but he died in 1998 of a brain tumor.

Jackie Collins continued writing and wrote and produced another Lucky Santangelo television mini-series based on Lady Boss, with Kim Delaney in the lead. Several more bestsellers followed, American Star (1993), Hollywood Kids(1994) and Vendetta: Lucky's Revenge, the fourth Lucky Santangelo, in 1996. In 1998 Jackie made an unsuccessful attempt at talk show television, Jackie Collins' Hollywood. She wrote a four-part series of mini novels that were released every six weeks in a newspaper, called L.A. Connections, in which she introduced a new heroine, investigative journalist Madison Castelli. In 1999, Lucky Santangelo number five, Dangerous Kiss, was published.

As the century turned into 2000, Jackie Collins remained active, publishing eight more bestsellers over the decade. The character of Madison Castelli returned in Lethal Seduction (2000) and in Deadly Embrace (2002). In 2001 Hollywood Wives: The New Generation was released and also turned into a television movie, starring Farrah Fawcett, Melissa Gilbert and Robin Givens. Having already explored the topics of Hollywood wives, husbands, and kids, the next logical step was Hollywood Divorces, published in 2003.

Jackie writes every book out in longhand with a black felt pen on a yellow pad. She does not plan the plotin advance, and says she is often surprised herself at not only the direction many of the book's twists and turns take, but how the ending turns out. Her perspective of Hollywood is to not take it too seriously, since it is "just a state of mind." Jackie Collins has not remarried, and says she lives the life of a cool bachelor, with "a man for all seasons." She now lives in a mansion she designed in Beverly Hills.

With the character of Lucky, Collins has had perhaps the greatest success, writing seven bestsellers about Lucky, with another in the works. Although Lucky was born in 1950, like her creator, she remains ageless. According to Collins, Lucky is admired by women because she does all the things women would love to be able to do and says all the things they would like to say. Lucky is strong, glamorous, brazen, and not always a nice person - much like Jackie herself.

The title of the upcoming Lucky Santangelo novel, Goddess of Vengeance, reflects not only Lucky's motto, "Never f** with a Santangelo," but Jackie's own view of vengeance - "A tooth for a tooth." Jackie actually credits Lucky's attitude with saving her life. About 20 years ago she was confronted by a masked gunman who held an Uzi to her face. Jackie says she was suddenly enveloped in Lucky's aura and thought "Screw this! I'm not giving up my car, my jewelry, or anything to this guy." She managed to extricate herself safely, although she reflects that she must have been insane to remain calm in the face of the quick trigger of an Uzi.

Jackie Collins, in spite of the graphic and rough sexuality and sense of moral freedom portrayed in her books, has some traditional perspectives on home and family. She has three daughters, and was married for 23 years, an unusual length of time for Hollywood relationships. She observes that many women concentrate on their children to the exclusion of their husband, and then are surprised when the husband is unfaithful. She quotes Lucky's attitude towards relationships, "You've got to make time for it (sex)..to keep passion alive...you've got to keep the fires burning." Jackie takes the viewpoint that one day the sweet little children grow up and you will be left with your husband, so it's important to make time for your husband and always nurture that relationship.

When it comes to children growing up, Collins knows of what she speaks. Ironically, she sent her daughters to Francis Holland School in England, the same school that she was expelled from, yet they seem to have avoided repetition of Collins' rebellion. Collins herself played the role of stay-at-home mother, making sure she was always around for her children and trying to give them as normal an upbringing as possible. As author of Hollywood Kids and Hollywood Divorces, Jackie was somewhat of an expert on the potential negative outcomes that awaited many children raised in the celebrity environment, and she worked hard to avoid this for her own children.

Jackie Collins says of her children that they are her "greatest achievement, spectacular women" who have no desire to be in the public eye. Still sensitive to growing up in the shadow of a famous older sister, she never wanted her children to wear the label of a famous mother. To a great extent, Collins has succeeded in keeping her three daughters out of the public eye. Although Tracy and Rory have remained low-key, Tiffany Lerman has gained a reputation as a designer in London. She worked for success without any help from her mother, and her specialty handbag designs are popular among Hollywood young trendsetters. Tiffany has become famous in her own right to the degree that Jackie Collins had an experience of reverse deja vu when a young girl approached her in a Santa Monica store, and rather than inquiring about the latest novel, instead asked, "Are you Tiffany's mother?"

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