There are moments in life when you feel transported into someone else’s world. You look around and think: Wait a minute. How the hell did this happen? I recently had one of those moments when I met best-selling author Jackie Collins to discuss her new book, The Santangelos at the elegant Hotel Plaza Athénée in Manhattan. Seated with other bloggers at a table laden with delicate petit fours and macarons, the charming waiters refilled my champagne glass freely. I grinned like a kid at Disneyland when the lady of the hour entered the room: dressed in full Jackie Collins armor of well-tailored jacket (with leopard print trim of course) sparkly jewelry and flashing a smile worthy of her famous heroine, Lucky Santangelo. I felt like I was in one of her books.
Of course I took photos. Lots of photos. (These days can you really say you’ve experienced something without photographic evidence?) But when I came home and uploaded them, I realized that if a picture says a thousand words, these said all the wrong ones. They looked shoddy, unpolished, and worst of all…they diminished the glamour of the afternoon. So I deleted them. Because the thing is, the reason Jackie Collins has always had a place on my bookshelf and in my heart is because she is larger than life. I wasn’t about to make her smaller with my shitty photos.
I started reading her books at an early age. This is because my mother is Finnish, and every year we’d visit my relatives in Finland. Whenever we’d go to someone’s home, they’d scour their bookshelves and offer me the one English language book they had. This kept me entertained while the Finns drank vodka, laughed and told stories in local dialect late into the night. It amazed me that even in the most remote village homes, that one English language book (well-worn, dog-eared and with a cracked spine) was usually a Jackie Collins novel. Books like Hollywood Wives, Rock Star, and Chances. While her appeal is universal, appreciated by people of various backgrounds and nationalities, the dazzling lifestyle she writes about is a specific state of mind.
Her latest book, The Santangelos is no exception. Whisking us away to glittering Las Vegas casinos, Malibu beach homes and opulent hotel rooms in Rome, it’s a world where scheming Hollywood starlets snarl classic lines like, “I’m paying you to fuck, not talk!”, vengeance is literally spelled out on expensive stationary and revenge is a dish best served on fine china.
Which is why it surprised me when she told us that interviewers have been asking her about 50 Shades of Grey. As she said, “My characters kick ass, they don’t get their ass kicked.” (She also quipped that if you need paddles and whips and everything else just to get off, it makes it difficult to travel. I couldn’t agree more. That overhead space can only handle so much. And I don’t even want to think about going through airport security.)
The truth is, while Jackie Collins writes a lot about sex (and is quick to point out that her all male characters are well-endowed) I still wouldn’t say that sex is the main focus of her work. Her books are primarily about power: who has it, who’s losing it, who wants it and what they’ll do to get it. Sex is just part of that game. I mean, Philip Roth wrote a lot about masturbation. Yet when you Wikipedia his name it does not say, “Foremost chronicler of pud-pulling.” No. It says that he is known for “provocative explorations of Jewish and American identity.”
So if you think Jackie Collins needs to answer for 50 Shades of Grey, you just haven’t been paying attention.
And as I left the grand Hotel Plaza Athénée with my new “Never Fuck With A Santangelo” mug in hand, headed back to my apartment, which is so tiny that I store beer in the window box when I throw my annual Christmas party, I thought about how much we need Jackie Collins books. Especially now, when people watch blockbusters on tiny cellphone screens, grainy paparazzi photos of celebrities command more attention than glossy magazine shots, and people attend sad Christmas parties with beer in the window box.
Through it all, Jackie Collins remains larger than life: bold, unabashedly glamorous, upholding the Hollywood dream, a woman who designed her Beverly Hills mansion around a pool she liked in a multi-million dollar David Hockney painting. She claims she was a panther in a past life. I have no doubt. The panther totem is known as the embodiment of feminine power: seductress, mother, warrior, and wise woman.
Sounds like a Jackie Collins character to me.