Jackie Collins was on the phone from the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Chicago. Breakfast had been hash browns and eggs over easy, orange juice and coffee, and now she was checking out and getting ready to move on.
The whirlwind was part of the ongoing international tour for her new novel, “Confessions of a Wild Child,” the prequel to her eight-title series starring her most popular character, Lucky Santangelo, daughter of a Las Vegas hotelier and former mob boss (St. Martin’s, $26.99, 304 pages).
Tellingly, Lucky’s father, Gino, named her after mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
“The good news is that ‘Confessions’ just made it onto the New York Times best-sellers list,” Collins said in a melodious British accent.
Which really is no surprise, given that her previous 29 novels also were Times best-sellers. Most of them are titillating scorchers with plenty of sex, glitz and drama as played out by magnates, politicians and superstars, vixens, vamps and Hollywood hotties.
Their backdrops are multimillion-dollar mansions, luxurious nightclubs, super-yachts and penthouse suites in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Cabo San Lucas, Monaco, the Greek islands and other locales around the world.
Readers can’t get enough Jackie Collins. She’s sold 500 million books worldwide, translated into 40 languages. Four titles were made into TV miniseries, and five into movies.
Two of those – “The Stud” (1978) and “The Bitch” (1979) – starred her bustier-wearing older sister, Joan “Dynasty” Collins. The miniseries “Hollywood Wives” broke viewership records in the 1980s. Her first book, “The World Is Full of Married Men” (1968), was banned in England and Australia, making it a must-read.
“Everyone enjoys a racy read, but (more than that) I write relationships between people of all ages, colors, sizes and sexual orientations,” Collins said. “That’s one reason my books have appeal – there’s always someone for everyone to identify with.”
In “Confessions,” the street-smart teenage Lucky wants to take over the family hotel business in Las Vegas, but her old-school dad insists she get married and have children instead. “That makes her all the more determined,” Collins said.
A spinoff title coming in April is “The Lucky Santangelo Cookbook” (St. Martin’s, $27.99, 176 pages), featuring “a lot of my recipes, but I did work with a chef on some of them. I must have been Italian in another life.”
Included is the recipe for the Jackie Collins cocktail, created “as a toast” to the author seven years ago by celebrity chef and “good friend” Wolfgang Puck. It’s heavy on the fresh raspberries and vodka.
“I made some the other day for a video coming to my website ( www.jackiecollins.com),” she said. “We kept saying, ‘Let’s make another one!’ I was drunk by the end of it.”
A few quick items about Jackie Collins:
• She dresses herself in Valentino and Chanel, does not travel with an entourage (“I do my own hair and makeup”), favors Coconutty lipstick by NARS and credits her Old Hollywood glamour at age 76 to “inherited genes. But you haven’t seen me early in the morning. One looks at oneself and sees the flaws.”
• Collins is a “TV addict” whose favorite way to relax is “lying in bed at home, watching all the (shows) I’ve TiVo’d and eating milk chocolate-covered orange sticks. I can eat them all in one sitting, but I must have a great TV program.”
• She’s been married twice, engaged a third time to a businessman who died in 1998, has four adult children and lives by herself in a Beverly Hills mansion she designed. Who’s she seeing these days? “I live my life like an affluent bachelor – I have a man for every occasion,” she quipped.
• Her sister Joan is “doing a one-woman show in London, but I see her whenever she’s in L.A. and we go to the movies. We’ve had our off moments in the past, but we get along just fine now.”
• She’s a citizen of the U.S. and Britain, and holds an Order of the British Empire presented to her by Queen Elizabeth.
The late French movie director Louis Malle once famously told Collins she was “a raunchy moralist,” a description in which she basks.
“I am a moralist,” she insisted. “We’ve got to give positive role models to (young) women. The wild characters in my books do whatever they want while they’re single, but I feel when you get married you’re making a commitment to someone and you have to be true to that commitment.”
Collins is famous for writing about the celebrity elite, disguising actors and politicians as outrageous characters in her novels, a cast that could come straight out of People magazine. “My readers love to guess who’s who,” she said.
Do the real-life headline-grabbers behave as badly as their fictional counterparts?
“Oh, much, much worse,” she said with a laugh. “I like writing politicians and mobsters and movie stars because I’ve known those men. Politicians are the not-so-attractive versions of movie stars – they got into it for the women. But if I had a character like (disgraced former Congressman) Anthony Weiner doing what he did, I would be laughed off the page.
“I’ve had people recognize themselves in my books, but they’ve always seemed secretly pleased,” Collins said. “My book ‘Sinners’ was based on the late, great Peter Sellers. He read it and loved it. He said, ‘You’ve got me!’ When I wrote ‘The Stud,’ a lot of guys in Hollywood thought it was them.”
Collins is a self-described “pop culture junkie” who doesn’t think much of its current state.
“You ask so many girls today, ‘What do you want to do?’ and they say, ‘I want to be famous,’ ” she said. “They see these reality-show players – I can’t call them ‘stars,’ that would trip over my tongue – who think they’re famous, and the kids think, ‘I can be famous, too.’
“None of them are really famous. They’re not familiar with the concept of hard work; they’re familiar with the concept of screaming at each other.”
Collins’ tone of voice shifted from appalled to wickedly sly: “I really think Justin Bieber and Lindsay Lohan should get married. She’s into younger men, and he’s into all kinds of (bad behavior). They could go to the clubs together and drink together and get thrown out together. They would be the perfect couple.”
Because her novels are populated with hedonistic jet-setters who spend their time spinning webs of intrigue in between attending lavish parties, many readers think Collins herself is a sophisticated socialite on a nonstop journey of good times. True?
“I’m not a socialite, but I know those people and I do a lot of those things,” she said. “But I always feel like I’m on the outside looking in, though I’m on the inside looking out. I’m the anthropologist who’s watching everything that goes on and taking notes. I’m a storyteller, not a literary writer.”
Collins writes her books in longhand (“Pen on paper is so organic”) and has “all those pages bound in leather when I finish a book. I write six or seven hours a day and never know what’s going to happen next. Eventually, when I’ve got enough words, I think, ‘I’d better wind this up.’ ”
Early on, Collins read a lot of Henry Miller and Harold Robbins – prolific authors known for the sexual content of their books – and assumed the Queen of Steam mantle after the death of Jacqueline “Valley of the Dolls” Susann in 1974. Still, the sexuality in Collins’ books seems tame in comparison to the recent wave of best-selling erotica, such as the “Fifty Shades” trilogy by E.L. James.
“Those types of books have been around forever,” Collins scoffed. “The difference between my books and (the S&M genre) is my female characters kick ass, they don’t get their asses kicked. When I see (writers) with one-hit wonders that stay on best-seller lists for months, I wonder if they’ll still be there years later.”
Collins has to say goodbye now. A car is waiting to drive her across town for a spot on “The Steve Harvey Morning Show.”
If readers can find a takeaway in the real and fictitious worlds of Jackie Collins, what would it be?
“Girls can do anything, so follow your dreams,” she said. “I was thrown out of school at age 15 (for truancy and smoking), and now it’s 30 books later. If I can do it, so can they.”