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Jackie Collins: The Real Lady Boss



Leopard print and big hair. That would be the answer if the question were, how do you dress for the premiere of a film celebrating the life of Jackie Collins, 32 times a New York Times best selling novelist whose books have shifted some 500 million units over six decades?

Collins had a very distinctive, larger than life image to match her larger than life stories of Hollywood excess, and many guests at last week’s event at the Curzon Mayfair did her memory justice by dressing up.

If the next question is, why are we celebrating a novelist on a movie site – the answer is because Jackie Collins had many links to the film industry, some of which she doesn’t get enough credit for:

To date eight of her novels have been adapted for the screen (cinema and television)

Lady Boss Premiere at Curzon Mayfair

In the 1970s, she had enough professional clout as an author to demand to write the screenplays for two of her novels when they were made into films. It was an achievement because the film and even the novel industry was still very much than a man’s world. Both films, The Stud and The World is Full of Married Men, were highly successful. She later had producer credits fullscreen adaptations of her work.

She started life as an actress playing opposite actors such as Alec Guinness but gave it up when she found herself too much in the shadow of her older sister Joan Collins.

Both sisters embraced the high scale glamour of a Hollywood that is slowly dying out. Dame Joan, at 88, literally stopped the traffic at the premiere last week, with her Hollywood goddess look, reminiscent of icons she so admired, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner.

As a teenager, she partied with legends like Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and French siren Brigitte Bardot. (She described Brando, in her diary, as ‘only as tall as me and a bit fat’)!

She was a keen observer of Hollywood, and most of her novels are set in that world. When her books were released, the film industry would go into overdrive trying to work out which character was based on which movie star of the time.

She helped pave the way for female characters that we now take for granted in films and on television. Sex and the City, Fifty Shades of Grey, Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, among others, owe more than a passing debt to Jackie Collins. Although she admitted she was no literary genius, Collins described herself as a terrific storyteller, and she created female characters who are bold, sexually active and unashamedly ambitious. It’s hard for us to understand now how brave it was of her, in the 1960s and ‘70s, as a woman, to step into the market of racy bestsellers that men dominated.

Collins put female sexuality on the map from a female perspective. Millions of young girls worldwide grew up secretly reading the ‘forbidden’ books in their mother’s bedrooms. It simply cannot be that their world view of what a woman ‘should’ be was not in some way influenced by these books, which showed them what a woman ‘could’ be. And if a handful of them went on then to write their own books and screenplays, well, the influence is obvious. Jackie Collins was selling ‘girl power’ decades before the Spice Girls told us what they want, what they really, really want.

In India, the writer Shoba De made no secret of her desire to ‘be the Jackie Collins of the east’ when she launched her own series of raunchy novels set in Indian high society and Bollywood.

At the premiere, this legacy and influence were discussed by an all-female panel chaired by Mariella Frostrup and including the director of Lady Boss, Laura Fairrie. 

All the women declared themselves feminists and spoke admiringly of Jackie Collins’s influence on their lives and work. It was all too easy and a little misogynistic for her peers to dismiss her work as trashy airport novels. They might have been those, but they were also, said the women panel, seminal works and groundbreaking. Yes, she wrote fantasies, but they were grounded in the reality of her own life and tragedies and those of the people around her.

Was she ultimately a feminist trailblazer?

The resounding answer from this panel was, yes, she was. She created her own brand of feminism with her femme fatale appearance, femininity but straight-talking, assertive ambition.

Suffice to say, and I loved it. It was funny, moving, inspiring and a real eye-opener about a woman who, perhaps, has not had her due from the book, film and TV industry that she helped revolutionise.

Ladyboss is on general release now

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