Before there was Sex and the City or Fifty Shades of Grey, Jackie Collins was delivering unapologetically raunchy tales of glamour and seduction with a treasure trove of semi-erotic romance novels. To the world, she had it all: fame, fortune, love, and an unshakeable inner strength. However, the CNN documentary Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story reveals a softer side to the bold Brit who made her mark with sex and self-confidence.
In honor of this daring trailblazer, let’s look back at the public scandals and private life of the one and only Jackie Collins.
1. Jackie Collins first wrote about sex in her diaries growing up.
All her life, Collins kept scrapbooks and diaries in which she detailed dates, parties, and family affairs. Lady Boss reveals passages from both of these personal confessionals to showcase just exactly who Collins was beyond her public persona. As a teen girl discovering the joys of sex, Collins wrote things like, “We drove around and necked a bit. We took it in turns to lick a lollipop,” and "Mel kissed me madly on both cheeks.“ Collins would keep up journaling for the rest of her life.
2. Jackie Collins initially wanted to follow in the footsteps of her famous sister.
Jackie's older sister, Dynasty actress Joan Collins, had long been heralded for her beauty. When the English ingénue moved to Hollywood in the mid-1950s, 16-year-old Jackie came for a visit—and was immediately intrigued. Jackie, then just a starry-eyed teenager, filled her diary with tales of the Hollywood nightlife. She rubbed elbows with such luminaries as Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, and Marilyn Monroe. In a hint at her career to come, Collins wrote about Monroe.
It was right around this time that Jackie decided she was ready to launch her own acting career, so she dropped out of school and started going on auditions. While she scored roles in some British B-movies, including The Missing Scientists and Undercover Girl, Jackie's acting career never really took off the way Joan’s had.
3. Jackie Collins felt like an ugly duckling next to her sister.
In Lady Boss, Jackie’s longtime friend Tita Cahn describes Jackie's insecurity as "Baby Sister Syndrome," which was largely a result of their father. Jackie and Joan's dad, show business agent Joseph William Collins, heaped praise upon his famous actress daughter, but chastised Jackie for not being pretty enough, thin enough, or classy enough. In one diary passage, Jackie recalled him scolding her for looking “like a tart.” When Joseph plotted a variety theater tour for Jackie in the UK, he promoted his aspiring actress daughter as “Joan Collins’ little sister.”
It’s little wonder that a young Jackie wrote in her diary, “I get an awful inferiority complex when I am with Joan. I feel all big and clumsy and dull ... Joan says everyone says I copy her.”
4. A strong marriage helped Jackie Collins find her own path.
At 19, Jackie was still pursuing acting when she married businessman Wallace Austin. They had a daughter together, but the marriage was short-lived, ending in divorce after four years—in part because of his battle with drug addiction.
Collins's second marriage, this one to nightclub owner Oscar Lerman, not only lasted nearly 30 years (until his death in 1992), but also pushed Jackie to take her writing from private hobby to professional pursuit. It was Lerman who discovered an abandoned manuscript she had written. “Finish this one,” he encouraged her. “You’re a storyteller.” This “one” would become 1968’s The World is Full of Married Men, Collins's debut novel, which became a bestseller within two weeks of publication.
5. Jackie Collins saved Joan Collins’s career.
Fame is a fickle thing. By 1977, Joan’s prospects had fallen to the point where she was making cheesy horror movies like The Empire of The Ants. Meanwhile, Jackie had a string of successful novels under her belt, including her sultry sophomore effort The Stud. Looking to regain the spotlight, Joan urged Jackie to adapt the spicy book into a screenplay, which boasted a ripe role for the 44-year-old actress. The gambit paid off.
The Stud, which was shot for just $600,000, not only grossed almost $20 million internationally, but also spawned a Joan-fronted sequel, 1979's The Bitch, which was based on another one of Jackie's novels, which came out that same year. More importantly, the film led to more screenwriting work for Jackie and reestablished Joan as a hot commodity. Two years later, Joan took on her most iconic role as the sexy and salacious Alexis Carrington on the prime-time soap opera Dynasty. It’s hard to imagine that happening without Jackie’s studly intervention.
6. Jackie and Joan Collins’s sibling rivalry was a major story.
By 1988, both sisters were wildly famous. Joan was an iconic TV diva and Jackie was a bestselling novelist whose books had been translated into dozens of languages around the world. However, rumors of a rift spurred tabloid headlines, especially when Joan—not Jackie—was offered a million-dollar book deal to write a novel called Prime Time. In a 1988 Vanity Fair profile, the sisters’ shared book editor Michael Korda confessed, "Jackie can't help but feel that Joan is crowding her territory."
Publicly, however, Jackie denied any ill will. In the same month that Vanity Fair profile was published, Jackie assured the Los Angeles Times, “There’s absolutely no feuding. We’re perfectly good friends.”
7. Jackie Collins wrote what she knew.
Jackie's most popular novel was 1983’s Hollywood Wives, which sold 15 million copies and spurred a string of follow-ups, including Hollywood Husbands, Hollywood Kids, Hollywood Wives: The New Generation, and Hollywood Divorces. She drew inspiration for her books not only from her own sexual experiences and romances, but also from the decadence that she observed at Hollywood parties and in London nightclubs.
Though Jackie promoted her books on talk shows for decades, she never revealed the identities of her lusty muses. Still, she was happy to share titillating blind items. For instance, on a 1985 appearance on The Tonight Show (which you can watch above), Jackie insisted to guest host Joan Rivers, “The characters I write about I tone down. I couldn’t write the real truth.” The example she gave was of a sex scene in 1988’s Rock Star, between a rock star and a pair of twins on a motorboat. “A rock star actually told me this [story]," Collins explained. But in his version, "it was triplets. Who would believe it?!”
8. Jackie Collins faced controversy throughout her career.
Collins's first novel, The World is Full of Married Men, was banned in Australia and South Africa because of its explicit content about the wild sex lives of London swingers. The Guardian reported that a British politician was so outraged by her writing that he paid for a full-page ad in a Sunday newspaper to denounce her work. Most harsh, however, was the condemnation of fellow British bestselling romance novelist Barbara Cartland. In July of 1987, the two appeared as guests on the British talk show Wogan, where Cartland called Jackie’s books “evil,” then asked: "Have you ever thought about the effects on young children? Don't you think it's helped perverts?"
On that TV appearance, Jackie responded with humor and an unshakable smile. However, in another interview unearthed in Lady Boss, the “Queen of Trash Lit” defended herself, proclaiming, “I’m not claiming to be a great literary genius. I’m claiming to be a terrific storyteller. So, I would say that the people who criticize me most are the ones who've never read me."
9. Jackie Collins’s persona was her armor.
To cope with the condemnations that came with being a woman who dared to write unabashedly about sex, Jackie Collins created a signature look of big hair, bold prints, broad-shouldered blazers, and flashy jewelry. "She became the representative of the characters in her books,” publicist Jeffrey Lane explains in Lady Boss, “with cleavage and jewels and looking gorgeous.”
Donning all this glamour helped Jackie become more than just Joan’s sister, or a mother of four, or the author of scandalous sex romp novels. She became a heroine of her own making, paving the way for other writers and everyday women who sought to reclaim their power and sexuality.
10. Jackie Collins’s wrote her legacy until her dying day.
On September 19, 2015, Jackie Collins died of Stage IV breast cancer. This was a shock to the world, as she’d spent that year publishing her final novel, The Santangelos, and doing a press tour to promote it. She’d kept her cancer diagnosis secret from most of her friends and family, and only revealed the truth to her sister Joan two weeks before her passing. In Lady Boss, Collins's daughters explain that Jackie wanted to be remembered for who she was and not how she died.
In the end, Jackie Collins was the author of 32 novels, all of which placed on The New York Times Best Seller List. Since publishing her debut novel in 1968, Collins's books have sold more than 500 million copies in 40 countries. They have been adapted into films and television shows, including the 1993 mini-series Lucky Chances, which featured an up-and-coming actress named Sandra Bullock. Collins's works on both the page and screen have excited and inspired untold numbers of readers, and she was made a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2013.
When being awarded with this medal of honor by Queen Elizabeth II, the audacious Collins—who was always ready with a great line—quipped, “Not bad for a school drop-out.”