32 was not enough

4 October 1937 – 19 September 2015
4 October 1937 – 19 September 2015

Men are cheaters.
Women are not to be trusted.
And most people are dumb.

These could be angst-filled lines from the diary of a 15-year-old or the succinct observations of a poet reaching his prime. But they are lines from a rather recent Jackie Collins novel Married Lovers published in 2008. Collins’ career, spanning four decades, saw her sell 500 million copies in over 40 countries. All her 32 novels found glory on the ‘New York Times bestseller lists’. And yet the kind of fame she had could not be called ‘literary’ — it was pulp fiction at its best.

Her journey to fame began when Oscar Lerman, Collins’ second husband, stumbled across an unfinished manuscript. At his insistence, the first book — cheekily named The World is Full of Married Men — was published in 1968. Not surprisingly, it was filled with the sexual exploits of a couple as they go their separate ways. Literary folklore has it that Barbara Cartland, the then reigning queen of romance, was quick to denounce it as “dirty, filthy and disgusting”. It was duly banned in South Africa and Australia.

Undaunted, Collins came out with her second novel the very next year, this time more pertly named The Stud. After that, there was no stopping her. She was called the queen of ‘bonkbuster’ novels. Her latest book The Santangelos, just released, shows she could have kept going even at 77 years.

In the era of Fifty Shades Of Grey, a woman novelist writing about sex and glamour might seem banal. So to put things in better perspective, Collins was writing about a woman’s free will to choose sexual and financial gratification over domestic contentment in the late 1960s, when not many around her dared to do the same. Over a prolific career, Collins came out with titles like The Bitch, and also created the sensational “Hollywood” and “Santangelo” series. Her fiction is not only widely read for its racy mix of sex, scandal and glamour but because of its devil-may-care female protagonists. From Lucky Santangelo to Fontaine Khaled, Jackie has come up with what she herself termed ‘kickass’ heroines at a time ‘wimpy’ existentialism was in.

What Jackie Collins never had was literary pretensions. Critics lambasted her plot lines and — unfairly — personal choices. In riposte, she said with great aplomb, “I’m a high school dropout who eavesdrops.”

That Collins would not settle for an average life was decided pretty early on. She was expelled from school, surrounded by rumours of going around with none other than Marlon Brando by the tender age of 15. With an easy access to the glitz of showbiz — with her father being a talent agent and her older sister Joan Collins a movie star — she did give acting a try, with unimpressive outcomes.

She found herself in a number of B-grade films and forgettable television fare. Around this time, in 1961, she married Wallace Austin, who was allegedly a drug addict. After four years of turbulence, she left him for Oscar Lerman, 20 years her senior. They were together for 27 years, until Lerman fell prey to prostate cancer.

Jackie’s connection with Hollywood was always a source of gossip and inspiration in her life. Early in life, she shifted base to Beverly Hills and thereon, she observed people around her to come up with elaborate plotlines and complex characters. Many a time, Collins came close to being accused of writing about a celebrity in the guise of fiction. But she was always rather open about it. In a recent tweet she declared, “I love writing about Hollywood. So many stories, so little time!!”

Prolific writer that she was, 78 years wasn’t lifetime enough for Collins to put all her ideas to paper. Even the bitterest of critics are taking a moment to admire the dignity with which Collins fought her battle with cancer without even taking Joan, her sister, into confidence. Like the ‘kickass’ heroines she created, Collins did not let cancer pale her enthusiasm for life.

Such a woman indeed deserves the words, ‘She gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure’ on her tombstone.




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