The only way to live happily in Hollywood is not to need anything from anyone.
--Novelist Jackie Collins
All Hollywood, unlike all Gaul, can be divided into two parts: the Players and the Observers. The Players have the power, primarily to say yes or no, and to sign checks--while the Observers (if they're very lucky) have all the fun. At the top of the heap of observers is someone called the Hollywood Novelist. It's a misleading label. Truman Capote was a Hollywood novelist, though he never wrote a book about Hollywood; Judith Krantz is not a Hollywood novelist, because she has only a passing grasp of the Players.
In simple terms, the Hollywood novelist understands gossip. The ultimate Hollywood novelist was Jacqueline Susann, of course, because she understood the Players perfectly. Her novel "The Love Machine" was said to be "loosely based upon" former CBS president James Aubrey, but Susann didn't work that way. Over a two-year period, Aubrey, her neighbor in New York, would meet with Susann and fill her in on the backside of the TV business. What she didn't get from Aubrey, she got from her imagination.
The new Hollywood novelist (usually there's only one at a time) is Jackie Collins. Her current book, "Lucky" (Simon & Schuster, $17.95), isn't about Hollywood proper but, like its predecessor "Hollywood Wives," it might as well be. Both novels are about Hollywood as a state of mind.
"Can you imagine the characters in 'Final Cut' or 'Indecent Exposure' appearing in my books?" Collins asked the other day. "The deeds done in those books are too gruesome for fiction. By the second page you hate those people. I have to tone my characters down, I promise you. 'Final Cut' only reads like a novel if you know it isn't."
But Collins, the younger sister of "Dynasty's" Joan, is intrigued enough to next tackle the men of Hollywood; the Players, in other words. "Hollywood Husbands" is the logical successor to "Hollywood Wives," the book that topped the New York Times best-seller list for nearly four months, sold 5 million copies, was printed in 30 languages and got turned into a TV miniseries. "Wives" dealt more with the social and sexual rituals of power women. From bedrooms to board rooms is where Jackie Collins wants to go next.
"I'm a street writer who doesn't pretend to be anything else," she said the other morning, lounging in the living room of the house "Baby Doll" bought for Carroll Baker. "I'm not grammatical in the way I talk, or in the way I write, and I don't pretend to be. I'm a high school dropout who eavesdrops. I don't type, but I once told my typist--this dear lady who came every Friday to pick up the weeks' pages--'All right, you fix my grammar.' Well she did, and I couldn't bear it! 'Put it all back the way it was,' I told her. Pick up a page, any page, of writing by Truman Capote and you will find that he was incapable of using the wrong word. His writing is timeless, extraordinary. I'm just trying to give people a little piece of 1985."
How she does it draws envy from even her detractors. (And there are many. Early reviews of "Lucky" are not lovely. People magazine calls the book "a profusion of worn-out plots.") Somewhere in the middle of her 40s, she already has weathered 10 novels, three screenplays, a 19-year marriage, three daughters and yet maintains the kind of low profile that lets her roam Farmers Market unobserved. What's curiouser is that she runs her house without a secretary, or a cook, or even a sounding board for her writing. (Her husband, disco owner Oscar Lerman, reads the manuscript only on completion.) "Lucky" is the first book for which she had an American contract, and it was the kind of contract no editor can fiddle with. From Collins' lips to Simon & Schuster's pages, "Lucky" is the very long, lascivious sequel to "Chances," her 1982 Mafia opus (the one insiders called "The Godfather Goes to Bed").
Two weeks ago "Lucky" so bombarded bookstores (first printings total 335,000 copies) that even Judith Krantz, visiting from her home in Paris, made the rounds of Beverly Hills bookshops to make sure she'd not been forgotten. Collins, too, was around town, signing books and talking on TV, and preparing for another ritual, the Book Tour. The Observer is looking a lot like a Player these days.
On the tour she will give the standard Jackie Collins Interview, the sexy-chic rapid-fire repartee about Hollywood lawyers who get "loss of status settlements" for the divorcing wives of Hollywood stars. ("In other words, the wife gets some money and loses some identity, as in the corner table at Ma Maison.") The Jackie Collins Interview will get as peppery as the airwaves allow, but it will miss the point entirely. The point is that Hollywood has changed, though Detroit would rather not know that. So the Jackie Collins Interview won't disillusion Detroit.