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The Adventures of Writer Jackie Collins, Keyhole Kop : Novelist Stirs Up the Dirt Her Hollywood Friends Dish Out

August 23, 1987|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

A small earthquake registering moderately severe on the Beverly Hills panic scale is rumbling from Malibu to Hollywood. Jackie Collins is finishing her 12th novel in 20 years this month, and her friends already are feeling the aftershocks.

On this particular night, the epicenter is located at Spago.

Standing in the garden terrace, a drink in one hand, a slice of pizza in the other, producer David Niven Jr. whispers conspiratorially. "People keep saying to me, 'David, don't you think you should write a book?' But how can I when everything, everything , I have ever done, said or thought appears in Jackie's novels.

"There's nothing left," he laments. "I don't know why the headings on some of the chapters shouldn't be, 'I'd like to dedicate this to. . . . ' "

At the other end of the restaurant, Alana Hamilton Stewart, ex-wife of actor George Hamilton and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" singer Rod Stewart, admits she tells Collins too many intimate details about her marriages. "I trust her completely to change the names so I'll be safe. Otherwise," Stewart adds, her eyes opening wide, "I'll kill her."

Actress Angie Dickinson is warier. "I love her but that doesn't mean I trust her," she confides in a corner of the room. "I mean, she'll take notes right in front of me."

Timely Entrance

Super-agent Irving Lazar sees himself in every Collins book. "I'm always the guy getting out of bed!" he says. And "Tonight Show" producer Fred de Cordova is awaiting Collins' latest opus "to see if I'm in it."

As if on cue, the 46-year-old writer makes her entrance.

Dressed in her trademark animal prints (a black-and-white tiger-striped outfit this time out), the tall brunette has warm greetings ("Kiss, kiss") for everyone. After all, these are more than just friends. These are the sources for most of the tastiest parts of her novels. As she collects every gossipy morsel ("You must be joking. You're not? How wonderful!") the ground imperceptibly shakes. If information is power, then Collins is a veritable 800-pound gorilla. "It is amazing what people tell me," she says.

One of the publishing industry's best-selling quartet of novelists, along with Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steele, Collins was crowned by literary critics long ago as the undisputed queen of flash-and-trash fiction. Indeed, she is expert at producing the sort of books that serious readers are embarrassed to be seen devouring.

These days, both her admirers and detractors agree that, if nothing else of merit, she accurately captures the people, places and peccadilloes of popular culture in her novels. In Los Angeles, that means fading film idols who contemplate face-lifts, Rodeo Drive shopping sprees, Bistro Garden lettuce lunches and seedy Sunset Boulevard motel rooms.

No doubt, that's why Collins is now amusingly referred to as the Margaret Mead of Hollywood.

"I want to be remembered for writing books that really reflected the particular time I wrote them in," Collins says. So if her books contain a lot of sex and scandal, "that's just because they're mirroring what happens daily in Hollywood," she maintains.

Indeed, whether she lurks around the dinner table with her notebook at the ready, steals off to the bathroom at a private party or restaurant to jot down conversations, or sweet-talks a show business star into revealing private confidences, Collins is unabashedly blatant about prying into the private lives of her best-connected friends and associates.

Never Credited

"I think Jackie's lucky that she has lots of friends who lead such fascinating lives," muses Niven, one of her best friends. "Unfortunately, you're never credited for having given her these stories."

A few days after the Spago party, Collins is rummaging through an overstuffed desk drawer in the second-floor study of her Beverly Hills home, once owned by Carroll Baker. She triumphantly holds up a torn scrap of paper with scribbling on it. "Ah, here are some good lines," she says, as excited as an explorer who was found buried treasure.

There's the Hollywood wife who said she was going to make a will and leave her plastic surgeon to her husband. There's the producer recalling how every time his father punished him as a child, his mother would shout, "Don't hit him in the mouth! It will cost $600 to get his teeth fixed!" And there's the wife who threw a 20th anniversary party and invited all her husband's mistresses.

Sometimes, she'll go through the drawer filled with half-filled notebooks and newspaper clippings and magazine articles and look for "something good." Whenever she's in need of inspiration, "this drawer is invaluable," Collins says.

She seems to have a credibility with readers that other authors of the genre don't. "When people read my books, they know they're reading the truth."

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