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Private Lives

The Scheherazade of Those Hollywood Nights

August 02, 2000|BETTIJANE LEVINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elaine Conti awoke in her luxurious bed in her luxurious Beverly Hills mansion, pressed a button to open the electrically controlled drapes, and was confronted by the sight of a young man clad in a white T-shirt and dirty jeans [urinating] a perfect arc into her mosaic-tiled swimming pool."

--Opening of "Hollywood

Wives," Jackie Collins, 1983

*

Jackie Collins' characters are frequently caught in the act of doing something risque, contemplating doing it, or suffering the consequences of having done it too little or too much. The act they contemplate most, it seems, is sex. But even the tiniest nuances of naughtiness rarely escape the author's anthropological eye.

"I explore every little section of Hollywood life in my books," she says during a chat at her home. But what she explores most is the lives of Hollywood's High and Mighty. People with fame, glamour, money and power--or just with such incredible good looks that the world delivers multiple lovers and multiple you-know-whats to their boudoir doors--along with all the decadence, luxury and film land plot lines that make Collins one of the bestselling writers of our time.

With publication of "Lethal Seduction" (Simon & Schuster) last month, Collins is in the spotlight again with media types who don't always say they admire (or even read) her work, but who can't ignore the fact that 200 million of her books have been sold and that none of her 20 titles has ever been out of print. And she shows no sign of stopping. She is working on her 21st: "New Hollywood Wives," an update of the bestselling 1983 sizzler.

What's to update?

Well, pools and pool men are pretty much the same, she says. But the wives are totally different. "In '83, when I wrote the original, the wives of Hollywood's richest, most powerful men did lots of lunches and charities and always took second place to their husbands. They pushed their husbands invisibly, from behind. The husbands usually wound up having affairs because the wives became such [shrews]. But the wives held the purse strings, and that was their power."

Today, wives of Hollywood's top men "want to be ahead of their husbands," she says. "They push themselves forward, they want to be actresses, directors, producers. Usually, they are half-assed actresses when they meet the guy. Then they star in a few movies because the husband propels them into that.

"Then, whether they have the talent or not, they will definitely get the favors, the parts, the deals. And I'm sure you know who I'm talking about, but I'm not going to name names, because I never do," she purrs in her British lilt.

Mining Literary Gold From Beverly Hills

Where else would Collins live but dead-center in Beverly Hills, where so many of her fictional characters have caroused and cavorted? The exterior of her custom-built house is startlingly white, a modern mini-manse on a main street, where guests were greeted one recent day by a man named Ziggy. This would be a bad sign for any visitor who's actually read and absorbed Collins' books and learned that Beverly Hills etiquette demands hostesses personally greet all A-list guests. The riffraff gets met by the help.

Ziggy Kozlowski turns out to be a public relations man for Collins. He ushers guests through a pale marble entry hall with a 40-foot-high ceiling, dominated by a staircase so vast, broad and artfully curved that it could be a character in one of her novels. A perfect bridge to the boudoir, fit for Rhett and Scarlett, Fred and Ginger, or perhaps for Lucky and Lennie, who are the passion-plagued protagonists in some of Collins' Lucky Santangelo novels. Lucky, Collins admits with a smile, is her fictional version of herself.

She is in the beige, book-lined drawing room that opens onto a white courtyard with a large, rectangular pool copied from a David Hockney painting. As usual, she is packaged like the brand-name product she is. She wears a version of the broad-shouldered black jacket, T-shirt and slim pants she almost always wears in public.

The outfit gives Collins, at 5 foot 9, a strong, panther-like physique below the oval face framed by bangs and long, straight dark hair. At 59, she resembles TV's Xena, Warrior Princess, more than she resembles her older, more fragile-looking sister, Joan, whom she declines to discuss at any length because "we want to preserve our separate identities."

She will leave for New York this night, she says, to be interviewed by "some of my friends"--Matt Lauer, Larry King, Barbara Walters and Starr Jones, among others. On her return, she will tape "Politically Incorrect." And then she'll go back to her usual life--dinners at the Sunset Room, Reign, Le Dome or Spago; private screenings at friends' homes and writing the new novel.

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