"It's NICE here, isn't it?" Jackie Collins said in her clear, measured, L.A.-by-way-of-London tone. Jack Black and Dr. Phil were sitting nearby on the terrace of the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, but it was Collins' arrival that created the stir. A large diamond sparkled on her left hand, enlivening her appearance in a simple, tailored black suit, offset with dramatic hoop earrings. "I like to sit here where you can see everyone."
In person Collins is much like the content of her books -- chatty, funny, irreverent and knowing. Mostly, though, she is endlessly enthusiastic -- she will stop in mid-sentence to declare her various excitements over a singer ("Isn't Amy Winehouse amazing?"), TV shows, movie stars, friends or just her lunch. She ordered the Neil McCarthy salad. "This is the most delicious salad ever," she announced.
This summer saw the publication of Collins' 26th book, "Married Lovers," which centers on a woman named Cameron Paradise, a personal trainer, and a trio of men: a director, a screenwriter and a late-night talk show host, all set in the Hollywood of today.
It is pointed out that all the eligible men in her new novel are aged 40, while the heroine is 25. "Well that's this town, isn't it?" She laughed. "And all these women who are 40 are always with these guys who are 75 or 80!"
As she looked around the Polo Lounge, Collins recalled the point at which she decided to conquer America. Twenty-six years ago she wrote "Chances," the bestseller featuring Lucky Santangelo, the heroine who grows up in the mob and takes over the family business.
"If you wish to be successful," Collins said with the authority of an author whose books have reportedly sold more than 400 million copies, "there is a place you should be at a certain time. And Los Angeles in the 1980s was it. My books were quite successful around the world, but I couldn't quite crack America -- they would only be on the bestseller lists for a couple of weeks. So for 'Chances,' I wanted to be here to promote it. And it was the 10th-best-selling book in America that year.
"We embarked on a tour across America -- me, my husband and our three kids," she recalled, digging into her salad with ladylike gusto. "We would have brought the dogs, but that wasn't possible then. We took the kids out of school and everything. One of them was 9, one of them was 12 . . . oh, I'm not very good with ages, including my own -- it's all a horrible blur!
"Anyway, my publisher was paying, because it was a promotion tour, and we started in New York and moved across the country. Finally we arrived here at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and after a while it wasn't a tour anymore and so the publisher stopped paying our hotel bill, and we kept moving to smaller and smaller rooms till we were down to just two rooms. And we just stayed. We lived here for about six months, and then we rented a house Stevie Wonder had just vacated. And then we bought a house, and I've never left!"
All those Hollywood wives
It WASN'T until her next book, however, that she became a household name. "Yes," she agreed. "I didn't become established until 'Hollywood Wives,' which I wrote after I had lived here for a while and observed those women. Oh, my God! They were scary in the '80s!"
How did those Hollywood wives react to Collins when she was new in town? "They kind of ignored me," she said, laughing. "Then I wrote 'Hollywood Wives' and they kind of hated me. Now they're all nice because everyone loves success."
In "Married Lovers" there is a very funny scene in which some Hollywood wives go out to lunch. Collins describes their look: True Religion jeans, James Perse white T-shirts and the Birkin bag. "It's 'Hollywood Wives,' the next generation," she writes. "There's a new thing now," she said with a conspirator's smile, leaning in. "They've all got the same lips and they've all got the same cheeks because they have all this stuff pumped into their face. It all looks very baby-bottomish. They all puff up and then they have this long, straight blond hair and a bordering-on-anorexic figure, except for the boobs, which are always enhanced. . . ." She paused to take a breath. "It's kind of amusing," she drawled.
Collins raised three daughters in L.A., and it sounds as though her exposure to Hollywood wives made her a cautious parent. She stresses that she was "a very strict mother. I took them to school every day, cooked their dinner every night -- before I went out to the nightclubs -- and made sure that they were in bed and fed. I am very lucky; I have three great daughters. I made sure I was there for them, that they had a mother to come home to. You cannot just give children a Porsche and a credit card."