Filthy and disgusting? Thank you Jackie Collins

Anthea McTeirnan on an illustrious career that brought pleasure to at least 500 million people

File photograph of Jackie Collins who has died aged 77 after a   battle with breast cancer. Photograph: PA

File photograph of Jackie Collins who has died aged 77 after a battle with breast cancer. Photograph: PA

 

Can “filthy and disgusting” be bettered as an epitaph?

Maybe not.

Jackie Collins, who passed away from breast cancer in LA this weekend, was thus described by the romantic writer Barbara Cartland, when her debut novel, The World is Full of Married Men, hit the shops in 1968.

Cartland had an attack of the vapours when she discovered that the plot concerned a woman who was definitely not a “lady”. A woman who cheats on her husband and who likes sex with married men. Gosh. This was “way before its time” Collins said later.

Thus began an illustrious career that brought pleasure to at least 500 million people and spanned nearly six decades.

Jackie Collins definitely brought pleasure.

Every year we would have a reading day at school and every year I would smuggle Jackie in beside the great and the good. We would have to say which writer we had chosen to read. I always said: Jane Austen. Which, in a way, Jackie Collins was. Just with more bodily fluids.

Jackie taught us hard lessons with her tales of hard bodies doing hard things.

Lovers and Gamblers, is still getting rave reviews on Amazon, even though it was published in 1977. “What a wonderful story,” writes Natasha. “For some reason, you just had to love Al even though he was crude, arrogant and so damn nasty to women, I just couldn’t help but like him.”

Collins’ longest novel, her Middlemarch if you will, tells the story of rock superstar Al King and Dallas, the beauty queen who has a secret the tabloids would love to tell. “Together, they’re on a wild ride from London to New York, from Hollywood to Rio and the steaming jungles of the Amazon, where all their dreams and nightmares are about to come true…” That’s what it says on her website. And no one sums it up like Jackie.

Trips to the dentist remain a little unnerving to this day, thanks to Ms Collins. (This has nothing to do with extraction, quite the opposite, in fact.)

Jackie gave us bad boys, but she also gave us bad girls.

We may have lost Jackie, but we will always have Lucky.

Lucky Santangelo, one of Collins’s most endearing and enduring creations, is still on the go, and she still carries a gun in her handbag.

“When Lucky came to me I thought, fuck it, I have read so many books where the women are having nervous breakdowns in Harrods and all they can think is, ‘Isn’t it terrible, is he going to marry me?’ - soft, wimpy women. I wanted to write a real kick-ass heroine, and she’s still going strong.”

So Collins gave literary birth to gangster’s daughter Lucky.

In the days before we even knew that sexuality was a fluid thing, we all wanted to sleep with the gorgeous Lucky. Nice work Jackie.

And in spite of Joan Collins, her film-star older sister, the rich, nightclub-owning second husband, the pools, the leopard print, the designer sunglasses, Jackie was our girl.

Her past intrigued with its glamorous familiarity.

Jackie’s earliest ambition was to climb out of her bedroom window and hang out in nightclubs around Leicester Square. Her mother was beautiful but Jackie never saw her read a book. Her father was “very handsome, but he was a bit of a chauvinist,” she would say.

Every Friday night, the Collins parents would have a card party. “I would hide on the trolley - my mother would do this big trolley of food to take in to the men - so I could hear what men said about women. From an early age I got the impression of the double standard, and have been writing about it ever since.”

Thank goodness Jackie Collins was hidden under that trolley. She has reflected the truth about the division of gender power right back at us - and in a very pleasantly satisfying way.

And she understood.

“It wasn’t just the sex, but the premise of the book in which a man who leaves his wife for his mistress is sent packing when she says she isn’t interested in marriage. Men were outraged by it,” Collins told the Guardian about her first foray into publishing.

Jackie wasn’t outraged by it at all.

“Well, I am amused by it. And I can write about anything I want. I can create anyone I want, kill off anyone. It’s a great power, being able to do that.”

As for Fifty Shades of Grey and all the juices it got flowing recently.

Jackie was not impressed.

It did, she concedes, get people reading but “I think that the term ‘mummy porn’ is totally degrading to women,” she told Gloria Hunniford on Loose Women.

“If we are going on holiday, do we really have to take a suitcase with a whip and chains?” What would the poor customs officer say?”

She was always thinking of the needs of others. For that, Jackie Collins, we thank you.

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