In pictures: The making of Jackie Collins, bestselling novelist


Jackie Collins at home in Los Angeles, California in 1956.

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By Breeanna Hare, CNN

Updated 9:59 AM ET, Sat June 26, 2021

Jackie Collins at home in Los Angeles, California in 1956.

Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Before Jackie Collins became a blockbuster novelist, she soaked up inspiration everywhere she could find it — including in Hollywood.

The author, born in London in 1937, was a rebellious teen with an observant eye and an archivist’s taste for documentation. When her older sister, Joan Collins, invited her out to California in the 1950s, Jackie eagerly joined her famous sibling and jotted down detail after detail of the parties, studio visits and poolside encounters.

The result became a treasured collection of snapshots and memories that reveal some of the formative years of the late novelist’s life. A little more than a decade after her time in California, Collins would publish her very first book — one that included a Hollywood power player among its cast of amorous characters.

The trailblazing and scandalous romp, 1968’s “The World Is Full of Married Men,” became an instant bestseller. And for the next 40-plus years, Collins would churn out dozens of sultry, chart-climbing tomes, each written with a signature cheeky style and insistence on celebrating female power and desire inside and outside of the bedroom.

When Collins died of breast cancer in 2015, she was remembered as one of the world’s top-selling novelists with more than 500 million books sold in more than 40 countries. These photos, some curated from her personal albums, capture an era that helped develop a future storytelling star.

For more on Collins’ life, watch CNN Films’ “Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story” on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Jackie Collins was born English but her style embraced the glamour of Hollywood. “Everybody has one wild time in their life, and if you’re lucky it’s early,” Collins told the Los Angeles Times in 1985. “At 15 I became a major juvenile delinquent in London, and I was expelled from school.” By 1956, she was in California with her star older sister, Joan Collins. “At the airport,” Collins told the Times, “Joan handed me car keys and said, ‘I’m off to a movie location. Learn to drive immediately.'”

Courtesy of The Jackie Collins Estate

The two sisters, seen here at the London Airport in 1955, had show business in their blood. Their father, Joe Collins, was a theatrical agent.

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Collins, seen in London in 1955, briefly followed in her sister’s footsteps and dabbled in acting, although her first love was always the written word. Despite not being encouraged to pursue writing as a career, Collins said in the LA Times interview that she “always, somewhere in the back of my head, knew I would write.”

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Here, Jackie (left) and Joan (right) caught up on correspondence while on location for Joan’s film “Land of the Pharaohs” in 1955. “When I started in movies she cut out every single thing that was in the papers, pasted them in scrapbooks,” Joan says in CNN Films’ “Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story.” “She was always scribbling away. I never really asked what she was writing but she was certainly writing.”

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In addition to keeping a record of her sister’s career, the future novelist maintained meticulously detailed diaries of her own adventures. Seen here on a Los Angeles beach in 1956, Collins described meeting the likes of Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Brigitte Bardot and — perhaps most infamously — Marlon Brando, with whom she reportedly had a fling. “I spoke to him quite a lot, he’s only my height and kind of fat,” Collins wrote in her diary, as read in “Lady Boss.” “He called me sincere, sweet and luscious.”

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“Mid-50s Hollywood was extremely glamorous,” Jackie’s sister Joan says in the documentary. “Brando and James Dean and a whole bunch of other people. And so Jackie joined the set.”

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Alongside diary entries chronicling her Hollywood adventures, Jackie Collins cultivated several snapshots of the era, including photos like this one of casual gatherings.

Courtesy of The Jackie Collins Estate

“Went to a cocktail party at Diana Dors, got very loaded,” Jackie wrote in one diary update. In another, “Went to a party where I danced up a storm to Voodoo Suite by myself.”

Courtesy of The Jackie Collins Estate

In California, “I was very taken by the people who came here to be stars,” Collins told the Los Angeles Times. “What I got was invaluable for a writer. I got characters, people who have been turning up in my books ever since.”

Courtesy of The Jackie Collins Estate

Every social event was an opportunity to catalog the details that would later give her novels an insider’s voice. “She would observe things in life and then translate them into books,” Collins’ literary agent Morton Janklow says in “Lady Boss.” “I could sometimes pick out the characters in her books who were based on real life people.” Here, Collins is seen with actor Ron Randell at a 1956 pool party.

Courtesy of The Jackie Collins Estate

Nearly 30 years after her first exposure to Hollywood, Collins crafted the 1983 bestseller “Hollywood Wives.” It was so popular it became the first in a series of books set in the industry. “‘Hollywood Wives’ is fiction,” Collins says in an interview featured in the documentary, “but of course it is based very much on fact.”

Courtesy of The Jackie Collins Estate

Collins, seen here with sister Joan in California around 1956, added that “to be successful you have to write about what you know. (And) whether I’m lucky or unlucky enough to know a lot about Hollywood, it’s what I like to write about.”

Courtesy of The Jackie Collins Estate

By October 1956, Jackie Collins had been called back home to London — but the memories of her stay overseas were duly noted. “That’s when I found out that she was writing down a lot of things,” Joan Collins says in “Lady Boss.” “She said, ‘One day, I’m going to write a book about all this,’ and I said, ‘Well, I think that’s a great idea (because) you know what Hollywood is really like.”

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At first, though, Collins continued to pursue acting, landing a handful of roles across film and television. Here, she’s seen in the 1957 comedy “Barnacle Bill,” also known as “All At Sea.”

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But Collins’ acting career never quite took off. In 1960, she married wealthy businessman Wallace Austin. “She’d been struggling in her career, she hadn’t really become an actress and she was really swept off her feet,” Tracy Lerman, Collins’ daughter with Austin, says in the “Lady Boss” documentary. “They went to Gstaad and they went skiing and he took her to Italy. It was an incredibly sort of whirlwind romance.”

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By 1964, Austin had died by suicide, and Collins had also suffered the loss of her mother, Elsa. “This was the defining point, I guess, in her life,” says Tracy, pictured here alongside her Aunt Joan and her cousin Tara. “To move on, to protect herself, she created a world for herself of wonderful characters who wouldn’t let her down. … To be able to sit down and write, that was her sort of lifeline.”

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But it wasn’t until 1965, when Collins’ met and married her second husband, nightclub owner Oscar Lerman, that the budding novelist was finally encouraged to pursue writing as a career. “I’d been writing all my life, I’d written a lot of half books that I hadn’t finished,” Collins shared in an archival interview featured in “Lady Boss.” “He was the first person that said to me, ‘It’s absolutely terrific and you can do it … you’ve got to finish it,’ and so I did. I’d never finished anything up until that time.”

The result was Collins’ first published novel and first bestseller, 1968’s “The World is Full of Married Men.” With its unabashed portrayal of extramarital affairs, the novel was criticized as “filthy” and banned in Australia and South Africa. Yet Collins didn’t let her critics slow her down: The book was the start of several to come that called out a cultural double standard for women and sex.

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“When my first book came out, everybody was shocked by it,” Collins told The Hollywood Reporter just before her death in 2015. “Women were writing about breakdowns at Bloomingdales and men and marriage and divorce and all of that, but I just got right to the nitty-gritty.”

And readers loved her for it. By the 1980s, Collins was a bonafide celebrity — and a Beverly Hills resident — who could wrap lines around a bookstore’s block. “My books are successful because I’m turning the double standard — men can get away with anything, women are not supposed to get away with anything — on its head,” Collins reflected in 1988. “Women have always been pushed into positions in the bedroom, the kitchen, the workforce. Women can do anything. I give that message in my books.”

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