In 1983, my mother, the author Jackie Collins, published her ninth novel, Hollywood Wives, two years after moving our family from London to Los Angeles. The book went viral, long before content was contagious. Hollywood Wives sold more than 15 million copies.
All over the world, copies of the book could be found dog-eared and devoured at poolsides, on beaches and airplanes, and in bedrooms. Her demographic reached wide, and the book was unstoppable, unapologetic, unwavering in its scrutiny of Hollywood socialites, and utterly compulsive.
I think my mother’s books might have coined the term “guilty pleasure.” But my mother was wasting no time on guilt—her only concern was with pleasure.
Meanwhile, in 1983, I was around 13 years old, and while other teenagers were sneaking my mum’s books from their parents’ bedside tables, I was reading Judy Blume and writing moody poetry, entirely unaware of the archetypal influence my mother was wielding in her study down the hall. I didn’t start to read my mother’s books until many years later, but truly it is only now that I can look back and see the courage and canniness it took for her to write so boldly and hone her craft in the male-dominated world of publishing, which all too often tried to dismiss her talent as “trash.”
My mother loved telling me and my sisters that “girls can do anything!” And while my own observations of the world around me didn’t always corroborate that, my observations of my mother did.
On one hand she embraced a certain domesticity, doing the laundry and packing our school lunches, even at the height of her fame. On the other hand, she was a rebel, refusing to be defined by societal expectations, including the disapproving glare of her own father. When I was a teen, it was an oft-cited family legend that when she was not much older than I was, she was stuffing pillows under her covers after her mother kissed her good night and climbing out of her bedroom window in search of adventure.
One night in the 80s, she was held up at gunpoint in the driver’s seat of her car while dropping her friend home from a dinner party. She could have frozen. She could have surrendered and handed over the car. But instead, like a crazy kick-ass character from one of her books, she threw the car into reverse and sped away from the danger. The gunman was so shocked, he didn’t shoot.
That was one of her superpowers—shocking people. She was good at it, too, and loved turning the tables, on men, especially, and making them feel as uncomfortable as they had likely made her, and innumerable other women, feel.
My mother’s feminism was rooted in a fiery outrage at the inequality between men and women. This theme singes each page of her more than 30 books and set the world on fire when she wrote Hollywood Wives. She had infiltrated the elite inner circles of Hollywood’s rich and famous, blending in seamlessly, all the while taking notes. Her work was far from trash—it was the treasure that helped pave the path for movements like #Time’sUp and #MeToo.
My mother, who died in 2015, gave me the gift of a voice. I learned a great deal from her—not just from her writer’s voice, which was uniquely her own, but also from her fearlessness in speaking up and out.
She once sued a magazine distributed by Larry Flynt (of Hustler) because they published a nude picture of a woman and claimed it was her. After she died, we found a letter from Mr. Flynt which charmingly opened with the line “Get off your high horse you fuckin’ bitch.” That was the level of vitriol she had to contend with from men who felt threatened by her power. She never lowered herself to their depths. She held on to a sustained belief in herself that I can still feel resonating in me today.
Hollywood Wives is 40 years old, and my mother has been gone for almost eight of those years. We still hear from writers and readers all the time citing her as an inspiration, sometimes a lifeline, always a pleasure.
I recently re-read Hollywood Wives, and it was a riot all over again—irreverent, revealing, hilarious. If you miss her, I’d recommend picking it up one more time. I guarantee you will remember exactly where you were when you first opened those tantalizing pages—who can forget the pool guy pissing a perfect arc into Elaine Conti’s pool?
And if you’ve never read it before, you’re in for a treat. Indulge yourself and walk away satiated and guilt-free. Exactly what Jackie always intended …
A 40th-anniversary edition of Hollywood Wives, by Jackie Collins, will be published on July 11 from Gallery