NEW YORK — Earnest Jackie Collins fans — and those who couldn’t resist the idea of Barneys’ Simon Doonan interviewing the diva — gathered at the 92nd Street Y on Monday night for a little entertainment of the literary sort. “The late Louis Malle called her Hollywood’s own Proust,” Doonan tells the audience, peering over his reading glasses. “She is the Shaq of erotic thrillers.” He sits and listens with a contemplative look while Collins takes the podium to read from her latest work, “Deadly Embrace.” She dons her own reading glasses and sets off, with just a hint of a faded British tone, to describe a beautiful, predatory magazine editor, a mysterious mafioso past and a gaggle of men in ski masks who burst into a restaurant with Uzis. Doonan struggles to keep his giggling at bay. The audience is in hysterics. And by the end, Collins herself is laughing. She’s loving it. “And that’s just the first three pages,” she says.
“Deadly Embrace,” the writer’s 22nd book, draws not only on Collins’ wickedly vivid imagination, but her own experiences in Los Angeles. “I was driving this new Mercedes, putting in the code at my friend’s gate, when this guy appears with an Uzi at the window,” she says casually. “He says, ‘Don’t move, bitch, or I’ll blow your bleeping head off,’ and I thought if I wrote that, no one would believe it. It’s too corny. So I wrote it. I hit the accelerator and left him standing there holding his Uzi, so to speak.”
But Collins has always chosen a life in the fast lane. “As a girl, I was always climbing out of the window,” she says. “My parents said, ‘Reform school or Hollywood,’ so I chose Hollywood.” At 15, she was shipped off to live with her movie-star sister, Joan, who tossed her the keys to the apartment, told her to learn how to drive and promptly took off for a location shoot.
She’s loved Hollywood ever since. Every morning, Collins rolls out of bed there, plays a little Alicia Keys or cues up an Usher disc, then puts pen to paper, writing about the brassy, ambitious women who are her hallmark. “I’ve always written strong women. They’re never sitting around waiting for a cold phone to ring,” she says.
“Are you a feminist?” Doonan asks with a sly grin.
“I find the feminist movement very strange. You’d never see a bunch of men saying we’re going to burn our jockstraps.” Collins quips. “I’m a feminist in my own way.”
Doonan flips through a stack of cards, reading through questions from the audience.
“Who is the ultimate Hollywood wife?” he asks, “Candy Spelling?”
“I like Candy a lot; she’s a wonderful woman,” says Collins. “She wears jewelry with her track suit.”
And what does she think of Hollywood’s young stars, Doonan asks? “You could pluck them from a premiere and put them on a street corner,” snaps Collins. “They all look like hookers.” She also despises their revealed thongs — something she calls “the plumber look” — and all those yoga-loving L.A. denizens who promote a false spirituality.
“They do all this, then they diet and inject poison into their faces and they go upstairs and do coke,” says Collins.
Still, it’s Hollywood’s bad behavior that has kept Collins in business. “People behave so badly,” she says. “I like to chronicle those people. It’s more fun. What I write is more true than the tabloids.”
And the people who behave badly always seek Collins out when they’re ready to confess. “People tell me everything,” she says. “A rock star came up to me at a party and said, ‘I’m going to tell you about me and these triplets.’ I made it twins in my book. Then I saw him after the book came out and he said, ‘I’m very mad at you. I told you — it was triplets.’”