Back in the days I had no experience of what Jackie Collins meant when he described a boy’s hand under his girlfriend’s skirt, I spent my holidays shuttling back and forth between my father and mother, a long distance trip between UK and Cyprus. In those days, cigarette smoking was allowed at the back of the plane, which is where my teenage self sat, reading my surreptitiously bought – and totally misunderstood – copies of Jackie’s bonkbusters which proudly gleamed in all airport book stores. Hollywood wives, Chances and Lucky taught me about sex. They taught me about corruption, lust and power. And more…
The Stud, tells the tale of arrogant, handsome but ignorant Tony Blake born of cliched working class origins, his manipulative – extremely married – boss Fontaine Khaled who uses Tony as a sex object to satisfy her own desires as well as passing him round her circle of rich friends and Fontaine’s adolescent stepdaughter Alexandra, immature, rich and innocent, at least at first. Tony runs ‘Hobos’, Fontaine’s celebrity filled club in London’s swinging 60s. It tells an unvarnished account of those committed to hedonistic living.
But no review of Jackie and her novels would be complete without mentioning her sister Joan. After all, the soft porn adaptions of The Stud and The Bitch (its sequel) were released ten years later, and are credited with relaunching Joan Collins’ career, propelling her into Alexis Carrington fame. It’s been noted by many – including herself – that Jackie Collins’ books are accounts of real events, fictionalised. It has been noted elsewhere, that Joan Collins’ acting success is because she essentially plays herself in her sister’s films, a role which she took up again in Dynasty. Both the film of The Stud and the book are filled with two dimensional archetypes. Strong but cruel women, dedicated to the pursuit of money, sexual satisfaction and power. Ambitious, abusive men playing games to gratify their own desires. Generally monied, corrupt and greedy people sniffing around fame, popularity and all that glitters.
These stories – to all intents and purposes – are Jackie and Joan’s stories. Their catharsis was self-expression whether by writing or acting. Jackie, who reputedly had an affair with Marlon Brando when she was 15, married a drug addict and then a celebrity nightclub owner, Joan a Hollywood starlet of seductive films whose first husband drugged and raped her (and those are the disclosures on public record). The characters in The Stud are two dimensional of course, but they are also just like the media portrayals of Jackie and Joan, who display no fear or pain. They are larger than life characters able to survive in denial of their flaws, actions and the potential havoc they wreak.
In stories about survival, I don’t believe normative ethics can play a part. Rape, abuse, divorce, dismissal and blackmail are all part and parcel of these characters’ and the author’s lives. You do what you can, to survive.
This weekend, I revisited The Stud with older eyes. Jackie Collins’ second novel published when she was a young twenty something, is told from three first person perspectives. It’s raw writing but all the more crude and passionate for it. As concerns the plot, there is very little. But it’s nevertheless impressive how well Jackie manages to encapsulate three voices, each utterly different. Is Alexandra, Jackie herself, embarking on her own journey in the world she grew up in? Is Jackie’s nightclub hostess mother written in as Fontaine Khaled or is her mother instead the tragic figure Tony Blake, who’s used and abused by the rich and famous? We shall never know.
Read Jackie Collins’ work. Note the strength of those who use their sexuality to move up the food chain or maintain their position, the objectification and abuse – of both sexes – that litters every chapter. But don’t dismiss it as trash. To do so is to ignore reality, and if we ignore it we will never learn from it. These are real stories – toned down if Jackie’s own words are to be believed – of people who use the resources available to them to survive the harsh life of celebrity. I’d like to thank Jackie Collins for reminding me about our base human nature when cut comes to chase. For teaching me that denial isn’t always a bad thing when you just can’t bear the pain. Most of all, I’d like to thank her for sharing searingly honest stories of the people she knew, who were after all just like you and me, trying to survive in the severe climate of fame and money our society still insists on glorifying.