A documentary about the charismatic, best-selling novelist Jackie Collins airs on CNN June 27th. It's called LADY BOSS: THE JACKIE COLLINS STORY. Starting in the late 1980s, when I was one of the daily VH1 veejays (along with Rosie O'Donnell), Jackie Collins became an unexpectedly dear buddy with our first meeting. She was promoting her naughty and entertaining novel, ROCK STAR, on my show.
Jackie, a sophisticated pro at self-promotion, was talking about ROCK STAR. That book kept me thoroughly entertained. She adored the sexy naughtiness, rebellion and vibrancy of the rock scene and it's obvious in that MTV-flavored novel. Jackie was always a delicious guest -- smart, spontaneous, frank and funny. To me, there was a touch of the "Auntie Mame" about her in her manner, in her style, in the way she kicked conservative smugness to the curb and embraced diversity.
Just because you and a celebrity click during an interview and establish a good rapport doesn't mean you two are instant best friends. I've clicked with several stars in interviews, if I say so myself, and I worked with Whoopi Goldberg for two years, sitting next to her as we performed on weekday morning radio. However, I couldn't call, text or otherwise contact those stars personally to go grab a bite to eat. I knew how to do my work, be professional and then keep my polite distance.
But Jackie Collins was different. After our first interview experience, on VH1, she kept in touch. She may have been all dolled up in her Beverly Hills best, but there was always a working class warmth and sincerity about Jackie. She had a down-to-earth quality that carried over into her writing.
I interviewed Jackie on VH1, taped an interview in her Beverly Hills home, chatted with her on a live afternoon ABC News magazine show that aired on Lifetime TV and interviewed her on the local Fox TV morning show called "Good Day New York." One time, she was in Manhattan a couple of weeks after a relative died. I knew where she was staying and sent flowers. Her assistant called to thank me on her behalf the very day they were received. When Jackie was pitching her own TV project to a popular cable network, she called to tell me I was part of her pitch. She wanted me as a regular. When she heard I was in L.A. for some auditions, she invited me to a party she threw at a West Hollywood club. It was around the time her movie/TV star sister, Joan Collins, had written a debut novel that had just hit bookstores.
When I saw Jackie at the party, I asked "Did you read Joan's book?" I giggled after she answered "Yes. Which is probably more than she did."
About Jackie's novels. During the New York summers when I'd see folks reading on the subway, in diners and at the beach, I always noticed how popular Jackie's books were with Black and Brown women. Starting with ROCK STAR, I noticed how racially inclusive her collection of characters were. She created Black and Brown working class professionals who were substantial characters and not just sidekicks or stereotypical. Jackie's affection for the working class was no surprise to me. That's something she had in common with Charles Dickens -- and Jacks had a hardcover copy of pretty much every story Dickens wrote on her bookshelves at home.
I greatly appreciated the racial diversity in her novels and, in a casual conversation, asked her about it. She told me that she did it on purpose. She included undeniably Black and Brown characters so that, if Hollywood adapted the book into a big screen feature, Black and Brown actors would have work.
For someone who was such a Hollywood insider, why didn't movie studios give the sexy Jackie Collins best-sellers the same attention it gave Jacqueline Susanne of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS fame? Her books were made into movies. Jackie was a better writer.
One thing about her career as an author that irked her -- and rightfully so -- was that, despite her many novels about Hollywood wives and husbands and her LADY BOSS Lucky Santangelo novels, critics never described her as "prolific." They saved that word for the boys such as Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy. Jackie Collins was indeed a prolific author, one who championed racial diversity long before the Twitter hashtag "Oscars So White" was one thing that made the lack of inclusion a hot topic issue.
2015 was a rough year for me. I was unemployed and financially struggling. A bright spot was receiving an email from Jackie's office. She'd be in New York City in June to promote her new novel and she wanted me to be her interview for a special lunchtime appearance in Bryant Park. Of course, I gratefully agreed to do it.
It was wonderful to see her again in person. I did notice she was slimmer and, physically, a tad slower. But she still had that Jackie energy. As we walked to Bryant Park for the appearance, she asked me how I'd been. She leaned in to give full attention to my answer. I told her that the Recession hiad walloped me. I was living with friends temporarily and seeking work. She looked me straight in the eyes and passionately said, "Don't give up."
The June 18th Bryant Park appearance was a success. I had no idea when I hugged and kissed Jackie good-bye, and thanked her, that she was battling an illness. She passed away a few months later. Jackie Collins was a dear lady who was quite gracious and attentive to me for a long time. I miss her very much.