You realize what makes Jackie Collins the perfect guide to Hollywood the minute she walks into the Beverly Hills Hotel. It’s not just that the zillion-selling author of Lady Boss, Hollywood Wives and so on is a consummate observer of the city’s native culture. It’s not just that she has more outfits than Barbie, and better hair. It’s not even that she’s the ever-so-slightly-tired-of-hearing-about-it sister of another major celebrity. (No, not Phil or Judy; Joan. Naturally the sisters love each other—air kiss, air kiss.)
No, it’s something else. Jackie Collins has an imperial self-possession, as though she were the bemused center of this busy, scheming town. In a city pounded by sunshine, where half the citizens wear Day-Glo raspberry stretch pants to work, she arrives decked out in a black sweater, dark slacks and chalk-stripe jacket. It’s an outfit that turns the whole color wheel of Los Angeles into the merest backdrop for her own sharply etched silhouette. It’s an outfit that says: “Why compete with the elements? Let the elements compete with me.”
So when she whisks you into the hotel’s Polo Lounge for lunch, it’s no surprise that half the room rises to greet her as she makes her way across the Loggia. Puckered lips fill the air. “Jackie!” “Honey!” “Great to see you!” She seems to have many, many friends these days, since the ratings success of Lucky/Chances, the NBC miniseries based on two of her books. Maybe that’s why, when she lowers herself into the seat held by the slightly star-struck waiter, she has a smile teeming with subtleties. She’s a name-brand author. It’s another fine day in this glittering world of lust, greed and betrayal. “I love Hollywood,” she says. “It’s the most incredible place to write about.”
Almost at once she starts casing the room. “I’m sure as I sit here today some bizarre bimbo will walk in with a producer wearing chains.” And just as quickly you realize that Jackie Collins knows…
THE TOP LOVE NESTS!
Look over there, at that couple sitting on the other side of the room. The woman is a surgically assisted 50-something blond. The guy is blond too, about 25 years younger and chinning himself on her every word. Our guide sums them up: “Hypothetically, I’d say she has a lot of money. She’s divorced, she likes young guys, and she’s taking him to the Polo Lounge to soften him up.” After a pause she adds, “Either that or she’s his grandmother.” At that, a waiter arrives at their table bearing two glasses of champagne. If this is Granny, then the smoldering smiles that they trade as they clink glasses give new meaning to the term “family reunion.” “Uh-oh,” says Collins. “I don’t think she’s his grandmother.”
This heartwarming scene leads Collins to reflect on Hollywood trysting places. “The Regent Beverly-Wilshire Hotel is the best place for flings,” she says. “If you’re caught in the lobby, you could claim you were going to Buccellati jewelers, which has a branch there. Then there’s the Bel-Air Hotel. You walk over a little bridge to enter, and it’s very discreet. The Beverly Hills Hotel is a little dangerous, unless you get a bungalow on the side street. Then you just give the person you’re meeting the number, and they don’t have to register.”
Actually, Hollywood trysting is not what it used to be, now that AIDS is the latest four-letter word, and drugs are passé. (“The in thing is to go to Betty Ford,” she says. “But even more in is to go to an out-of-state clinic. Elton John went to Chicago; you really get points for that.”) The new amusements in Hollywood are strictly prosaic. “Trains are a very hot new toy,” she explains. “Miniature trains. I know one actor who has a train set that runs all around the pool, into and around the house. Way back, it used to carry cocaine. Now I think it carries anticholesterol pills.”
Time to go. As the limo cruises silkily down Rodeo Drive, you realize Jackie of course knows…
THE SUPER STORES!
“Maxfields, on Melrose, is very in for men. Bijan,” your guide explains, pointing to the storefront, “is for the more excessive man.” The car comes to a halt in front of Fred Hayman’s, an open invitation to conspicuous consumption. As Collins forges across the threshold, half a dozen salespeople snap to attention. Handshakes, hugs, offers of espresso or a drink from the bar. (The bar?) Jackie’s eyes signal a polite “no, thanks” as she glides past the $9,000 spangled frocks to check out the jewelry counter.
Collins intently tries on a pair of simple gold earrings (which she buys). Then her eye is captured by a prime specimen of the local civilization, a woman with short red hair and the air of someone whose days are given over entirely to drifting through the pricier shops. Under one arm she’s clutching a furry little dog the size of a football. In no time, Collins has her pegged as one of…
THE HOLLYWOOD WIVES!
“A lot of movie stars’ wives will tell you they hate this town because people only want their husbands,” Collins explains as the limo takes off again. “The wife will be invited to a party, and she’ll say, ‘Oh, my husband will be out of town, but I’d love to come.’ Then she’ll be told, ‘Oh, we’ve just canceled the party. We’ve decided to have it another night.’ I’ve done things like that myself.”
The limo passes a nondescript site along Sunset Boulevard. “That’s Riley’s [salon],” she says. “An interesting place for gossip. The nail clinic or the hairdresser are the best places for it. There was this famous case of the woman sitting in a booth at the hairdresser, and in the next booth there was a starlet going, ‘Oh, I met this guy who is so great.’ She’s describing what he’s like in bed and what he bought her and how he’s going to dump his wife. P.S. It was his wife sitting in the next cubicle.”
A pause. Another smile teeming with subtleties. “Nothing happened. Because in Hollywood, wives hang on to their husbands. They won’t leave unless they’re absolutely forced to. Otherwise their whole status is gone. If they’re not a Hollywood Wife, they’re Mrs. Nobody.”
The limo is rolling toward Spago, where Hollywood’s mightiest go for the kind of calories you can burn off with a minute or two of shallow respiration. Which reminds you that Jackie knows…
THE POWER RESTAURANTS!
“People don’t brunch,” she says crisply as she hoists herself from the car. “They have breakfast. I know one executive who has three a day, at 7:30, 8 and 8:30. Lunch is Le Dome. It’s very rock and roll. Morton’s and Spago are the best for dinner. At Nicky Blair’s you would probably see Sylvester Stallone. Chasen’s is the old guard, Jimmy Stewart or Frank Sinatra or Gregory Peck.”
She leads the way through Spago’s back entrance. “The big stars like to come this way,” she explains. “There are usually fans out front.” Once inside, she spots her regular table in the corner, with a view that takes in all of downtown L.A. “The last time I was here,” she says, “sitting at one table was Mike Nichols. At another was Kathleen Turner. At a third was Clint Eastwood. And nearby”—meaning at her table—”were Sean Connery and Michael Caine.” She sighs. “It’s a lot like the neighborhood pizza joint.”
Outside the corner window, all across the fabulous view, the instant-lemonade sunlight is fading. It’s time for this tour bus to head home. It rolls back to Beverly Hills, to a backstreet house almost completely hidden from the street by palm trees. This stop on the Hollywood tour is special: It’s Jackie Collins’s own home. Her husband, art dealer Oscar Lerman, and two of their three grown daughters are inside. Where will the internationally famous author go from here? To a gala premiere? A black-tie fundraiser? Not at all. Because now you discover the most prized scoop of all. Jackie knows…
THE BEST DISH!
“I’m staying home and cooking tonight,” she declares, with a smile. “I make a great meat loaf.” And, as the front door swings grandly shut behind her, you imagine all the lawn sprinklers in the neighborhood twirling in tribute.