Jackie Collins was reportedly not much of a fan of ’50 Shades of Grey’. ‘I prefer women who kick ass and don’t get their ass kicked!‘ she explained in 2013. She lived this mantra throughout her own life. For Jackie Collins, being an author had nothing to do with starving in a garret. Quite the opposite.
And Jackie Collins, who has died at the age of 77, was best placed to judge other authors of erotic romance novels. She was their queen. Long before ‘handcuffs’ and ‘Christian Grey’, Jackie Collins introduced us to ‘Chances’ and ‘Lucky Santangelo’.
‘Chances’ was about the Santangelo crime family. Gina Santangelo was the street kid who had made it all the way to the top. Lucky was her daughter. We didn’t need an overdrive promotional campaign to tell us what we already knew. Lucky was “sensual”; she was “stunningly beautiful”; she was “passionate”; and she was “utterly unforgettable”. She was a woman who dared to win her father’s empire for herself; a woman unafraid of taking…CHANCES.
Jackie Collins could have cashed in her chips with ‘Chances’. It was a huge success. Instead, she wrote a sequel or five about our heroine, including ‘Lucky’, ‘Lady Boss’, ‘Poor Little Bitch Girl’ and very recently, ‘The Santangelos’.
A winning PR strategy
In the midst of the sort of monster success to which authors aspire but rarely attain, Jackie Collins produced another Blockbuster Book. ‘Hollywood Wives’ was published in 1983 and reputedly sold over 15 million copies. We bought Hollywood Wives because we had a healthy suspicion much of it was real. Our suspicions were, of course, likely the calculated product of Jackie Collins’ formidable PR machine:
“From Rodeo Drive to Malibu to Palm Springs, nobody knows the glittering world of love, lust and betrayal like Jackie Collins. It’s her world…the glamorous, sinful, heaven-on-earth of…Hollywood Wives. The fabulous beauties, famous and infamous, tough, tan, terrific–married to success, divorced from care, flirting with scandal. They bewitch their men with sensuous cunning, naked and greedy under silk sheets, hungry to devour every new superstud. Supremely wealthy, utterly powerful, endlessly passionate, totally ruthless–the shameless women hold every shocking secret Jackie Collins reveals from the inside out…”
Reviews were breathless:
“The pages simply throb with the jungle beat of mating and the strange tribal rites of the women behind the men who make the movies.” — Los Angeles Magazine
“A sexy sizzler…”–USA Today
The sophisticated nature of Jackie Collins’ PR machine has continued to the present day. For evidence of this, look no further than Jackie Collins’ website. “Request a personally signed autographed photo of Jackie by mail”, the site suggests.
Spot how the author used this technique to maintain engagement with her loyal readers:
“I love signing autographs for my readers! Please fill out the form below to request a personally-autographed photo by mail. (Allow 4-6 weeks for US delivery and 6-8 for international delivery.)
When you submit an autograph request, I’ll also email you with news and updates about my new and upcoming projects, along with “members-only” exclusives and bonus content. Just make sure to confirm your email address.” [emphasis added]
What a fantastic promotional strategy.
Her PR strategy paid off
Is it any wonder that Jackie Collins’ net worth was said to be $180 million?
Contrast this to her equally famous actress sister, Joan Collins, who was said to be worth a comparatively lesser figure of $30 million.
This comparison suggests we should defer our plans to become a famous, glamorous film and TV star. Instead, the career of a famous, glamorous author looks much more lucrative.
Joan Collins sought to follow in her younger sister’s footsteps and become an author, leading to a high profile 1996 case. In 1990, Random House had offered Joan Collins $4 million in a two-book deal, and paid an advance of $1.2 million. However, the publishing house claimed the first of the two books was “unreadable” and sued for the return of the advance. It lost, and was required to pay another $1 million for the work she turned in.
Legal strategy went behind the scenes
What about Jackie Collins’ brand protection strategy? How did she legally protect her literary endeavor, her image, her right of publicity, and her privacy?
The answer is: It is difficult to say. Other than a reference to the occasional lawyer claiming to have represented her interests, in recent decades Jackie Collins kept the activities of her legal team firmly from the public eye.
This reticence could possibly lie in a negative litigation experience suffered by Jackie Collins in the 1980s.
She had sued Flynt Distribution Company, the publisher of an adult magazine called Adelina, for defamation in relation to its May 1980 issue. On page 119, Collins’ name appeared in bold print next to two photographs, one involving a single nude woman; the other an orgy scene of two men and three women. The photos were not of Collins but of actors in a movie for which she wrote the screenplay called “The World is Full of Married Men”.
A jury awarded her $40 million in an initial trial. However the trial judge thought this excessive and reduced the damages award to $10 million.
On appeal, the decision was overturned in its entirety, and Jackie Collins did not receive a dime.
The problem was that Jackie Collins was brought undone by the “public figure test”. A plaintiff in the United States cannot successfully bring a defamation claim if they are a public figure, unless he or she can show the defendant acted with malice. So too, if a plaintiff sues for a breach of the right to privacy in the United States (also unavailable in Australia), the public figure test can also apply.
The public figure test is not available in Australia.
Jackie Collins sought to convince the appeal court that she was not a public figure, but was rather a private individual. The problem for her was that even if this was so when she wrote the screenplay for “The World is Full of Married Men”, by the time she sued she was famous. Hollywood Wives had taken the world by storm. Lucky Santangelo books were in every airport newsagency.
Furthermore, according to the Court, her books were sexual in tone, meaning they were in the same pornographic market as ‘Adelina’.
What made things even more difficult for Jackie Collins was the blurring of her public and private image in her pursuit of the promotional dollar.
This is what the United States Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit (New York) said in 1984 (noting that Jackie Collins used her married surname when she sued). The court’s disapproving tone of her activities is not concealed:
The record before us reveals that Ms. Lerman has achieved international renown as the author of nine novels. Her books are decidedly controversial in nature because of her firm conviction–made the focal point of her comments to the press–that there is a pervasive inequality in the treatment accorded to females vis-a-vis males. This topic greatly appeals to the public since her books sell in the millions, are full of descriptions of sex, including deviate sex and orgies, and are heavily laden with four-letter words. … She has achieved a world-wide following, frequently appears as a guest on national TV and readily grants interviews to the mass media. On such occasions, one example of sexual inequality that Ms. Lerman uses refers to the fact that women more frequently than men appear unclad in films and magazines. This is unfair she claims because men have more opportunity to view undressed women than vice versa. She advocates “equal nudes for all.”
Ms. Lerman’s photograph is prominently displayed on the jackets of her novels that enjoy good reviews despite–or perhaps, because of–their description as “shocking,” “racy,” “sexy” and the like. She admits her books are considered “pornographic.” Her first novel was translated into 32 languages. Movies have been made of several and, as earlier noted, the picture of the nude actress that is the subject of this litigation came from the film based on her novel “The World is Full of Married Men.” Quite plainly Ms. Lerman is today in the forefront of women writing about sex and what is perceived of as a continuing double-standard in sexual mores. Thus, for plaintiff, seeking publicity both for herself and her books is part and parcel of her professional endeavors as a writer. The record plainly reflects her undoubted success in this effort. Her organized and ongoing effort to maintain media access, in order to call attention to her writings and disseminate her views on current sexual standards, helps to sell her novels and screenplays like the one “commented upon” in the May 1980 Adelina.
For the court decision, see here.
Amusingly, the Court also observed: “Ms. Lerman is quick to point out that some of her novels have been banned in Australia–a distinction similar to being banned in Boston.”
Jackie Collins might have been burnt from this litigation experience, but it by no means affected her capacity to maintain and grow her very considerable fortune in the ensuing decades.
Jackie Collins valued her relationship with the media
Jackie Collins was able to preserve her glamorous image even up to her death. Missing are the paparazzi shots showing the author in decline, which is somewhat surprising given the ‘all bets are off’ focus we have come to expect from modern media coverage.
It appears Jackie Collins maintained excellent relationships with journalists who in turn respected her need to maintain appearances. Perhaps that is why we are so shocked to hear of her death.
For evidence of this, see a recent article in Hello! magazine which likely preserved Ms Collins’ health secret when helping promote her forthcoming book. The journalist asked: “Will you ever put down your pen?” The response: “Never. I’ll be 110 and still writing.”
The generosity with which Ms Collins engaged with journalists is also plain from another recent interview published in The Huffington Post. The journalist reported in breathless tones: “Not only did I get to know more about the woman behind the best-selling books, I feel like I gained a confidant.” Is it any wonder she gained their support?
Some judges may not have understood Ms Collins. However, media agencies and the millions of people who read her books definitely did.
How we can learn from Jackie Collins’ approach
The rules Jackie Collins applied to her own life offer lessons for all potential author-tycoons:
- Always look fabulous
- Preferably live in the Hollywood Hills
- Have lots of celebrity friends
- Write books, the steamier the better
- Have a sophisticated PR machine
- Losing a court case is but one part of life’s spectacular journey
- Understand that you no longer have a private life to protect
- Make sure your public persona corresponds with how the public sees you, and how you want to be seen
- Bring the media into your circle of trust: Be generous with your time and warm in your approach; both sides will appreciate this is a mutual bargain which means they will look after you
Vale Jackie Collins