Between The Covers

Alan Shepard
It's no wonder that Jackie Collins has been dubbed the Queen of the Hollywood Novel. She is a full-fledged member of the glamorous club she writes about, reports CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver.

"I'm not outside the mansion, hammering on the door to get in. I'm in there, in the party, watching the room for you," she says.

Watching what the papparazi can't see and writing about it all - the secret power struggles of the rich and famous, the kind of people who win and lose, lust and love are all in her books.

The men are so handsome, the women are so that what people want to read about?

"Yes, I mean if I'm going to write a guy, I'm not going to write a short fat guy with no personality and no hair. I'm going to write tall, dark, handsome, Italian maybe, and you know, if I'm going to write about a woman, why write about an unattractive one," she says.

So, meet Madison Castelli, a central character in Collins's new book, "Deadly Embrace."

From reading, Madison at 30 was a striking looking woman, tall and slender with a small waist and exceptionally long legs.

"Everybody wants to identify with her. Women want to identify with her and men want to sleep with her and that's what's nice about the character...and that's why they like my books," Collins says.

Collins could be a character in one of her own novels!

"Grew up in London, my father was a theatrical agent," she says.
He despaired as his rebellious teen-aged daughter would sneak out of the house at night.

"We lived in a basement apartment, it was very convienient and I would just, you know, bolster up my bed and go out the window," says Collins "I was a wild child."

"My parents actually said to me one day, 'You know, it's reform school or Hollywood,' and I thought for a while and I said, 'You know what I think? I'll take Hollywood, because my sister was a movie star there.' And I thought oh, this will be good you know," says Collins.

In case you've been on another planet, her sister is actress Joan Collins.

So lets get this part out of the way. Is she and sister Joan friends or rivals?

"We are great friends. It's interesting that people try to make us rivals," she says.

Collins proudly points out that she turned her novel, "The Stud," into a film, just to give Joan the starring role:

"I wrote the movie for her and she was fantastic in that role. And I created it for Joan, because she kept…and this is going to sound terrible, but she can play a really great bitch. She's an actress after all," says Jackie Collins.

But back to our story: In 1953, Joan was so busy being an actress that she went off on location just as 16-year-old Jackie arrived to live with her. Joan left Jackie her apartment and the chance to explore Hollywood.

Jackie had a short fling with Marlon Brando.

"Yeah, and that was a very short fling and he was my favorite movie star and you know, Marlon's' great," she says.

How long did it last?

"It was just a quick, you know, kind of a few months…I don't talk about my own sex life. I just write about other people's," says Collins.

Well, not always. If you wonder if she has done all the sexual stuff in the book, Collins says, "Well of course. I mean I can't make this up."

For a while, Collins tried acting small parts, like a secretary in the 1958 film, "Safecraker" opposite Ray Milland.

She's been married, divorced and married again, the second time to American businessman Oscar Lerman. They were together for 24 years, until his death in 1992. And it was he who convinced Jackie Collins that she could become what she had always wanted to be, a writer, urging her to complete her first book, "The World is Full of Married Men."

"He said, 'You know, you've really got a talent for story telling.' He said, 'You've got to pursue this,' and I said, 'Yeah. Well, I'm gonna write another book.' He said, 'No, no pursue this, finish this book!' So it was like a challenge," she says.

Published in 1968, the book, written in long hand as were her others, became a bestseller, the first of 22!

Raking in tens of millions of dollars and making her one of the top-selling authors in history, her books - "Hollywood Wives," "Hollywood Husbands," "Rock Star" and "Lucky" among them - are published in 40 different countries.

"I think this is Chinese," she says. "Let's see. Chinese, of course; it's backwards. "Last year I went to the eastern bloc countries. I went to Budapest and to Warsaw. I'm very big in Russia, because Russia is full of hookers and gangsters and I write about hookers and gangters."

So how many books she has sold altogether?

"Over 300 million, that's in all the countries, of course," she says.

In fact, at age 61, Jackie Collins, has become a brand. Her books, like "Lady Boss" about the beautiful and independent Lucky Santangleo, have become a staple of television miniseries.

Her famous jewelry collection led to a "Jackie Collins" line on the Home Shopping network.

For a while, she even had her own syndicated TV show. And she's about to launch a new radio show. But for now, she's content to be a guest on other programs, hugging host Craig Kilborn even though he claims he's never read any of her books...

During that interview, Collins asked him: "You don't want to read about strong, sexy aggressive wome?"

Kilborn shook his head and said no. "Because you're frightened," Collins said with a laugh.

"These super vixen kung fu their way from the casting couches of Hollywood to the board rooms of New York and they don't even break a sweat," says columnist and professional trend spotter Simon Doonan.

Doonan introduced Collins at a recent event in New York. He says her appeal is in the fact that her books are so much better than reality.
"When you go to Los Angeles and you want it to be sleazy and fast and a little bit nasty, and you go there and its really not quite living up to your expectations. But you read Jackie Collins. And its all there, everything you want Hollywood to be is in a Jackie Collins novel," says Doonan.

Her fans agree: "It's a certain type of lifestyle of just being young and beautiful and just having like all these guys around you all the time."

But sometimes the critics are not so kind.

In one review, about "Hollywood Wives, The New Generation," the reviewer wrote, "Collins wires the plot together with all of the subtlety of a Wonder bra." In another review of "Lucky Boss," the New York Times said, "Collins creates people so wooden they could be made into coffee table."

Does that hurt?

"No, I am so used to it," she says. "You know, one day I decided I'm not going to read the good ones and I'm not going to read the bad ones. But of course you read them anyway. But I'm not going to take any notice of them."

In fact, it seems as if Collins has always been defending her work, always acknowledging that she is writing the ultimate beach read, the guilty pleasure.

"Sometimes people say to me, 'Don't you want to write a literary masterpiece?' And I say no. I love what I do. I love writing about life in the fast lane," Collins says. "I'm not pretending to be a literary writer; I'm a storyteller."

With a lot of imitators, many people have tried to become the next Jackie Collins.

"Oh, that's funny, I love that," she says. "Why do you see these things in the papers all the time where it says: Jackie Collins move over. If I had a dollar for everytime I've seen 'Jackie Collins move over,' the thing is I'm not moving anywhere."

And why should she?