If you are a fan of Jackie Collins’ florid and racy descriptions, plots and characters, and especially if you adore the third wave “feminist” character Lucky Santangelo, you must run, not walk to screen the documentary LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story. The documentary which lovingly and cheekily chronicles the best-selling novelist which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival 2021 is set to premiere on CNN — Sunday, JUNE 27 at 9:00 PM ET and PT.
This is a must-see for many reasons, chief of which is director Laura Fairrie’s exhaustive research on Jackie Collins. The filmmaker reveals the woman behind her characters and examines her three marriages and how she was able to negotiate the changing view of women despite hawkish criticism at the end as the #METOO movement was forming its ethos. Of course the irony is that Jackie Collins exemplified with grace, power and vitality how women must “step up to the plate,” and take charge in a world of men.
Indeed, through a series of trials and errors that Collins reversed into boons, director Fairrie reveals the arc of her life story and solidifies that Collins was an overcomer who refused to take life in all its wheels and woes on the chin. It is an amazing history of sorrow, setback, triumph and reformation and at the end, courage and legacy. Fairrie shows great equipoise in her highlighting the competition with her sister Joan Collins who encouraged her to go to Hollywood and have a film career. She reveals Collins signed a $2 million-dollar-book deal, though in no way did she display the writing talent for description and story-telling that Jackie did. Acting on film and television was Joan’s medium. On the other hand Jackie’s talents were as an observer, a listener and wordsmith who converted life into art.
Using videos from personal archives starting when the Collins sisters were young up until her death of cancer in 2015, the sourced material is extensive and Fairrie cobbles it together switching different time periods. She organizes the documentary not chronologically but via themes that threaded through in Jackie Collins’ life. Thus, we follow videos of her troubled, brief, first marriage, to manic depressive drug addict Wallace Austin to her successful marriage to second husband Oscar Lerman and her third husband “larger than life-gigolo type character” in Frank Calcagnini.
This second marriage to the co-owner of the successful London celebrity nightclub Tramp lasted 23 years. It was Oscar whose supportive encouragement initiated Jackie’s writing career. With him she finished her first book, The World is Full of Married Men. Unlike Austin who was jealous, grasping and abusive, Oscar was a loving husband and father who adored Jackie. Because he was a success in his own right, he didn’t fear playing “second fiddle” to her growing celebrity as a best selling novelist.
Indeed, to burgeon her career, he agreed to move the family to Los Angeles when Collins decided to expand her empire and publicize her novels appearing on talk shows and soliciting media to improve US market share. The move brought the sisters together and Collins, who launched her own empire writing and marketing her work with aplomb was a maverick entrepreneur in the 1980s. Interestingly, she paved the way for another novelist empire builder from Scotland, J. K. Rowling.
Wisely, Fairrie includes video interviews from a host of family and friends that include clips of her daughters, Joan Collins, her friends (wives of celebrities) and Hollywood heavyweights at parties that Jackie went to (Michael Caine, etc.). In one segment, three friends share how they were Jackie Collins “best” friend. Another celebrity friend ironically indicates that Jackie was so saavy as to make everyone she spoke to feel important and loved.
She apparently also did this when she did book tours, signings and talks. There is a clip of Jackie taking the time to briefly chat with women fans creating long lines. However, her readers, who always came back for more, felt it was worth the wait to talk to the beautiful and talented novelist.
Jackie Collins’ life was difficult, especially with her third husband who was abusive. And it must have been heart-wrenching when she battled stage four cancer when no one knew or understand what she was going through, i.e. at times she had difficulty walking because she was in pain. However, her persona of “being Jackie Collins” moved her forward so that she triumphed with mind over matter determination. Much of the persona she created to discuss her novels helped her market herself and her works. Thus, she was able to rise to the top and have her novels serialized on television. Currently, her novels are contracted for films.
The smooth, lovely Jackie Collins persona arose especially when she was challenged for writing belittling characters who were not worthy of the fourth wave of feminism. She was measured, controlled and steely eyed in her responses, though the harsh critics attempted to bloody her. Sadly, they were intellectually inferior, missing the positive impact she had to empower women.
Though you may not be a fan of Collins’ racy, sexy, sometimes softly raw “hot and heavy” descriptions, her characters explore women’s sexuality and assertiveness as men’s was explored by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Her women are as bold and as assertive as men. She thrillingly portrays them so to demonstrate the intelligence and allure of inner strength and they eschew being men’s toys. The beauty of Collins’ work is that she elevated the esteem of women at a time when they needed to feel powerful sexually. She loosed women from the categories of “whore” and “slut” that women often used competitively against each other. She gave women permission to explore and revel in their own identity.
Collins’ descriptions openly presented sexual women who enjoyed the pleasure they found. For that reason her novels are a success. Though the current wave of feminism which is hyper-aware of men’s predation, having suffered through the menopause of late revelation (i.e. Placido Domingo’s forward behavior of forty years ago) her writing is skilled, arousing and delicious. It is also brilliant, maverick and underestimated by intellectually dense “trending” women’s groups. Collins’ novels raised the consciousness of women so that they examined their gender beyond men defining it for them. In that she is a vital chapter in how women historically see themselves as free, whole beings. Of course Collins’ characters are a danger to men who would oppress women so that they remain objects to be abused and manipulated.
Interspersed between Collins’ home life and relationships, Fairrie indicates how Collins’ writing also reflected who she was. Thus, in select parts in the documentary she has hosts read from Collins various novels. The result is ironic and humorous.
LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story is an important retrospective on a women entrepreneur who broke the mold created by men to keep women unsettled and easily dominated. She did this in her home life and how she approached the obstacles life placed before her. She used the therapy of work to muscle quietly through when Oscar died of prostate cancer which he didn’t discuss or burden the family with. And though her third husband businessman Frank Calcagnini was jealous and abusive, once again her work embodied her strength to face his death from a brain tumor.
LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story premieres on CNN June 27th at 9 PM. Look for it; you’ll be glad you did.