Watch out when you're around her, warns novelist Jackie Collins. Say something outrageous, and you're likely to be pilloried, parodied or paraded around in one of her hit novels.
"It's all true, what I write," says Ms. Collins, whose latest TV mini-series is Jackie Collins' Lady Boss, due to air on NBC at 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday.
"Of course, I don't write about real people in my books, but I do take their essence. It would be boring to write Madonna's actual life story because you can read that in People magazine, but my character Venus Maria in this mini-series is the essence of Madonna. By her very lifestyle, she makes the statement that she can do whatever she wants whenever she wants."
You won't find an actual Donald Trump or a real-life portrait of financier Marvin Davis, one-time owner of Twentieth Century Fox studios, in this mini-series, either, but you will find people a lot like them, people saying the things folks like Trump and Davis and Madonna actually say at parties when they don't think anyone is listening. That's because Jackie Collins goes to a lot of glitzy parties, and while she's there she takes careful notes.
"The real-life scenes are just like the long party scene I had in Hollywood Wives," she says. "People say the most outrageous things at parties when they don't think anyone else is listening, things you wouldn't believe.
"I listen carefully like a great big fly on the wall, and then I go to the ladies room and jot it down on napkins, then I keep the quotes until I've got the proper character to be saying what I actually heard."
The genuine quality of what her characters say makes dialogue a strong point in all Ms. Collins' 14 novels, which have sold 160-million copies worldwide since she started writing in 1972.
"You have to listen to do dialogue well," she says. "You have to remember very well what people say. Like the time Gore Vidal saw a billboard advertising my books on the Sunset Strip. He said, "I've seen your billboard, darling. It's soooo vulgar! I want one!' I'll use that in a book someday and build a scene around it."
Like most Collins' stories, Lady Boss is built around a strong female character. It is the third chapter in her continuing saga of Lucky Santangelo, played this time by Kim Delany.
"Lucky is a rich woman who can do whatever she likes," says the author, who also writes the teleplays for her mini-series and helps produce them. "I like women who aren't afraid of challenges or anything else.
"It was a challenge for me to pack up my household in London 10 years ago and move to California, but life should be a challenge."
Life also should be sexy, Ms. Collins believes, and so that's the way she makes her books and TV shows.
"There's a lot of spectacular lingerie in this one," she says with a laugh, as she sips orange juice in Beverly Hills' famed Polo Lounge, "but there's also a lot of hair on the men's chests. I'm sick of movies with the disease of the week or the murder of the week. My movie is pure entertainment."
Collins wanted her mini-series to be as entertaining for women as for men. It is. Actors like Jack Scalia and David Elby peel their clothes every bit as revealingly as Ms. Delany, Yvette Mimieux and Vanity.
"I'm tired of inequality in screen sex," Collins says, "so I say to the men, "Get it off!' All these actors had a contract clause saying their shirts had to come off at least once, but I didn't just hire hunks. These guys deliver. They give both fun and touching performances."
Collins makes no pretense that her books are great literature. She just wants people to read them and then watch when they become TV shows.
"A lot of people regard me as a kind of guilty pleasure," she says. "My books don't have a pretense of being serious. They're always humorous, and they always have a lot of strong women."
That's partly because Ms. Collins can't stand books where women "stand around crying and waiting to be rescued by men."
In her own life, she suggested the move to California, and her husband, nightclub mogul and producer Oscar Lerman, quickly agreed. When he died last year of prostate cancer, she was back at work within a month.
"Work helps me adjust, and he would want me to have my life go on, anyway," Ms. Collins says. "You have to be responsible for yourself. With my books, I write for myself. If I don't like it, I don't write it. . . If I fail, it'll be on my own merits, but none of my books has ever been out of print in 20 years."
Ms. Collins says her wry sense of humor contributed early to the feeling of sexist injustice that inspires much of what she writes.
"I wrote The World Is Full of Married Men about a man who was seeing another woman and then was outraged with his wife when she did it, too," she recalls. "I was parodying the double standard all the way back then, so I'm fundamentally a feminist, but I don't think people realize it. Maybe that's because I do it with humor and sex.
"I think if you do feminism with a sense of humor, you go much further."
It also helps to do it with plenty of sex. "Sex comes in books like it does in life," she says. "My sex is erotic, as opposed to rude. Most male writers write sex like gynecologists. They're way too anatomical. My sex scenes are an erotic experience, and I get a lot of letters from married couples who say they're inspired by what they read in my books."
Ms. Collins says Lady Boss "has more great married sex (between Scalia and Ms. Delany) in four hours than most people have in a lifetime."