The British novelist Jackie Collins wrote thick, steamy, devourable books that, in the 1970s and 80s, enthralled millions while threatening to topple their bedside tables. In these fantasies, sexually voracious glamazons with names like Lucky and Fontaine called the shots and drank them, too.
“Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story,” Laura Fairrie’s fond and frisky documentary, sifts a vast trove of archive material to pin down this gifted storyteller. Diaries reveal a shy and insecure teenager whose life was changed after joining her older sister, the actress Joan Collins, in 1960s Hollywood. Hobnobbing at parties with Garland and Brando was heady stuff for a 16-year-old; but Jackie, a keen observer and a wily eavesdropper, drank in the gossip that would fuel the most successful of her 32 books, “Hollywood Wives.”
Interviews with Collins’s friends, family and colleagues reveal her genius for prying into others’ intimacies. There are marriages (one fabulous, one disastrous), some sibling friction and a look at the ferocious self-promotion that made her an international sensation. Many disapproved: The 1966 publication of Jacqueline Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls” had softened the ground for racy female authors, but Collins’s debut, “The World is Full of Married Men” (1968), still roused the stuffy from their sofas. (“UGH,” read a newspaper headline at the time.)
The dishiness is fun, but “Lady Boss” is most penetrating when it lifts the carapace of glamour Collins had constructed, both as alter ego and as armor against her critics. The novels seem quaint today; but, back then, their merger of filth and feminism drew legions of fans to a woman who lived like her heroines: apologizing for nothing and beholden to none.
Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. Watch on CNN platforms.