Jackie Collins: Lady boss documentary looks at author’s career and death - who was Joan Collins’ sister?

BBC Two documentary ‘Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins story’ will delve into the woman who lived through much success and tragedy

Jackie Collins was a best-selling author, having sold over 500 million copies of her raunchy crime novels in 40 countries.

She was also the younger sister of Hollywood legend Joan Collins, who starred in two screen adaptations of Jackie’s books.

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BBC Two will now take a look back into the life, accomplishments and tragedies of the woman who went on to be on of the biggest literary talents of her lifetime, in one-off documentary ‘Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins story’.

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NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 7: Jackie Collins poses at an appearance at Barnes & Noble for the signing of her new book "Lovers And Players" on February 7, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Wintrow/Getty Images)

So, who is Jackie Collins and what was her relationship like with Joan? This is the life behind the award-winning writer.

Who was Jackie Collins?

Jackie was the middle child of Elsa and William Collins, she was the younger sister of dame Joan Collins and they have a younger brother, Bill.

The children were born into showbiz, William as a theatrical agent who’s clients included Dame Shirley Bassey, the Beatles, and Sir Tom Jones.

Jackie in 1955, aged 17, following her return to London after acting in Los Angeles (Picture: Getty Images)

She was born in 1967 in Hampstead, and attended Francis Holland School, an independent day school for girls in London.

Collins was expelled from the school at 15, it is rumoured she had been having an affair with the 28-year-old Marlon Brando.

She later referred to herself as a "school dropout" and "juvenile delinquent", adding that she was glad she made mistakes, getting them “out the way early on.”

Following this period, she was sent to live with her elder sister in Hollywood. Joan was already a well-known star and managed to help Jackie pursue a career in acting.

Jackie and her elder sister Joan were close, despite living across the pond from one another (Picture: Getty Images)

However, Jackie failed to attract the same fame and prestige as her sister and only featured in low-budget movies, such as Barnacle Bill (1957), Rock You Sinners (1957), The Safecracker (1958), Intent to Kill (1958), Passport to Shame (1958), and The Shakedown (1960).

At the age of 18, she returned to London and pursued a career in writing. Her first book went on to become a bestseller and all of her 32 novels made New York Times bestsellers.

Was she married and did she have children?

In 1960, she married Wallace Austin and gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Tracy the following year.

The author pictured 18 months before she died, her sister was unaware of her breast cancer diagnosis (Picture: Getty Images)

Their marriage lasted until 1964, when she divorced him due to the strains caused by his dependency on manic depression medication. He died of a deliberate overdose in 1965.

She then married London nightclub owner Oscar Lerman, he was 18 years older than her, and the pair had two children, Tiffany in 1967 and Rory in 1969.

Lerman also formally adopted Collins' daughter, Tracy. They remained married until his death, in 1992, from prostate cancer.

In 1994, Collins became engaged to Los Angeles business executive Frank Calcagnini. However the pair never married, as he tragically died of a brain tumour in 1998.

In 2011, when asked if she was dating anyone, Collins said: "I have a man for every occasion", adding: “When I was a kid growing up, I used to read my father's Playboy and I'd see these guys and they had fantastic apartments and cars.

“I have all of that now. Why would I want to hook myself up with one man when I've had two fantastic men in my life?

“One was my husband for over 20 years and one was my fiancé for six years.”

What are her best-known books?

Collins' books sold over 500 million copies worldwide, and were translated into 40 different languages.

Her writing career spanned five decades, from the 1960s to the late noughties and generally revolved around fictional romance, as well as organised crime.

Her first novel, The World is Full of Married Men, was described by fellow romantic novelist Barbara Cartland as "nasty, filthy and disgusting".

Carland said Collins was at fault for "creating every pervert in Britain". The novel was banned in Australia and South Africa, but proved a hit with her British and US audience.

Some of her books have been renamed since they were first published, including The Hollywood Zoo, which is now internationally known as Sinners. In 1974 she wrote Lovehead, which was renamed The Love Killers, 15 years later.

Her first and second novels went on to become screenplays in the 1980s, Sinners was reimagined as The Stud (1978) and The World is Full of Married Men premiered in 1980.

In 1980, she moved to Los Angeles and spend the vast majority of the rest of her life there.

She later said: “If you wish to be successful, there is a place you should be at a certain time. And Los Angeles in the 1980s was it."

It was in her home on the hills of Hollywood that she wrote her most successful novel, Hollywood Wives, published in 1983. The novel was sold as an “scandalous expose,” selling over 15 million copies and shooting her to the kind of stardom her sister was accustomed to.

In 1985, the New York Times number one was recreated as a miniseries for television in the states. The cast included Anthony Hopkins and Candice Bergen.

In total, she wrote 32 books across her lifetime, eight of which were published in the 2000s and became some of her most popular novels.

These included Hollywood Wives: The New Generation, later adapted into a movie starring Farrah Fawcett, Melissa Gilbert, and Robin Givens.

How did Jackie Collins die?

On 19 September 2015, Collins died of breast cancer, two weeks before her 78th birthday.

Just nine days before her death, she travelled to the UK from Los Angeles to appear on ITV’s Loose Women, where she talked about how she’d tried every sexual position detailed in her books. She made no mention of her diagnosis.

She joked about enjoying the English tea and scones on her trip over and later that day, she dined with Joan at The Wolseley in Mayfair.

In the days before her death, she was interviewed by Hello magazine in the States, still failing to mention she had days to live.

It was not until she was interviewed by People magazine that she disclosed her diagnosis, the interview was published after her death.

It emerged that she had kept the illness largely to herself for six years, only telling her sister about her diagnosis two weeks before she died.

She told People: “Looking back, I'm not sorry about anything I did.

“I did it my way, as Frank Sinatra would say. I've written five books since the diagnosis, I've lived my life, I've travelled all over the world, I have not turned down book tours and no one has ever known until now when I feel as though I should come out with it.”

Jackie got emotional during the interview, as she said she would “always be there” for her daughters.

What has Joan said about her?

Joan described Jackie as the “perfect sister” during a 2020 interview, but later told Piers Morgan she recognised Jackie sometimes felt overlooked because of Joan’s celebrity status.

In September 2020, she told the Loose Women panel: “She had such a wild sense of humour. By the time she was a little girl she always had a quip or a joke.

“She was a perfect sister.... I miss Jackie because, first of all, even though we were not necessarily close physically a lot of the time – she was in LA when I was in London – we would call each other all the time and before that we'd send letters.

“Today, I think, "Oh my god, that I must tell Jackie". And of course, I can't tell Jackie.”

Joan also said she felt that if she had lived nearer to her, she would have been aware of the illness sooner.

“A couple of years previously I had gone from London to LA and I had seen Jackie,” Joan recalled.

“We'd gone out, she was just as much fun and making jokes as ever, but she'd lost a lot of weight. She seemed a tiny bit frail.

“I asked her daughter Tiffany, ‘Is your mother OK?’. Tiffany had a momentary glimpse, something I saw, just a half a second. As an actress I saw something she didn't want to reveal.

“In a way I know she wouldn't have wanted me to worry. In fact, she didn't want anybody to know. That was the whole thing.”

She added: “Had I been in LA all this time, I definitely would have known.”

When is ‘Lady Boss: A Jackie Collins story’ on TV?

The BBC Two documentary will air at 9pm on Friday, 15 October.

It will be available on BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.