Dining With Jackie

Yvonne Puig Arts & Entertainment

Jackie Collins strolls into Cecconi’s West Hollywood with the same beguiling presence of one of her famous fictional heroines. Sharply sporting black slacks, a blouse beneath a pale green blazer she designed herself, an emerald pendant (also personally designed), and teardrop emerald earrings to match, the English novelist is the picture of classic Hollywood glamour.

“I always wear black pants and a black top,” says Collins, whose 29 novels have all appeared on The New York Times bestsellers list. “And I go to town with jewelry and jackets. It simplifies my life.”

But the ease with which she commands a room comes mostly from her spirited confidence and subtly mischievous smile.

With Collins, life imitates art. She embodies the strong women who inspire her, and about whom she writes. Her racy debut novel, The World Is Full of Married Men, was born out of the female characters she read about growing up in London.

“The women were always either getting laid or in the kitchen cooking,” she says. “My women were going to be so much more; they were going to be so strong. Girls can do anything — that’s my motto. I say that all the time to women. Girls should always have a career. You have no power if you don’t have a career.”

Collins’ passion extends to her philanthropic work with women’s shelters through Face the World, a nonprofit education and exchange organization, as well as another cause close to her heart: HIV/AIDS. A longtime supporter of AIDS Project Los Angeles, Collins says personal experiences drew her to the cause.

“Like a lot of people in show business, I lost friends to AIDS at the beginning [of the epidemic], before they had the medicines,” she says. “Now they have the medicines, but people still need support.”

Collins will show her support Nov. 15 in the Coachella Valley at the AIDS Assistance Program benefit dinner, “Hollywood Dine and Dish: The Tinseltown Stories You Haven’t Heard,” with comedy writer Bruce Vilanch and celebrity photographer Michael Childers. AAP offered the dinner as an auction item at its Evening Under the Stars gala last May. The 26 winners will join the trio for cocktails, a culinary adventure, and good old-fashioned gossip at the Rancho Mirage estate of Bob Deville and Bob Bennion, co-owners of Windermere Real Estate.

Collins will spill her latest and juiciest secrets about pop culture — from political scandals to Hollywood starlets.

Looking forward to spending time in the desert, Collins has amassed many fond memories here. “I love to sit in the shade by the pool and write,” she says. “Barbara and Marvin Davis used to have a house [in Palm Springs], and they would invite my fiancé and me to stay there for the weekend. We had the most amazing time. There were wonderful dinner parties.”

She finds the area inspirational for her stories. “I love the desert because I always have this fantasy about what bodies are buried there, what happened in the old days,” she says. “When I wrote Chances I went way back in time to Prohibition, and my characters buried some bodies out in the desert.
I’m a born storyteller.”

Collins will appear Nov. 16 at Just Fabulous (515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs) to sign copies of her latest novel, The Power Trip, a tale of power-hungry elites setting sail on the coast of Cabo San Lucas.

Today, at Cecconi’s, Collins seems to be composing sentences even when charmingly greeting the manager, or sipping a Bellini at the bar. Only a few miles from her home, a Beverly Hills mansion she designed more than 20 years ago with her late husband Oscar Lerman, this is the sort of timeless industry hangout the characters frequent in her novels.

While Collins’ stories aren’t strictly autobiographical, she draws from experience. When she was kicked out of high school for being cheeky, her parents told her to choose between “reform school and Hollywood.” At 15, she left London and moved into her sister Joan’s Melrose Place-style apartment.

“She gave me the keys to her car and her apartment, and said, ‘I’m going on location.’ Everyone in the apartment was parking cars, and doing this and that, and wanting to be directors and actors,” Collins says. “I really based Hollywood Wives [1983] on that group of people that I lived with.”

When it comes to her stories, Collins has a knack for keeping her fans eager for more, and herself full of ideas.

“Everything inspires me,” she says. “I’ve got so much I want to write. I think to myself, ‘I want to write 50 pages a week,’ and I usually end up writing 10 or 15 pages, and it is so frustrating. But then when I’m at the end of a book, it’s 50 or 60 pages a week.”

Confessions of a Wild Child, the prequel to the Lucky Santangelo series, will be published in February. She’s also working on a Lucky Santangelo cookbook and an autobiography. Despite the fact that she could be hobnobbing in Hollywood every night, Collins is a self-proclaimed television addict and introvert.

“I could not be happier if I woke up in the morning and had the whole day to write, and then about 5 o’clock quit, and just watch Tivo,” she concedes. “That’s my idea of a perfect day.

“I’ve already been to every party in the world.”

Still, the Hollywood life remains a source of fresh material. “I’m inspired by the characters in Los Angeles,” Collins says, with wide-eyed curiosity. “I had lunch the other day with four Hollywood blondes, and one of them looked in her mirror to adjust her lipstick, and she went, ‘Oh my god, I think I have a line, I must go to the dermatologist,’ and I’m like, ‘What the fu@$,’ you know?’” 

The Tinseltown Stories You Haven’t Heard
What: Dinner with Jackie Collins, Bruce Vilanch, and Michael Childers
When: Nov. 15, 2013
Where: Rancho Mirage estate of Bob Deville and Bob Bennion
Tickets: $1,000 per person or $1,500 per couple
Information: 760-325-8481, www.aidsassistance.org