The Lonely Lady, Harold Robbins, 1977

Smut King Goes Faux-Feminist


Spoilers ahead.

Harold Robbins is the one best selling author whose novels are closest to straight-up pornography without actually belonging to that genre. His later day novels tended to become increasingly formulaic with their down-on-his-luck-guy-makes-good premises thus The Lonely Lady makes a somewhat curious exception as the main protagonist here is a female, an ambitious but troubled writer Jerilee Randall who tries to make a career for herself in New York theatre world and Hollywood.

In contrary to Robbins’ male heroes who start in a rut but thing gets gradually better after that in their chosen line of business (writer, men’s magazine editor, sexy lingerie manufacturer etc.) Jerilee starts as a small town girl who becomes a trophy wife of wealthy novelist, whom she divorces, but whilst trying to make it on her own she faces evermore devastating setbacks, in no small part because of her tendency to rely on all the wrong people and make the stupidest of choices. The reader gets to follow as Jerilee goes through series of ill-advised professional and/or sexual relationships with a string of men -and women- which transforms her from mentioned trophy wife to a failing play writer, go-go dancer, porn actress, prostitute and drug-ravaged mental ward patient. She does eventually bounce back and makes a name as an novelist with her book, aptly titled Good Girls Go to Hell, which sees her being nominated for Academy Awards for the best script. But her triumph is a pyrrhic victory as on the moment of her greatest glory she decides to throw it all away to protest the exploitation that women face in a show business.

Regardless what the latter sounds, make no mistake, Lonely Lady is no more a feminist book than Gone With The Wind is anti-slavery, it only seems as if Robbins wanted a somewhat respectable disguise for his usual raunch-fest by taking the “victim’s”, the female’s point of view. However, Lonely Lady is, as far as I know, the closest thing Robbins became to make an artistic statement and there is some downbeat, been-there-done-that authenticity to be sensed in Jerilee’s failures and creative dead ends. The book also provides a portrait of an cultural climate change of 1960’s and 1970’s United States as Jerilee moves from champagne cocktail sipping member of New York’s high society to a beatnik playwriter and a B-movie actress and further to an barbiturate devouring wreck in cheap porn studios. Unfortunately she does not make particularly layered or occasionally not even sympathetic heroine and reader is not given much explanation what has brought upon her inner demons apart of her clichéd, oppressive small town upbringing. It is not until final pages that we learn that the true source of misery is –surprise- her unkind and uncaring mother.

In 1983 The Lonely Lady was made to a movie of the same name which nowadays is widely regarded as one the all time turkeys starring an equally reviled early eighties starlet Pia Zadora as Jerilee.

Prime Time, Joan Collins, 1988

The Other Collins Girl


Back in the 1980’s, after decades of less-then-memorable or downright embarrassing movie roles, Joan Collins finally found –or was allowed into- a goldmine when she was cast as Alexis Many Surnames in Dynasty. Until then, quite many had not realised that she is a real life sister of Jackie Collins, one of the most best selling authors of all times. This offered a stellar marketing tool, so it was not a surprise when also Joan tried her hand in writing, publishing her first work of fiction, Prime Time in 1988.

It is not a surprise either that she did not wander far from her successful sister’s favoured genre, Hollywood’s ruthlessly competitive and morally bankrupt television and film world, or that she put an ample amount of her own life into the story. That said, the heroine of Prime Time is a wholesome and raven-haired British singer Chloe Carriere. Pushing forty, best days of her singing career behind her and her marriage to a fellow musician and duet partner Josh Brown in life support, Chloe seeks a much-coveted role of Miranda in a new big budget soap called “Saga”. And she wins, which does not sit well with the Tinsel Town’s vultures.

Considering how much ridiculed Joan Collins’ literary attempts were back then, it IS a surprise how competent her writing actually is. Admittedly she is telling about her own experiences in Dynasty, not shying away even from one of her characters HIV-scandal (R.I.P Rock Hudson), but even so, Prime Time is much more detailed and nuanced than anything Jackie Collins was churning out at the time, or since. Also, although her obvious alter ego Chloe does come across as goody-goody, Joan does not patronise the reader by providing them obvious heroes and villains, both equally unlikeable, like Jackie does. Joan does have her little sisters’ trademark, coarseness and raunch, but even then her take on sex comes across much more maturely than Jackie’s nubile 18-year olds approach.

It has been claimed that Joan Collins did not write Prime Time herself, which I am prone to believe in a light of her weak and uninspired follow-up, Love, Desire, Hate in 1991. It has also been said that it was Jackie who wrote this book, which in contrary does not make sense because why would she had made the effort to write a better book for her sister than one on her own. I think it’s apparent by now that Jackie Collins is not one of my favourite authors but I will review one of her books in near future.

NPG x126136; Jackie Collins; Joan Collins by Terry O'Neill

Sister, sister, oh so fair…