Saturday, June 12, 2021

CNN/Tribeca ’21: Lady Boss

She must have led an eventful life, since this new documentary profile does not even mention she was bestowed an OBE by the Queen. Frankly, it is more concerned with the aspects of Jackie Collins’ life that were more like her bestselling novels, as her fans will appreciate. Her friends and famous sister recall how she built her brand and lived the glamorous life in Laura Fairrie’s Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story, which screens as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, before airing on CNN.

In her teen years, Collins lived in the shadow of her sister Joan, the
Dynasty actress (or maybe you think of her first in the “City on the Edge of Forever” Star Trek episode). The younger Collins also tried to make it in show business, but it just didn’t happen for her. Instead, she opted for her first marriage, which would end tragically for her emotionally troubled husband. Her second husband, Oscar Lerman, was the love of her life, who encouraged her to finish her first novel. And the rest was history.

Her early novels were big hits in the UK, but she became a global bestseller when she moved to Los Angeles and focused on cracking the American market.
Hollywood Wives became the breakout hit she was hoping for. However, Collins was shrewd enough to build on it. No matter what you think of her writing, many subsequent marquee authors have tried to emulate her approach to marketing, publicity, and branding—as best they can.

In fact,
Lady Boss inspires nostalgia for Collins’ salad days of the 1980s. Several of her colleagues in the film liken her to a female Harold Robbins, which is indeed apt. Both wrote Horatio Alger-esque stories, in which their protagonists (men in Robbins’ case, women for Collins) manage to claw their way to wealth and power through their sheer drive and sexual confidence. Unfortunately, there is no place for a successor to either in the current cultural climate, because of puritanical attitudes towards sex and a socialistic contempt for bootstrap-success stories.

Lady Boss
does a nice job of capturing the tenor of Collins’ personal relationships, especially the complicated love and sibling rivalry she shared with sister Joan. Clearly, Fairrie was blessed with access to a treasure trove of Collins’ home movies, as well as the candid participation of her three daughters and famous sister. We also hear a number of professional insights from her agent, publicist, and business manager, all of which Fairrie and editor Joe Carey cut together in a lively and sometimes ironically amusing manner.

Yet, the film never sugarcoats the withering (and sometimes condescending) critical attention directed towards Collins. Initially, she was dismissed for her trashiness, but then she attacked for not conforming to an increasingly woke conception of feminism. Frankly, the hostile crowd she faces during a 1995 TV interview is pretty disgusting to watch.

Even if you have never read Collins and probably never will (like some of us here),
Lady Boss will lead to a lot of new found respect for the late novelist. She successfully reinvented herself and changed the publishing industry. The truth is, it is always profitable to revisit the greatness of the 1980s. Recommended as intriguing pop culture history, Lady Boss is available as a Tribeca streaming option through June 23 and premieres Sunday (6/27) on CNN.