Entertainment

Jackie Collins’s Complicated Real-Life Relationship With Big Sister Joan

Their lanes sometimes overlapped; in the late ’70s, Joan starred in the film adaptations of Jackie’s books The Stud and The Bitch. And in the ’80s, Joan wrote her own novel seeping with scandalous Hollywood storylines. Their curious sibling relationship was the subject of a classic 1988 Vanity Fair profile by Dominick Dunne. (“Joan’s publicist, best pal, and traveling companion, but who doubled as Jackie’s publicist for this article, laid down some ground rules for me to abide by,” he wrote—“namely that if Jackie’s name was used first in one sentence, then Joan’s must be used first in the next, and that there was to be equal copy on each sister.”)

While the sisters spent their lives swatting away rivalry rumors, the documentary examines the real-life tensions between them.

“Their relationship was complicated,” says Fairrie. “They had this deep love for each other, but they also competed with each other. And it was fascinating to see how that competition drove them throughout their lives. It never went away, and I just find that extraordinary.”

In a separate conversation, Jackie’s daughter Rory Lerman Green clarifies that her mother “didn’t want people to confuse her with Joan. She wanted to be quite individual in what she was doing. While they both appeared in Hollywood and were glamorous, her work was quite different to what Joan was doing. She wanted to be singular in that. I think what became challenging for her, and Joan mentions this in the film, was that she was always billed as, ‘Joan Collins’s little sister.’ It was always something that felt slightly diminishing in lots of ways. But I think that she got past that. There was no point in fighting it anymore. People were going to associate the two of them.”

“There was a lot of deep love and admiration,” adds Green. “Sometimes the admiration tipped over into being quite competitive. We’d say their relationship has seasons. They’d always come back round. At the end of the day, they were very loyal to one another and almost like a power couple.”

The film delves into other dark chapters of Jackie’s history as well—like her first marriage to Wallace Austin, who struggled with drug addiction and died from an overdose the year after he and Jackie split up. Green, whose father is Jackie’s second husband Oscar Lerman, says that making the documentary helped her better understand her mother’s first marriage.

“We learned a lot more about Wallace because she had actually saved many things [from their time together],” said Green. “She’d saved the message he’d written, diary entries, and he became a much more dimensional figure to me and to my sister. I was able to have a lot of compassion for him and really get to know him in a way that I didn’t before.”

Jackie’s vulnerabilities are key to Lady Boss, Fairrie explains. “To see her as a vulnerable, normal woman with the struggles that we all have only makes you love her more. That makes the books that she wrote and the female characters that she developed so much more brilliant and extraordinary and inspiring, because they come from a place of real, genuine, personal experience as a woman not having it easy, and also observing the world around her and what it was like for other women.”

Jackie was ahead of her time in terms of writing strong female characters who fought for what they wanted, inside and outside of the bedroom. In 1988, she told the Los Angeles Times, “Women need to be stronger…. Women have always been pushed into positions in the bedroom, the kitchen, the work force. Women can do anything. I give that message in my books…. My books are successful because I’m turning the double standard—men can get away with anything, women are not supposed to get away with anything—on its head.”

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