She is a tiny woman, her hair bleached the precise color of Giorgio perfume, her skin as smooth as Pratesi sheets, the layer of terra-cotta makeup barely disguising the keenly etched lines around her gray-green eyes, which shimmer like Baccarat at the bottom of a Bel Air hot tub.
She is too thin. And too rich.
Clasped to each ear lobe is a diamond and turquoise earring, the precise robin's egg blue of a Tiffany box, and sparkling like all the chandeliers at Lincoln Center, in Malcolm Forbes' yacht and maybe even in all of Donald Trump's Tower.
Her lips are palest mauve and match her Size 6 Yves Saint Laurent jacket, which is lighter than the sand at Cannes but darker than (pick one): 1. The marble bathroom fixtures in the ladies' room at Lutece. 2. The raspberry souffle' served at Le Cirque. 3. The soft underbelly of a pink flamingo in heat.
Let's face it -- nobody can write like Judith Krantz. il,6p6 Nobody has that je ne sais schlock, that finely honed ear for the breathless, exotic, silly prose that sells more books than practically any other living writer's and has earned this little lady with her "lunar eyes," as she calls them, the right to spread another dollop of glistening blackxl beluga caviar on a toast point and say, "I don't care if people laugh at me. I'm going to write about what I want to write about. People come up to me and say things like, 'You saved my life last weekend.' I say, 'How did I do that?' They say, 'My lover was impotent and it was raining and if it hadn't been for 'Mistral's Daughter,' I would have killed myself.'
"If I could write like Leo Tolstoy I'd certainly try. I write at the peak of my abilities. It's really the best I can do."
A former Cosmopolitan contributor, the 58-year-old mother of two (she stopped lying about her age after classmates at Wellesley blew the whistle) has written four bestselling novels in eight years -- "Scruples" (1978); "Princess Daisy" (1979), for which she received a record $3.2 million advance for paperback rights alone; "Mistral's Daughter" (1982); and the just published "I'll Take Manhattan," which hit the New York Times best-seller list at No. 2 (where it remains) and is already being Krantzlated by her producer husband Steve into a television mini-series.
The book features a wildly beautiful and willful heroine, Maxi Amberville, her eyes the precise color of Imperial Jade, who takes over the family publishing business in Manhattan and is wildly successful with a magazine called Buttons & Bows, which makes women feel good about themselves. The author has rounded up the usual inhabitants of Krantzylvania: rich, brooding men, a homosexual brother, an evil uncle and enough designer names and celebrities to take the Bronx and Staten Island too.ip,1
He was deeply tanned and his hair was bleached by the sun of California summers. His nose was large and perfectly shaped between eyes as blue as the sea in Sicily, as cold as the water of a fjord, and he had an ascetic, keenly etched mouth that no woman could ignore.
Judy. Judy. Judy.
On her left wrist is a gold cuff bracelet the size of a stovepipe, engraved with "Scruples." She kicks off her shoes and attacks the Beluga with gusto, asking for more rosemary dressing for her crab meat salad, which is served in the dining room of her plush hotel suite. She is funny, irreverent, self-possessed, narcissistic and very, very insecure. She refuses to read critical reviews and looks wounded at the mere mention of the word "trash."
What she writes, she says, is High Entertainment.
"Trash to me is garbage. In my books, there is no garbage. I turn out, with great difficulty -- believe me, it just doesn't happen -- something that millions of people want to read in 19 languages. Trash it is definitely not."
She describes her work as "good popular."
Not great? "I wouldn't say great. I don't think great and popular go together."
She directs her gaze toward her glass of Evian water and says, "I've really gotten as serious as I can get."
She had seen photographs of him of course, family photos that her mother-in-law had shown her, but nothing about the pictures of a blond boy with severe, regular features had led her to expect him to be a magnificent man who struck her dumb with mute, primal longing, helpless and quivering and mad with restlessness, bewildered by a feeling of unknown horizons opening before her unto wild and inevitable skies.
"It's not Dostoevsky," she says. "It's not going to tax your mental capacities. It's not ahhrtt. It's not literature."
The critics agree. New York Magazine reviewer Rhoda Koenig, noting Krantz's obsession with shopping and sex and "frantic social climbing," suggested that "perhaps the only true reader of "I'll Take Manhattan" is Imelda Marcos." The New York Times called the novel "unpleasant," "ridiculous" and at times "contemptible." Time magazine found it less offensive and said Krantz was back again "with her patented blend of eavesdropping and name dropping."
Regardless of the critics, the book has already sold 411,339 copies in hardback (according to Crown Publishers) and is in its second printing. Paperback sales are expected to top the 5 million mark set by "Princess Daisy."
"I honestly feel that some reviewers just can't lower themselves to like something that sells so well," Krantz says. "I know how hard I worked on this book and I know how much fun I had writing it. I wouldn't want to read someone else's warped opinion of it."
She is almost as contemptuous of her readers. As a college graduate, she says, she has been exposed to the great books. "I like to read on a level well above the one on which I write," she confides. "My taste in literature is very developed."
So is her taste in clothes. She spent $15,000 on her designer wardrobe for the current book tour.
"I needed the kind of clothes that photograph and that means I'm basically limited to Adolfo," she says, not stopping to explain. "I couldn't wait for Adolfo to come out to California because by the time he came out, it would be too late. I had to order them, have them delivered and altered in time for April, so I flew to New York in January and ordered them through the showroom. I ordered five complete outfits with a couple of extra blouses."
Only Judith Krantz would look you in the eye and confess, "I paid full retail at Saks."
She says that because of her diminutive size, European journalists often compare her to Nancy Reagan. She says she has met the first lady once. "We talked about Adolfo. I was very vexed. She had this Adolfo suit on I'd never seen. If I'd seen it, I would have bought it."
She doesn't buy as many clothes as she used to. Her worst year, she spent $25,000, not including fur coat and jewelry, and that's when she couldn't afford it. "Clothes have definitely been my downfall."
It all goes back to her childhood, she says, growing up in upper-middle-class Manhattan with a mother who was determined not to spoil her daughters. She was Judy Tarcher then, born Jan. 9, 1928, and by her own account, an unpopular girl. Her mother gave her a clothes allowance for the year and young Judy would go to Macy's and blow it all. "My mother tried to create a sense of insecurity. She tried to make me and my sister feel that it could all disappear. She taught us to take nothing for granted. My younger sister lost all interest in clothes. I became absolutely infatuated. I wanted to have what the other girls had."
From this early deprivation came an insatiable lust for money and clothes. Cashmere sweaters. The right tweed skirt. The right thick socks. Judy had to have them. So she worked for the money. She has been working practically all her life. To buy clothes. And to be popular.
"I'm a Capricorn. It's an earth sign. It's a little goat that walks up the hill, trudges, very determined with a lot of upward striving."
After college, she went to Paris, then came back to New York and worked as a journalist, first for Good Housekeeping and later for Cosmopolitan.
She leans forward, intense.
"I was writing their longest and most thoughtful articles. They gave me the toughest assignments."
"The Myth of the Multiple Orgasm"?
"That was not easy to get," she laughs.
After moving to California, Krantz wrote "Scruples." "I sat down when I was 46 years old without anything in my mind. I had no idea what would sell."
(Ooops. Krantz was actually 50, but never mind.)
But if the multiple orgasm sold, wouldn't the continuous orgasm sell even better? Sure enough, her powerful brand of S&S (sex and shopping) sold 4.6 million copies and made little Judy Tarcher an overnight success. The most popular girl in the world. Take that, all you snooty girls with your cashmere sweaters back at Birch Wathen High School.
Krantz went back to school several weeks ago to accept its distinguished alumni award. She happened to pick up the yearbook. There, under her picture, were the words "Always on the telephone and always with a hairbrush in her hand." Everybody from Crown "roared," she says. "They said, 'Nothing has changed.' "
She leans forward again. "I know so many people who peaked in high school. I think I'll peak at 60."
That's only two years away.
"Maybe 65. When can I get on Medicare?" She laughs. "I can't peak before I get on Medicare."
Not that money's a problem. But actually, come to think of it, there is a problem. Judith Krantz says she doesn't have any money.
"My husband has it all put away," she whines. "I don't have any money that my husband doesn't know about and to me, that's not having money, because I live in a community property state! What I want to do is open a checking account that nobody knows about with $10,000 in it and that's going to be my money. The other day I did 'Hour Magazine.' I was supposed to make $700. Then I got $300 for doing Merv Griffin. I said, 'Oh goody. Now I've got $1,000 and I'll put it in my own checking account."
But her husband sent the checks to the accountant. The bills get sent to the accountant too. "I said, 'How could you? That was my money!' He looked at me like I had gone mad."
When Judith Krantz actually does go mad, she calls trainer Mike Abrums for a workout. (He's mentioned in the book.) "He's the one who set up the gym in the White House," Krantz says. "He's the world's best-kept secret. He works with Joan Collins, Bob Stack, Kirk Douglas -- who looks better than all his kids."
Donald Trump's in the book, too. "I had to see where Maxi lived!" Krantz protests. "Have you met Donald Trump? He's quite charming. He's a real human being. He made me go up on the roof and look at his full-grown trees being planted on the roof garden. That's the kind of research I have to do. I felt like Fay Wray in the grasp of King Kong!"
Krantz says she spends a year doing research and a year writing. Yes, she has another idea for a novel. But she won't write it holed up in some garret.
"The thought of it makes me shudder," she says, adjusting one of the turquoise and diamond earrings. "I'm what the French call frileux. Cold blood. Or I don't have any blood perhaps, but I'm always chilly. And being in an attic would be . . . " She makes a face. "I would find some man to buy me a meal and to warm up the room."
And how would the author, famous for her superlative description of characters, care to describe herself?
"I would describe myself as a slightly mature, failed Girl Scout. I'm thin, that's what I am. And I'm probably rich if anybody would let me find out how much money I've got.
"Eventually," she says, "I'm going to have some money of my own. A liberated woman in this day and age who makes as much money as I do and doesn't have a nickel to call her own?"
She pouts, straightening the Yves Saint Laurent jacket that, it turns out, is the precise color of Pepto-Bismol.