Judith Krantz, a towering figure in American popular culture who defined her era in a series of bestselling novels filled with sexual escapades and over-the-top luxury, has died at 91.
Deadline reported her death. Krantz didn’t publish her first novel, Scruples, until she was 50, a fact that is deeply comforting. Before that she’d spent her life amassing precisely the kind of experiences that allowed her to write all those books: She had worked as a fashion publicist in Paris, then in New York at Good Housekeeping, Cosmo, and eventually freelance for a variety of high-profile magazines. Her husband Steve (a producer whom she met at a party thrown by a friend from school, Barbara Walters) encouraged her to try a novel—hence Scruples. It took four months for Scruples to hit the bestseller list, but then it was off to the races: “Her 10 novels — beginning with ‘Scruples’ in 1978 and ending with ‘The Jewels of Tessa Kent’ in 1998 — have together sold more than 85 million copies in more than 50 languages,” according to the New York Times.
Her books were the product of absolutely meticulous research, according to a 1990 LA Times profile:
If few of Krantz’s theatrically romantic figures could exist in real life, she nonetheless tries to construct for them an accurate reality. Inside the cabinets of her wood worktable, she’s stored stacks of brown spiral binders, the end result of investigations so thorough that she’ll end up using “only 1% of the information” she’s collected. Just as in the days when she was a journalist, she’ll call up experts out of the blue and pick their brains or set off on a fact-finding mission in her chauffeur-driven limousine. When Red Appleton, a 40ish-but-still-beautiful fashion model, goes to Louis Vuitton at South Coast Plaza to check out an 18-karat-gold Gae Aulenti fountain pen for Mike Kilkullen, her 60ish-but-still-virile fiance, Krantz herself has visited the place and priced the thing.
Her book-to-miniseries pipeline was on par with that of Nicholas Sparks, only without his thick, greasy layer of smarm—there’s a little acid in her work. Many of her TV adaptations were produced by her husband, who also produced “Fritz the Cat,” a 1972 X-rated animated film that resulted in my mother spending my whole childhood confused about whether Felix the Cat was appropriate for us to watch. Please enjoy the trailer for Princess Daisy:
Her books were never particularly critically acclaimed; her Times obituary quotes Angela Carter, who described them as like “being sealed inside a luxury shopping mall whilst being softly pelted with scented sex technique manuals.” Which is not entirely wrong! But sometimes that’s precisely what you want. Krantz was cheeky about her own reputation, too—when she published her memoir in 2000, it was titled Sex and Shopping, a dismissive way of describing her books that also, when deployed by their author, owned the dig and handily captured their appeal.
The collected work of Krantz are also perhaps one of the purest distillations available of the cultural zeitgeist of the 1980s. Long after we’re all dead, historians will be assigning Scruples and I’ll Take Manhattan to help explain our era. That’s more than you can say for dozens more high-falutin authors.
No offense to the great dick-oriented writers of postwar midcentury America but: zzzzz.