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Judith Krantz, novelist who wrote tales of sex and shopping, dies at 91

David Henry


 /  Mon, June 24, 2019  /  11:36 am
Judith Krantz, novelist who wrote tales of sex and shopping, dies at 91

Krantz died at her home in California of natural causes, the Associated Press reported, citing her son, Tony Krantz, a TV and movie producer. (Shutterstock/-)

Judith Krantz, the writer of best-selling novels such as “Scruples” and “Princess Daisy” who stoked women’s yearnings for professional success, romantic adventure and Rodeo Drive fashion, has died. She was 91.

Krantz died at her home in California of natural causes, the Associated Press reported, citing her son, Tony Krantz, a TV and movie producer.

Krantz was among the most commercially successful female novelists, selling more than 100 million copies in dozens of languages. She became an author at age 50 after gaining inspiration from conquering her fear of flying. Ten novels later, at age 70, she retired from fiction writing, saying she had nothing more to tell her readers.

Each Krantz book usually involved a beautiful young heroine who satisfies her taste for glamorous clothing and powerful men while navigating her way through the cut-throat worlds of fashion, advertising and the Hollywood movie industry.

From the stylish heiress Billy Winthrop in “Scruples” (1978), her first novel, to the movie star Tessa in “The Jewels of Tessa Kent” (1998), her last one, Krantz presented female characters who encountered emotional dilemmas and obstacles on their path toward opportunity.

Personal hardships

“I strongly suspect that the difficulties I lived through are the elements in my life that finally made me a storyteller,” she wrote in her autobiography “Sex and Shopping: The Confessions of a Nice Jewish Girl” (2000). “Looked at as a stream in which one thing led to another, the events of my life, and how I coped with them, tell me who I am. And a woman should have a clear idea of who she is.”

The circumstances of her main protagonists were sometimes drawn from Krantz’s own life, from the young woman living in Paris, reflected in the “Scruples” storyline, to a distant relationship with her mother, a relative who often disappeared early from the lives of her main characters. In the novel “Princess Daisy” (1980), Krantz also recreated the sexual abuse she endured as a teenager.

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Seven of Krantz’s books were adapted for television in the form of a mini-series or TV movie. Some of them, including “Mistral’s Daughter” (1982) and “Dazzle” (1990), were produced or co-produced by her husband, Stephen Krantz. She didn’t publish any books after her autobiography in 2000.

Quitting time

“Imagination, she said, was like champagne,” the novelist Dora Levy Mossanen wrote in 2010 after dining with Krantz. “Once one gets to the bottom of the bottle and the last dying bubble, it’s time to quit.”

Judith Tarcher was born on Jan. 9, 1928, in New York. The eldest of three children, she had a sister, Mimi, and a brother, Jeremy.

Her father, Jack Tarcher, ran an advertising agency and her mother, Mary “Mickey” Brager, was a Legal Aid Society lawyer born in present-day Lithuania. Krantz, who said both parents paid her little attention, attributed her passion for fashion to her mother’s habit of dressing the children in cheap clothing.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, in 1948, she moved to Paris, where she worked as a fashion publicist.

She returned to New York and worked as a fashion editor at Good Housekeeping magazine before meeting television producer Stephen Krantz at a party in 1953 through pioneering TV journalist Barbara Walters, a school friend. Judith and Steve Krantz married in 1954.

Judith Krantz contributed to McCall’s magazine and Ladies’ Home Journal, and during the 1970s was a contributing editor for Cosmopolitan, where she rose to prominence with her article “The Myth of the Multiple Orgasm.” She then turned her attention to fiction, combining her knowledge of fashion and Hollywood to produce detailed descriptions of sensual characters and glamour industries in her narratives.

“The experience of reading a Judith Krantz novel is not unlike that of watching ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ while simultaneously flicking through glossy advertisements in Vogue,” Rita Felski wrote in the book “Doing Time: Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture” (2000).

“Scruples” was on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year. In 1979, the paperback rights to “Princess Daisy” fetched a then-record $3.2 million, the New York Times reported.

Krantz had two sons, Nicholas and Tony, and lived in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles. Her husband died in 2007 at age 83.

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