Krantz, Judith (1928—)

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Krantz, Judith (1928—)

American author Judith Krantz achieved astounding commercial success with her debut novel in 1978, Scruples. Like many of her subsequent bestsellers, Scruples was made into a television miniseries, and set the standard for what came to be called the "money/sex/power" novel. Krantz—and her successors in the genre, Jackie Collins and Barbara Taylor Bradford—in essence recreated the Cinderella story, chronicling a sympathetic heroine's quest toward personal fulfillment and abundant material wealth. Her books have sold millions of copies worldwide, but her spectacular success has also signified great shifts in the publishing world: she was one of the first writers of popular fiction to be marketed as a celebrity.

Krantz, born in the late 1920s, grew up in affluent surroundings on New York's Central Park West. Her father was an advertising executive who taught her how to write advertisement copy, and her mother enjoyed a career as an attorney during an era when professional working mothers were a rarity. Krantz graduated from Wellesley College and after a year in France worked in the Manhattan magazine publishing world in the early 1950s. In 1953 she married a television cartoonist who later turned film producer, Steve Krantz, and they resided in New York until the early 1970s. From both there and in their new Los Angeles home, Krantz, the mother of two, wrote freelance articles for women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping. When she began to notice that popular fiction did not seem to offer a lot of titles aimed at women readers that were actually written by a female pen—only the late Jacqueline Susann stood out among the roster—she decided to try her hand at a novel.

Scruples was published in early 1978 and hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list a few months later; it remained there for one year. Its tale—ugly-duckling Boston Brahmin girl Billy Ikehorn spends a college year in Paris, comes back gorgeous, opens a ritzy designer boutique on Rodeo Drive, and becomes a rich and famous film producer with her handsome, adoring European husband—struck a chord with the reading public, especially women. Krantz's Ikehorn was blessed with beauty and some inherited money, but had gone to the "school of hard knocks" and ultimately achieved her power and abundant, minutely detailed luxuries through simple hard work. For millions of working women across all income strata, it was a modern-day Horatio Alger tale. In two years Scruples sold 4.6 million copies and Krantz became a household name.

Her second novel, Princess Daisy, set a record for reprint bidding even before the hardcover edition appeared on shelves—Bantam's purchase of the paperback rights at $3.2 million was, at the time, the most ever paid for a work of fiction. Establishment critics derided Princess Daisy (1980), and many in the publishing industry saw it and Krantz as harbingers of a new style of doing business, marked by a great deal of pre-print hype, and national tours by the author—now a figure of celebrity—an integral part of the budget. Mistral's Daughter, like her previous two novels, featured the requisite Krantz narrative structure: the strikingly beautiful—in an idiosyncratic way—heroine who either inherits her money—after having to prove herself worthy of it—or comes into it through perseverance and hard work; she also shops a great deal and either lives in or travels to some of the world's poshest places (naturally France and Manhattan figure frequently in the plot). Racy bedroom scenes, long and detailed lists of designer labels and divine food and drink, and actual celebrities from the worlds of fashion and entertainment (always dear friends or colleagues of the heroine's) appear liberally throughout the pages. In her 1986 book I'll Take Manhattan, Krantz's heroine lives in Trump Tower and is a friend of the owner, the quintessential 1980s tycoon Donald Trump. Like her other novels, Maxi Amberville's mastery of the city—the ultimate symbol of capitalist success—is a key element in the narrative structure; she is the embodiment of the savvy, sophisticated New Yorker. Mainstream establishment critics usually brutally lambasted this and the author's other novels; one described Krantz's talent for characterization as on "the level of advertising copy."

Krantz's later books never really achieved the fantastic success of her first few. Till We Meet Again, Dazzle, Scruples Two, Lovers, Spring Collection, and The Jewels of Tessa Kent failed to conquer the bestseller lists. Still, they remained a perennial summertime read or airport purchase. "Charming French designers, designing French charmers, conventionally unconventional sculptors, voracious virgins, testy tycoons, flaky fakes, talented directors and kinky knights in tarnished armor bounce about" through Krantz's novels, noted Barbara Raskin of the New York Times. Yet Krantz's plots and characterizations also possess a particularly American slant to them: her heroines always exhibit great personal ambition, and succeed in business at the uppermost echelons of the once male-dominated executive ranks.

Scholar Rita Felski compared the Krantz oeuvre to the classic Bildungsroman of nineteenth-century European literature featuring a young and innocent protagonist, who on his quest toward self-discovery achieves urban sophistication, maturity, fame, and material success through his willfulness, focused ambition, and high personal moral standards. Krantz made her protagonists quintessentially feminine, but with admirably "masculine" traits. Felski, in her essay "Judith Krantz, Author of 'The Cultural Logics of Late Capitalism"' for Women: A Cultural Review, noted that most of the bestselling popular fiction of the 1980s came to model itself on Krantz's formulas, and "the Krantzian heroine, furthermore, was soon dispersed across a variety of media texts and genres, as similar images of striving corporate femininity began to appear in prime-time television drama, advertising, and women's magazines."

—Carol Brennan

Further Reading:

Broyard, Anatole. "Books of the Times." New York Times. December 8, 1982, C29.

Dullea, Georgia. "At a Party for Judith Krantz, Life Imitates Art."New York Times. May 2, 1986, A24.

Felski, Rita. "Judith Krantz, Author of 'The Cultural Logics of Late Capitalism."' Women: A Cultural Review. Vol. 8, No. 2, 1997, 129-142.

"Judith Krantz." Current Biography Yearbook 1982. New York, H. W. Wilson, 1983.

Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. "Books of the Times." New York Times. May 1, 1986, C23.

Prial, Frank J. "Stick This in Your Mid-Sized Louis Vuitton." New York Times Book Review. August 28, 1998, 11.

Shapiro, Laura. "From the Little Fur Desk of Maxi Amberville."New York Times Book Review. May 4, 1986, 15.