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Jun 24, 2019
Originally published on June 24, 2019 5:33 pm

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Author Judith Krantz pioneered what you could call the sex and shopping novel. Her stories featured heroines with big hair and bigger wardrobes. They pursued power, pleasure and fabulous clothes with equal passion. Krantz died on Saturday at the age of 91. NPR books editor Petra Mayer has this remembrance.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Reading Judith Krantz is like playing dress-up in the world's most glamorous closet and then eating a plate of gold-leafed French pastries and then popping a bottle of posh champagne.

JENNIFER WEINER: It's pure pleasure and gluttonous, shameless excess.

MAYER: That's author and big-time Judith Krantz fan Jennifer Weiner.

WEINER: There wasn't a plot point that she didn't cram in there. There wasn't a description of a designer garment that you didn't get. There wasn't a sex scene that she didn't, like, linger over for seven or eight pages. I mean, they were wonderful.

MAYER: Beginning with her first book, "Scruples," in 1978, Krantz wrote about fashion moguls, princesses and publishers, pilots and nightclub singers and movie stars. And, by the way, everyone in that list I just rattled off is a woman. Krantz's women wanted rich men and Chanel everything. But they also wanted growth and success on their own terms. Here's Valerie Bertinelli as Maxi Amberville, who remakes her father's stale old fashion magazine in the 1987 miniseries of "I'll Take Manhattan."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I'LL TAKE MANHATTAN")

VALERIE BERTINELLI: (As Maxi Amberville) Enough guilt, enough about those extra pounds or about how you don't know how to manage your money. Would any man buy a magazine every month that told him what a jerk he was? No, he would not.

MAYER: Her solution, a magazine that loves women just the way they are. And of course it's a smashing success because in a Judith Krantz novel, women can have it all. Critics called Krantz's work trashy. Writing in The Washington Post, Michael Dirda described her 1990 novel "Dazzle" as merely a string of romance narrative cliches tied to loosely together by sex scenes every 50 or 60 pages and snootily expressed sympathy for the paper, ink and glue used to print it. Again, Jennifer Weiner.

WEINER: She got so little respect. I mean, I haven't seen an obituary that hasn't included some variation on beloved by readers, reviled by critics. And I just wonder why we, as a culture, are so dismissive of things that bring women pleasure and joy.

MAYER: But Krantz herself told The Boston Globe that she was past being upset by critical digs. I write about beautiful places, elegant people, good food, she said. I love the details that enrich life. My heroines are always wonderful. They may be flamboyant, but they're not cheap flamboyant. Krantz called herself the world's latest bloomer. She worked as a writer and editor at women's magazines for years but didn't think about fiction until she was almost 50.

She'd married television producer Steve Krantz in 1954. They were introduced by her pal Barbara Walters, and he pushed her to sit down at the typewriter for her first novel. It paid off when "Scruples," about a frumpy ingenue who remakes herself as a high-fashion boutique owner, hit No. 1 on The New York Times Best Seller List. And her next novel, "Princess Daisy," sold to a publisher for more than $3 million. The couple became a kind of cottage industry, with Steve Krantz producing lavish TV movies and miniseries based on his wife's work.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCRUPLES")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I love you, and I want to be your mistress.

MAYER: That's from the 1980 TV version of "Scruples." Krantz's last novel came out in 1998, though she did write a memoir called "Sex And Shopping: The Confessions Of A Nice Jewish Girl" - great title - in 2000. Judith Krantz died at home in her Bel Air mansion, surrounded by antiques, dogs, family, Hermes handbags and her massive collection of Chanel suits. She was 91. Petra Mayer, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.