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Teatime with Judith Krantz

The matron of letters chats about compulsions, sex, and ”Friends”

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See this petite 68-year-old grandmother, in her elegant Chanel jacket and trademark gold cuff bracelet, sitting just so in the luxuriously feminine office of her exquisitely edited Bel Air home? What you don’t see is that she’s wearing sneakers. And that her back hurts. And that nearby, on a pretty little round table, silver picture frames display clippings of her long and happy relationship with the New York Times best-seller list. The frames have just been polished, and they dazzle in the California afternoon sun, but the woman in the chair is not satisfied. ”I want to rearrange them so they look more casual!” she says, gesturing with a small manicured hand. ”I’m compulsive about the way things look! Of course, I want things to be clean underneath, but I want them to look just right on the outside. I feel a compulsion to live up to other people’s standards — which, by now, I should have outgrown. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m like that.”

Judith Krantz is like that. She’s an obsessive, a role model for the rewards of sitting in your chair and doing your work: Spring Collection, her ninth novel in 18 years, has just been published, bringing the total worldwide circulation of her oeuvre (in 90 countries and 27 foreign languages) to more than 75 million, and odds are good she’ll soon have another clipping to add to her little shrine to hard work. (The CBS miniseries translation will be produced, like all but her first novel, by her husband, Steve Krantz.) This time her five heroines are models and model-agency types with names like Tinker and Justine. (You were expecting maybe accountants called Thelma?) This time the action is compressed into two weeks in Paris. And this time, like always, the saga includes a smooth blend of brand names and sex.

But times change. ”I’m much less graphic in how I write about sex,” Krantz says, shifting achy hips. ”I discovered — when I was doing the book tour of Scruples and I was being beaten over the head regularly on every television show — that there are certain four-letter words that really offend people. So I stopped using those words immediately and used other words that meant the same thing. Also, there’s been an entire, total, complete change in our attitudes toward sex, because of AIDS. It’s not the party that it was.

”But,” Krantz continues, ”I love glamour. It’s my vicarious life. Here I’ve been married once, for 42 years, to the same man — that’s redundant. I have a very settled household. So I live the lives of my characters. I have half a day of being 27 in Paris. The other half, I come out, work with my trainer [to whom the book is dedicated], have a drink with my husband, and then dinner, and then my big thrill is Seinfeld.”

That’s glamour for this contessa of commercial lit? ”I think it is the funniest show,” she declares. ”And Friends I adore. I’m absolutely convinced I’m Courteney Cox.” Not Jennifer Aniston? ”Not Rachel, her figure is too good. But Courteney Cox, she has that worried look. She’s compulsive too.”