The Bedroom Interview: Judith Krantz

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The Bedroom Interview with Judith Krantz

The first thing I notice about Judith Krantz is how good she smells: fresh, floral, clean. I had expected vodka-tonic breath (with a hint of lime) and phlegmy, throaty laughs expelling clouds of Lark cigarette smoke. I had expected Jacqueline Susann, maybe Jackie Collins. Given the vivid, lovingly drawn depictions of sex and power in her modern-day bodice-rippers, I had expected, as Mrs. Krantz once described one of her own characters, an “Electric Hussy.” What I get is a Hummel figurine. Tiny, wide-eyed, porcelain-skinned and rosy-cheeked, Mrs. Krantz is positively bite-sized in Chanel and a single strand of pearls. I should have been prepared after reading her latest book, Sex and Shopping: The Confessions of a Nice Jewish Girl. A memoir, it is the story of an ordinary seventy-two-year-old woman with an extraordinary imagination and a hunger to share it. Based on the enormous success of Scruples, Princess Daisy and I’ll Take Manhattan, among others, it seems clear that this decidedly smaller-than-life matron knows what millions of women like herself want to read about: larger-than-life heroines living fantastic, if somewhat implausible, adventures.


Her bedroom, while quite large (fitting a couch, two chaise longues and a bed with room to spare), reeks of Marcia Brady girlhood. Full of floral patterns and varying shades of pink, it’s a perfectly controlled environment; nothing bad could happen here.


Warm and affectionate, with an easy laugh, Mrs. Krantz seems more concerned with my comfort than with her own. In fact, I find myself thinking that Mrs. Krantz could pass as my grandmother . . . if only my grandmother were as relaxed talking to strangers about sadomasochism as she is discussing interior design. — Adam Drucker

* * *

So I’m the first interviewer who’s actually stepped foot in these hallowed bedroom walls?

After twenty-two years of interviews, this is a first.

Lucky me.

Lucky you!

I read somewhere that you’re a pillow fanatic.

Pillows! I’m a pillow freak [points at her bed]. That’s a good example of how many pillows I think is just almost enough. Let’s see [counts aloud the pillows on the bed] . . . there are about fourteen.

What is it about them?

Men don’t like them, but women do. I think it’s because when men think of pillows, they think of the old-fashioned lady sitting on her chaise longue and sort of half-fainting. It’s just not a guy thing.

Do you think that men like pillows during sex?

Once the woman has the guy on the pillows, he doesn’t see the pillows. He only sees what he wants to see.

You seem to have a pretty healthy interest in male sexuality. In your memoir, Sex and Shopping, you write that the first time you saw a penis —

My brother’s penis.

You write that when your baby brother was born, “I took one look at his penis and grasped, once and forever, the total conviction that he possessed something better than anything I had, something I wanted desperately . . . Maybe I will get to heaven and discover that there I have a penis! If I could be sure of this, I’d die happy.” Do you really feel that you’ve somehow missed out on something?

I always did. All of my childhood, all of my girlhood. I mean right now it isn’t something I think about. It’s been a while. But I absolutely felt that men had something extra that was definitely better. Whereas my sister thought he was deformed. She thought it was — what — like a wart. Whereas I thought of it as a really great addition to the body.

So because of your sister, do you think Freud got it wrong? That not all women envy it or wish they had it?

My sister didn’t. I don’t think all women do. But I know I did. I definitely had penis envy and I think Freud — he may have been wrong about a lot of things but he was partly right about a great many things and dead on in others. And certainly penis envy is something I think a lot of women — if you could get them to admit it — would admit to feeling it. It’s just an extra something.

Why do you think they wouldn’t admit it?

How can you be a good feminist — and I am a good feminist — and still have penis envy? People are always saying: “Oh, well, your clitoris is actually internally a giant penis” — but you can’t see it. If you can’t see it, it isn’t there! But I don’t have those fantasies anymore.

Do you have sexual fantasies?

About having a penis — never.

Well not about having a penis, but just in general.

Oh yes! Why? Do you think I’m too old?

No, not at all, I just thought that’s what you were saying.

No, no, no. You’re never too old to have a libido or sexual fantasies. But definitely the penis envy dwindles as you realize that it isn’t going to happen.

I wonder what lesbians would think about your theory that all women crave a penis.

I don’t know exactly what they do with dildos. I have no experience. But I’ve written some very good lesbian sex scenes.

Have you fantasized about being with a woman?

Never wanted to do it. And I’ve never been propositioned. But it’s always been one of the great turn-ons for men — the Marquis de Sade, oh, he’s always got orgies going, but his favorite kind of orgy is a number of women and him.

So that hasn’t changed over time.

It probably goes back to the cave men. That was the fantasy — two cave ladies who don’t like cushions but like each other.

If you had to pick an actress to play you in the mini-series of your life story, who would it be?

Well, nobody who looks like me is an actress. I mean I’m very petite. And I have an unfortunately innocent look. Are there any innocent looking girls left?

There are some. Like a waifish Winona Ryder —

— Gwyneth Paltrow kind of thing . . . but they’re too skinny.

What would be your type, if you were a man? Who do you think seems like someone who’d be good in bed? Would Gwyneth?

I’m sure I don’t know. I’m sure I don’t know. Catherine Zeta-Jones, I’ve got to say — she looks as if she would be really good in bed — to me. I mean, I think Michael Douglas jumped, pounced, got her pregnant. I mean, I don’t see what she sees in him. Frankly she could be having the best time in the world, that girl. Instead of being pregnant at twenty-five, by a man twice her age. What! What did she see in him? It must be love. It can’t be anything else. She doesn’t need him in any way. But there is a gorgeous, gorgeous girl. If I were a man, I would say, “Wow.” That would be my ideal.

And she is for many many men.

Even pregnant.

You mentioned the Marquis de Sade — do you have any favorite authors who wrote about sex?

Well not the Marquis de Sade! Have you ever read the Marquis de Sade?

I haven’t.

It is so unpleasant. The Marquis de Sade is just totally boring. The thing I find, to me, the greatest sexual turn-off of all time is pain. And so sadism — I just don’t get it! I really consider that perversion. I don’t think people are born wanting that ever. I think that’s something that their own neurotic needs drive them to. I can’t imagine why anyone . . . I mean, I don’t even like to take off a Band-Aid! Why would anyone want to inflict pain on anyone? Or have pain inflicted on them? Whoo!

What do you make of the way sexuality is depicted in popular culture? Take a show like Sex and the City. Do you think it reflects a corner of reality? The women on that show are sleeping with different men every week.

The characters are wonderful, great ensemble cast there. But you’ll see Samantha picking up a guy at a cocktail party — it was in one of the shows I saw last night — she picks up a guy at a cocktail party and is sleeping with him an hour later. It seems as if everyone has declared in the entertainment world that there is no such thing as HIV or AIDS. Because if they admitted it they would have to go through all of the things: “Well, you show me your blood test and I’ll show you mine.” And that would not make for an entertaining show.

Do you think that promiscuity is real?

Does that exist? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised because I think that . . . I mean, look, I see pictures, photographs of Gwyneth Paltrow and all of that young Hollywood crowd smoking. Now if they’re that stupid about smoking — first of all they must smell horrible! How they can have any sex appeal at all when they smell of an ashtray I don’t know! But if they’re stupid enough to smoke, they’re probably stupid enough to have sex with a stranger.

Your take on what is and isn’t sexy has probably influenced a lot of young women. Do you have any idea what the breakdown is of the ages of the women who read your books?

[Shakes her head no.]

You don’t? Because many women I know say they learned what sex was from Judy Blume, but they learned how to do it, or how to make it fun, from you. And I think there’s the misconception that your readers are all bored housewives, when in fact a lot of them are teenage girls at the beach.

I have met so many women in their thirties and forties who tell me they learned about sex from stealing their mother’s copy of Scruples and reading it or Princess Daisy or whatever, and I say how old were you, and she says, “Twelve.” I am so shocked because when I wrote that book I assumed that nobody would ever read it except grown-ups and it was amazing to me that women left these books around in a place where their daughters could find them. I wouldn’t have let my daughter read Scruples.

If you think about it . . . Teenage boys look at pornography, maybe this was a way for teenage girls to do the same — not that your books are pornographic. But some of those scenes were a way for them to fantasize and learn.

Absolutely. They don’t seem any the worse for it.

Do you think that any of them “pleasured” themselves while reading?

Who knows? Who knows? All I can say is that’s a question mark. The shadow knows. I never asked one, frankly. I have had letters from women who told me that it made them much more anxious for their husbands to come home.

There’s a good word: anxious. Do you think for the twelve-year-olds learning about sex from your books, that it set the bar too high as to what sex could be?

I think so, yes. I would say that at twelve you have no business reading anything I’ve ever written. You should be at least eighteen.

But do you think that women can have sex that’s as good as what’s in your books?

If they’re lucky. I mean I try to create an ideal sexual experience when I write an erotic scene because I work like the devil when writing it to make it as good as possible. One wrong choice of a word and you throw the whole scene off. From a craft point of view it’s the hardest thing to write. It has to be rewritten twenty-five, thirty-five times before it works. Because it’s a rhythm. It’s just like if you were having sex and a baby starts crying next door, that would really ruin it. Or a toilet flushes. You’ve got to be very careful when you’re writing a sex scene to make sure that nothing intrudes on the total immersion that the reader gets in the scene. And there has to be a reason why they’re having sex — they’re always advancing the plot. That sex that they’re having will either make them closer or it will turn out to have been a disappointment and it’ll eliminate the potential love affair.

But in your books, it’s rarely disappointing, right?

It’s rarely disappointing but sometimes it’s not what they expected. I remember once in Princess Daisy, Daisy and her boss were stuck in Venice because there’s a complete transportation strike and they can’t get out of Venice. They have an affair and it’s a wonderful, marvelous, heavenly affair and then at one point he rolls over in bed after he’s been satisfied and he says, “Daisy, amuse me.” And she is so outraged by this arrogance that it’s the end of the relationship. So something as small as that would end it.

Do you think that women prefer the sort of beautiful, romantic, glamorous aspects of sex — or do they really want to read about the down-and-dirty sometimes, too?

I think that if you’re going to write a really good sex scene it can’t just be fuzzy and gauzy so that you don’t really know what the people are doing. I think you have to absolutely know who’s doing what to whom. That has always been my theory. Because I was so annoyed when I was a kid by the love scenes in Gone with the Wind where Rhett carried Scarlett up the staircase and then the next morning she was smiling. Why! Why, dear God, was she smiling?

Exactly — what happened in between?

If I’d written that — of course I didn’t, unfortunately — but I would’ve . . . I mean Margaret Mitchell couldn’t write sex scenes in those days. Imagine what could have been done if writers of previous generations — great writers of previous generations — could’ve written graphic sex scenes.

Are there any other writers who you think would have written great sex scenes?

I think George Eliot would have written sex scenes for sure. And what if Jane Austen had been free to write sex scenes? But there are writers who wouldn’t have touched it. Trollope, who’s one of my favorite writers, would never think of writing a sex scene. Colette wrote very voluptuous love scenes, but she was never graphic. That was because she was shocking enough in her day and age.

How do you skirt that line between being graphic but not too graphic?

It’s a question of taste. If I just feel embarrassed to show it to my husband, I know I’ve gone too far.

Is there one aspect of sex — foreplay, doing it, or the moments after sex — that you think is the most important?

Oh, the foreplay. In many of my books, there’s four hundred pages of foreplay. For instance in Scruples, Billy and Spider Elliott almost never had a kind word to say to each other. Then in Scruples Two they fall in love. So all of Scruples can be read as foreplay for Scruples Two. I think most women would much rather read about the foreplay than about the sex.

Do you think then that the actual sex itself — or the orgasm — is less important?

It’s much less important — an orgasm is an orgasm is an orgasm. You may have a really big sneeze or it may be a little tiny sneeze if you have a little baby head cold — but basically you know what it feels like to have a sneeze . . . or an orgasm. So that’s the least important part. It’s the everything up to that. Just as long as that too is included.

Thanks for being so candid. I hope we didn’t get too graphic.

Well, I’ve reached new levels of frankness with this interview because I’ve always let the books speak for themselves in the past. But you have to talk about these things. I never wanted to before because of my sons. Sons don’t want to think that their mothers have sex. My sons always thought that I never could have written my books. But all boys think their mothers don’t have sex. Do you think that your mother has sex?

Um, no. I was an immaculate conception.

Well, I’ve got news for you: your mother has sex. When you get home tonight call your mother and tell her that I told you that she is not a virgin — that she has sex.

I will. Thanks.

©2000 Adam Drucker and Nerve.com, Inc.