By Sue Reilly
June 26, 1978 12:00 PM

In Middle America,” says Judith Krantz, “everyone hints about everyone else’s sex life, but no one really knows. In New York everyone knows about everyone else’s sex life and gossips about it like crazy. In Los Angeles everyone knows about everyone else’s sex life, and no one gives a damn.”

Everywhere she goes people want to talk about sex with Krantz, a 46-year-old mother of two, because of her best-selling novel, Scruples. It is a high-flown fantasy about fooling around in the world of film and fashion.

Successful as it is (Krantz has already made nearly a million dollars), Scruples and its author have taken a beating. The book—which some critics are comparing to the steamy output of the late Jacqueline Susann—has been called trash and unnecessarily raunchy. Interviewers have scolded Krantz for detailing fantasies that no nice Jewish Wellesley graduate ought to have. “When you write about the rich and famous,” she says philosophically, “reviewers are a little less likely to take you seriously.” Booksellers also advised her that with less sex they would have sold more copies—at least around Mother’s Day. Even the author’s mom, still a working lawyer at 76, found the book “a little hard for a mother.”

“They’ve done everything but tattoo a ‘P’ for Pornographer on my chest,” sighs Krantz, an angelic-looking blonde. On a slightly discomfiting promotional tour, she reports, “One reporter in Seattle, a 26-year-old woman, told me she thought the greatest love scene ever written was when Rhett carried Scarlett up the stairs.”

Krantz realizes that a lot of men are bothered by what she calls the “healthy libidos” of the women in her novel—particularly the rags-to-riches Billy Ikehorn, who owns a smash boutique called Scruples. “I think even sexually liberated men find women who approach sex with the same variety of emotions—lust, love, need, emptiness, happiness, sorrow, rage—can be very threatening. They may understand that women can feel something besides passivity and compliance about sex, but beyond that there is some fear, some anxiety.” As for the libidos under her own roof—she has been married since 1954 to her 6’3″ husband—Judith smiles and says, “I found writing the sex scenes a tremendous turn-on that would last for hours.”

Krantz is no stranger to the wild side. She was a contributing editor to Cosmopolitan for a decade, producing “heavy psychological” stuff: “The Myth of the Multiple Orgasm,” for example, and “Are You a Royal Pain in the…?” In 1972 her husband, Steve, 49, produced Fritz the Cat, an X-rated cartoon that grossed $90 million.

Born on Manhattan’s West Side, the former Judith Tarcher went to Birch Wathen, a private school, with little Barbara Walters. In fact, Judith met her future husband in the Walters dining room. After Wellesley and a year in Paris (chronicled somewhat in Scruples) Krantz worked for a variety of women’s magazines, switching to freelance just after her first son was born. The family moved to Beverly Hills seven years ago so Father could produce Fritz, and Krantz says she felt like a native “in about two days.”

Steve’s success on his own has been a big help in knowing how to handle Judy’s burst of glory. “He has been really a marvel,” she says. “He understands about the money.” Nonetheless, Steve calls her fame “disorienting—no matter how liberated a man you think you are, it’s an adjustment.”

Their younger son, Tony, 19, is smitten with Mom’s success and wants to show her off to his college friends at Berkeley. Nick, 21, who attends USC, has kept remarkably quiet. “He sort of ignores the whole thing,” she says.

Judith is now working on her second novel, for which she has a $400,000 advance, eight times bigger than that for Scruples. But because she lives in Hollywood, where plots get stolen like penny candy, she isn’t saying a word about it. Except that this one won’t have quite as much sex.