October 01, 1979 12:00 PM

‘I have interesting characters and I want good things to happen to them. I write to entertain’

She is as impetuous as Princess Caroline and as mysterious as Yasmin Khan. Her mother is a stunning American actress, her father a dashing, polo-playing Russian prince. She moves from European mansions, to the horse country of Virginia, to the New York glitter scene. Would you buy her story?

She is the heroine of Princess Daisy, a new novel by Judith Krantz, author of Scruples, and next March Crown Publishers will bring out the three-generation blockbuster at $12.95 per. One year later, the paperback will appear. Bantam Books is praying for a sale of at least six million because it has just paid the highest price in history for a mere book—$3.2 million.

Krantz’ agent in the astonishing auction was Mort Janklow, 49. “It’s like making love,” he says. “There’s always the right moment.” His sense of timing appears to be consummate. In 1978 he wangled $2.25 million for the paperback rights to Linda Goodman’s Love Signs, still the record for nonfiction.

Janklow and Crown Publishers began peddling the new novel even before Scruples was published. In early 1978 Crown offered Warner Communications a chance at paperback rights to Daisy for $1.4 million—on the basis of a 29-page outline. Warner declined. A few months later Bantam showed more enthusiasm (whether it was better judgment, time will tell). It was willing to pay $1.3 million just for the chance to top the highest bid by 7½ percent when the auction was held.

When the day arrived last month, Bantam sat by as seven other paperback houses kept the phones ringing at Crown for 14½ hours. “It was very dramatic,” says Nat Wartels, president of Crown. “Five of the bidders went above $2 million. Nobody could have expected we’d get the amount we did.” Why the bonanza? “The book has lots of romance and vicarious thrills for readers drawn into Daisy’s elite world,” is Wartels’ bland response.

When bidding continued into the evening, Janklow donned black tie and taxied to a dinner attended by Barbara Walters, Ruth Carter Stapleton and Bess Myerson. “I took two bites, then went into a bedroom to take calls,” he says. “Women kept coming in to fix their hair and makeup.”

Out in Beverly Hills, meanwhile, author Krantz, just home from a six-week vacation in France, was on hold. “I was in a trance,” she recalls. “It’s the kind of day I’ll never forget, but I’ll never remember. I wanted to go tell Daisy how well we were doing.”

It was not a surprising reaction, since the author and her heroine spent two years together. For the first 12 months, Krantz researched St. Petersburg aristocracy, TB cures in Switzerland, polo and lurchers, the exotic type of hunting dog that Daisy owns. Since the princess turns into a working girl mid-saga and produces TV commercials, Krantz spent a month on location, a world she knew as the daughter of an ad agency owner. “My mother says the first word I knew was ‘orange juice,’ ” Krantz says. “The second was ‘client.’ ”

After her research the author pecked six days a week on her Smith-Corona 2200. “I write to make myself and others happy,” Krantz, 47, explains. “All the good people live happily ever after, and the villain gets what he deserves.”

While Judy spun out her fairy tale, husband Steve Krantz, 56, had also turned literary. After making millions producing films like the X-rated Fritz the Cat, he wrote Laurel Canyon, described as “the sizzling Hollywood novel where the names are changed to protect the innocent and disguise the guilty.” For it, Steve won a $285,000 advance from Pocket Books. That figure, too, is unprecedented for a soft-back original.

Of the $3.2 million, Judy will pocket 70 percent and Crown the rest. (Janklow gets 10 percent of his client’s share.) Because the Krantzes have been very rich for a decade, they do not expect their lives to change much. Says Steve, “I considered having my Porsche repainted, but decided against it. In the end, I bought another pair of sneakers.” Judy yearned for something more substantial. The day before the auction, en route home from Paris, she spotted a diamond pin in the window of Manhattan’s Van Cleef & Arpels. “I asked the saleswoman to hold it,” says Krantz. At a crucial point in the auction, Steve asked if there was anything he could do to relieve the tension. Her answer befits a princess: “Call Van Cleef.”

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