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A Different Kind of Dazzle : Krantz's New Novel Is Set on a 100-Square-Mile Ranch, Not Newport Beach

November 28, 1990|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The heroine of Judith Krantz's steamy new novel, "Dazzle," is the world's top celebrity photographer, an "electric hussy" who drives a classic '56 turquoise and cream T-bird and is "humorous, impetuous and gifted . . . a creature totally of the 1990s."

Typical Krantz?

Well, this heroine also happens to be an eighth-generation Californian, whose cattleman father owns a 100-square-mile Spanish land-grant ranch--a private empire that includes 20 miles of sandy beaches and has developers around the world panting to take possession of the last piece of virgin coastal property between Los Angeles and San Diego.

The author of "Princess Daisy" and "I'll Take Manhattan" has set her fictional ranch just south of San Juan Capistrano, making "Dazzle" the latest in a flood of more than two dozen Orange County-set novels published over the past five years.

Crown, Krantz's publisher, has given "Dazzle" a staggering 500,000-copy first printing. And judging by the author's track record--five novels and five No. 1 bestsellers--and a megabucks promotional campaign that includes "dazzling" electronic bookstore displays, a billboard on Sunset Boulevard and a 50-city "tour" of local TV markets via satellite, "Dazzle" may become the biggest seller of the bunch.

Krantz set "Dazzle" in our back yard because Orange County is "the hottest new part of California to watch."

"My feeling started developing four years ago when I started going down to Orange County," explained Krantz, who lives in Bel-Air. "I could see that Orange County was heating up the way Rodeo Drive was heating up in 1976 when I first started writing 'Scruples,' " her first novel.

"There was," she said, "this tremendous boom-like feeling in the air, and people were really living the good life and spending money and flocking to Orange County in a way that made (the number of) housing starts just incredible."

At the same time, she discovered how "fast and furiously" Orange County was being developed "and how many people were trying to keep this development from taking over."

Krantz, a former New Yorker, has lived in Los Angeles for 19 years. But before 1986, she knew relatively little about Orange County, other than that it was home to Disneyland.

But that changed when Krantz was hunting for antiques and met San Juan Capistrano antique dealer Gephard (Gep) Durenberger. A Thanksgiving weekend stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point and dinner at Durenberger's Capistrano Beach home left Krantz charmed by the southern part of the county.

Krantz later began reading newspaper articles about land development in the county, including plans to build hotels on the undeveloped coastal section of the Irvine Ranch between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach.

"I kept getting more and more annoyed," she said. "I knew, having visited the mission in San Juan Capistrano and the backcountry how beautiful Orange County had been, and I knew how fast progress was coming.

"That immediately gave me the idea of writing about a family that had an original Spanish land-grant ranch that was completely untouched."

Through Durenberger, Krantz met Alice O'Neill Avery, millionaire granddaughter of Richard O'Neill Sr., the 19th-Century cattle baron who owned a vast South Orange County ranch that was once one-fourth the size of Rhode Island.

The two women met for tea at the author's Bel-Air home. "We talked for hours," said Krantz. "She talked about the old days growing up in that area of Orange County. I realized here was an area that had a very romantic history."

Avery put Krantz in touch with her son, Anthony Moiso, president and chief executive officer of the Santa Margarita Co., who explained the economics of the ranching business to Krantz and flew her over the family's property in his private helicopter.

"We flew over miles and miles and miles of virgin country so that I could see that just behind the coastline you have room for millions more people," said Krantz.

Although she praises Moiso in the book's acknowledgments for "doing much to preserve the quality of a way of life that is fast disappearing," Krantz criticizes the way much of the county had been developed.

"Whenever developers got their hands on the land," she said, "it was not long before they paved it over with concrete."

Krantz began working on "Dazzle" two years ago.

In researching Spanish land grants, she discovered that the county has "a very romantic history. I spent a lot of time just sitting at the mission in San Juan Capistrano. It's really lovely."

Krantz also made forays to South Coast Plaza, which is a setting in the book and which left her "stunned."

"It was really like seeing Rodeo Drive only four times bigger and under one roof. It's just amazing," she said.

Surprisingly, Krantz steered clear of Newport Beach in "Dazzle," with the exception of mentioning that one character lives on Lido Isle.

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