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Darling of the Divorced Author: Olivia 'The First Wives Club' Goldsmith says it's not revenge she writes about, but how difficult it is to be a woman right now. Whatever it is, women get it, and have made the book a best seller and the movie a huge hit.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- Olivia Goldsmith, a purple lollipop clenched firmly between her teeth, steps out of a limo, rushes through the door of her elegant Upper East Side apartment building and motions a waiting reporter to accompany her on the elevator. On the way to her 11th-floor apartment, Goldsmith begins the interview with a warning.

"I had a painter friend over last night, and I didn't have time to tidy up the place," says the author of "The First Wives Club," the best seller that is now a hit-turning-into-cult movie.

She opens the door and makes a beeline for the coffee table, hastily carting off a number of empty wine bottles, the remnants of cakes and other desserts and what looks like the remains of a Greek salad. Then she stops at the dining room table and takes a quick pass at some other tempting leftovers and empty wine bottles. The rest of the airy, comfortable apartment, it should be noted, is immaculate.

"People would think I live a life of glamour and debauchery and desserts," Goldsmith says as she tidies up. "But I don't have any of them in my life. No glamour. No debauchery. No desserts." She stops, draws in on her lollipop. "I'm on a diet." Another lick follows. "And if you're taking notes on all this, I'm going to be

mad."

She's not mad, of course. What she is, in addition to being very, very successful, is: smart, down-to-earth, quite funny and conspicuously sane.

But Olivia Goldsmith, who describes herself as "a middle-aged girl from the Bronx," often writes about women who are mad at someone or something: physically less-than-perfect actresses mad at the Hollywood cult of beauty ("Flavor of the Month"); women who become victims of the fashion industry's marketing wiles ("Fashionably Late"); and, of course, first wives who are mad at the husbands who dumped them for younger women.

None of these themes sound particularly funny. And yet, in Goldsmith's hands, such plots take on a satirical tone that adds an overlay of humor to a supporting base of reality. At her best, Goldsmith is a social satirist disguised as a "women's novelist." Or as she puts it, "a sex and shopping novelist."

Still, there are those who feel the defining theme of an Olivia Goldsmith novel is: revenge. Comic revenge, perhaps, but revenge nonetheless.

It is not, repeat not, an assessment that Goldsmith likes or agrees with.

"I don't think I write about revenge," she says smartly. "I really write about betrayals. I don't think there's any revenge involved. I think I have always hated injustice. I didn't want ever to be treated unfairly -- and I can't imagine anyone else would."

She puts a feminist spin on the theme that runs through her work: "I think my theme is how difficult it is to be a woman right now. We're expected to have a career, we're expected to take care of our homes, we raise the children and if we get help, we're grateful -- instead of expecting it."

There's a lollipop pause and then she continues: "And at the same time, you have to keep your thighs thin and your hair colored and your makeup on and your scarves coordinated to your jackets."

Goldsmith, who used to wear a glamorous blond wig for publicity photos -- it was a joke, she says, but no one got it -- looks nothing at all like her fictional women in "First Wives Club." She is a short, brown-haired, clear-eyed, attractive woman who probably does not have thin thighs. Her clothes are neither glitzy or dowdy; they are well-cut, tailored and expensive-looking.

"I always look like this," says Goldsmith, who's just come from an on-air interview with CNN. "I have 10 things, and they all look like this. They're comfortable, and they're good enough to be on television."

Still, the former marketing consultant who began writing at age 33 -- a historical novel that she never finished -- does have one thing in common with her fictional first wives: she also went through a rancorous divorce that took seven years to resolve. In fact, the legal wrangling that ended her five-year marriage to a Fortune 500 executive lasted longer than the marriage; final settlement came in 1990. It did not have a good outcome for Goldsmith.

"I lost my home, I lost my business, I lost my car in my divorce -- which took seven years out of my life," says Goldsmith, who spent most of the money earned from her marketing consultant business on lawyer's fees.

Which brings up the question: Why? Why, in a marriage that lasted only a short time and produced no children, did it take seven years to settle?

"Because he's crazy," she says calmly, putting down her lollipop. "He was just impossible. In the end I gave up everything."

Well, not quite.

In the end she sat down and wrote "The First Wives Club," a novel inspired by her own divorce proceedings and by a 1989 magazine article on successful businessmen who leave their first wives and the mothers of their children for younger, more beautiful women. "It was the Fortune magazine piece on 'Trophy Wives,' " Goldsmith says, referring to the piece that launched a thousand feature stories.

"I went insane when I read it. I mean, it was the absolute lack of criticism of these guys' actions. It's like it was the new, cool thing: CEOs trade up. I mean, I went insane."

To get the Upper East Side and Central Park West environs and the social aspects of the novel exactly right, Goldsmith -- who is not from that world -- says she did what any good novelist does: "Research, research, research, research."

But not at the libraries. "I did enormous research in gossip columns. Liz Smith. Cindy Adams. Billy Norwich. I read 'W' and 'People' magazines, and I read the society columns." Pause. "And I did eat at Le Cirque." Pause. Lollipop break. "Once."

It worked out really well, she says. "When the book came out I was very complimented. Because people kept insisting the author must be some famous first wife, some society wife. And they were always asking 'Who is it? Is it the first Mrs. Henry Kravitz? Who wrote this book under a pseudonym?' "

It would be nice, of course, to say that "The First Wives Club" was an instant success. It would be nice. But not true. She has 27 rejection slips to prove how difficult it was.

"I had trouble with everything," she says. "I couldn't get it accepted by an agent. I couldn't get it read. I felt I'd made a big step ahead when I got back a note from a publishing house, saying, 'We've read this, and we think it's terrible. Please never send us anything again.' "

By this time, Goldsmith was $40,000 in debt and "maxed out on credit cards." Then a funny thing happened. Hollywood, in the form of Paramount studio executive Sherry Lansing, came calling. Once the movie rights to the book were sold, publishers suddenly became interested. The rest, as they say, is herstory.

Naturally, being the writer that she is, Olivia Goldsmith eventually turned her first encounter with the publishing industry into a book. "The Bestseller," published earlier this year, is both hilarious and serious in its treatment of the book business. Names are named -- both real and imagined -- of agents, writers and editors. And once again, Goldsmith had insiders wondering who, for instance, was the real-life counterpart for fictional editor-in-chief Pam Mantiss -- a lying, cheating, promiscuous, alcoholic dope fiend who sleeps with her authors.

"I actually toned down the characters," says Goldsmith, smiling sweetly.

To the outsider her life now seems fabulous.

"It is fabulous," she says, interrupting. "Or as they say in Hollywood nowadays: fabu. It is fabu."

Absolutely fabu. Look, she's got a new book out; an eight-year relationship with a man she met before she hit the big time; options for movies, with one almost in production; a screenplay she's writing; residences in Manhattan, Vermont and Florida.

And, oh yes, she's got a truly fabu Siamese cat named Frank. An absolutely fabu cat who likes to sit on tape recorders and help reporters with interviews.

"My life is very interesting now," Goldsmith sums up. "I don't believe in happiness as a goal. I don't think you ever really get there. But I think my life is interesting."

Her most recent book, "Marrying Mom," is about to be made into a movie. It is the story of three grown siblings who conspire to marry off their widowed mother, who wants to move back into her children's lives.

"I think it's a serious topic with a very funny twist," says Goldsmith who, by the way, says she will never marry again. Paramount Studios plans to make a movie of the book. And who does Goldsmith see as the mom?

"Well, Shirley MacLaine would be the cliche choice," she says. "But what about Anne Bancroft? Or Joanne Woodward?"

Either sounds fabu. Totally fabu.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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