'Roxy' Pulitzer Prizes Pat Booth's Palm Beach—but Not So the Rest of the Locals
updated 12/02/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/02/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST
That's right, Roxanne Pulitzer, whose sensation-filled divorce trial from publishing heir Peter Pulitzer gave her quite a moment in the Florida sun. That very same Roxanne now gains immortality, in a fashion, as the person who may or may not be the thinly disguised Palm Beach heroine Lisa Starr. Lisa happens to be a beautiful aerobics instructor from the wrong side of the bridge (West Palm Beach) who pushes her way into Palm Beach society by marrying a wealthy publishing magnate. For what it's worth, Pulitzer, who, by the way, teaches aerobics in West Palm Beach, protests: "It's not me. If I helped Pat at all, it was through our three-year friendship. Artists take characterizations from what they see." And what Booth sees, she claims, is not so much Pulitzer ("Roxanne gave me information, and I put it in different characters' mouths") as the whole town. "I like to write about the truly rich," she says. "If they are smart, many people will recognize themselves in my book."
Even if they aren't smart, many will recognize themselves in her book. "They were all there," she writes, "the Old Guard: Phippses, Munns, Wideners, Pulitzers, Kimberlys, a sprinkling of Eurotrash, the inevitable gaggle of suave White Russians ..." Her fictional characters, such as the power-happy politician Bobby Stansfield (who covets Lisa's body) and Stansfield's wife, Jo-Anne (who also covets Lisa's body), are crass and classless. Naturally, all this rankles the locals. "Can you imagine dedicating a book to Roxanne Pulitzer?" asks councilwoman Nancy Douthit. "This girl—whoever she is—was looking for a pot of gold."
At the very least, Booth is getting a bucketful of cash for her tale of lust and lucre beneath the swaying palms. Before her novel even hit the stores last month, she earned $1 million from paperback and foreign sales and from a deal to turn Palm Beach into a miniseries. Booth, who looks a little like Linda Evans and compares her work to that of Jackie Collins(though more "understated," she says), has no interest in making her acting debut in the miniser-ies. After all, she's had enough careers.
Back in Britain, where Pat grew up the daughter of a dockworker in London's East End, they remember her well. Always adventurous, she quickly tired of living above the jellied-eel shop her mother ran, and of attending school—which she quit at 14. She then began modeling, and by age 17 was earning as much as Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy ($100 per hour). Next she opened two popular boutiques on King's Road. In 1968 she moved along to the photography business. Soon Booth was covering cafe society for the London Sunday Times and cruising down the Nile for Cosmopolitan.
Booth's frequent companion on her photographic journeys was a young British psychiatrist named Garth Wood, whom she met at a party in the late '60s. In 1977, while vacationing in the Bahamas, Booth and Wood decided to elope, knowing full well that Garth's mother would not approve of her Cambridge-educated son marrying a cockney girl. "She wanted him to marry a big-titted, small-waisted snob," Booth blithely reports. "He didn't."
The newlyweds settled down in London, where Booth began her first novel, The Lady and the Champ. Then came a few more sexy paperbacks and some photography books, including those "happy snaps" of her own bronzed body. She also found time to give birth to a son, Orlando, now 4½, and she dabbled in photojournalism. "I've always broken the rules," Booth says of her checkered career. "I guess I'm just an aging anarchist."
Naturally, then, she thought nothing of buying a house in Palm Beach, because the weather and wiles of the town intrigued her. While Wood took a sabbatical and wrote a self-help book on how to be happy, The Myth of Neurosis (coming out in February), Booth spent 18 months researching the steamy scene in Palm Beach. "I originally wanted to do an expose, but the people are so camp that I actually like them," she says. One of her favorites turned out to be Roxanne Pulitzer, who comes over several times a week with her twin sons to swim in Booth's pool. Pat feels "Roxy" has been misunderstood. Pulitzer, in turn, worships Booth: "She's happily married and not wrapped up in a bunch of bull. I want to be just like her."
Booth has role models too. With aspirations of being both prolific and pampered in the best Gold Coast style, she says, "I'd like to end up like Barbara Cartland. Or a Palm Beach lady."