05/04/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT
He's 6'9" with piercing blue eyes and a choirboy face, but all of that is beside the point to him. "I think being successful is attractive," says the 50-year-old writer. By that standard, he's now sitting pretty indeed, with Rising Sun, his novel about U.S.-Japanese tensions, a best-seller. It's hardly the first: 11 Crichton books, from 1969's The Andromeda Strain to his 1990 dinosaurs-run-amok epic Jurassic Park, have solidified his reputation as the king of the serious thriller.
In addition the Chicago-born Harvard Medical School graduate is a Hollywood hyphenate: screenwriter-director (Westworld, Coma). Crichton's accomplishments have come despite "a very awkward phase when I was 6'7" and 125 lbs." and a lengthy period of emotional leanness. "For a long time," he concedes, "my work life worked better than my personal life." But two women remedied that: fourth wife Ann-Marie Martin, 33, and his first child, daughter Taylor, 4. "Having a child has actually made me more productive," says Crichton, who recently finished scripting Steven Spielberg's version of Jurassic, set to roll in August. His next thriller may well dissect "relationships between the sexes, which have in many instances taken an extremely unpleasant turn." A tall order, but this man's up to it.