About Danielle Steel
Danielle Fernande Dominique Schuelein-Steel was born Aug. 14, 1947 in New York City. She was the only child of John Schuelein-Steel of the famed Lowenbrau beer family from Munich, and Norma Schuelein-Steel, daughter of a Portuguese diplomat. After her parents divorced, the seven-year-old Steele spent her formative years in Paris and New York, and was raised mostly by an absentee father and servants. The fact that she was exposed to lavish parties, lived in designer homes, and hobnobbed with the rich and famous at an early age would serve her well in later years. She started writing stories as a child and then poetry as a teenager. At age 15, she graduated from the prestigious Lycée Français de New York and enrolled at New York's Parsons School of Design. But Steel abandoned her dreams of becoming a fashion designer after developing stomach ulcer, presumably caused by the demands of school, and left Parsons during her first year there. She enrolled at New York University in 1963 to study French literature, but dropped out in 1967, four months short of graduation. Before her writing career took off, Steel worked briefly in public relations, wrote advertising copy, and published poems in women's magazines. She wrote incessantly and was rejected just as often. In 1977, her novel Passion's Promise was published. A year later, she released The Promise, her first bestseller which had sold more than two million copies by 1979.
By the mid-1980s, Steel was fast becoming one of the most prolific writers in her mainstream genre. She endured a grueling writing schedule that lasted up to 20 hours a day, working on a 1964 Olympia manual typewriter, no less. Through the years, she developed an international following of mostly female readers whom she captivated with larger-than-life romances set against exotic locales. Steel's fans devoured her intricate plotlines and followed her "Dynasty"-era characters - often women with wealth and power - as they took journeys of self-discovery, feeling pain, love, and success. In Family Album (1985), it was an actress who lost all her money before reclaiming it as an Oscar-winning director; in Zoya (1988), it was a Russian countess who lost her fortune and family, and was forced to make a new life in America. More than 20 of Steel's novels were adapted for TV and film as well, including the miniseries "Crossings," an epic war romance starring Cheryl Ladd and Christopher Plummer. More often than not, her novels were adapted into TV movies, including "Kaleidoscope" (NBC, 1990), a compelling story of three reunited sisters who discover painful secrets from their past, and "Changes" (NBC, 1991), about a woman (Ladd) struggling with the demands of her new, blended family. Steel also mixed things up, writing from a male perspective. Fine Things (1987) chronicled the life of an executive whose wife died from a cancer, while Daddy was a heartbreaking story that followed the emotional recovery of a man whose wife of 18 years leaves him to raise their three children. While Steel was a permanent fixture on the New York Times bestseller lists, most critics gave her less-than-favorable reviews, calling her prose style sloppy and careless. They also made harsh remarks about Steel's propensity for focusing on characters that had wealth and power, and faulted her for shallow characterization and unrealistic plot lines.
Off the page, Steel's real-life relationships were just as tumultuous as her self-created heroines. She led a jet setting lifestyle during her first marriage to French banker Claude-Eric Lazard, whom she married just after she turned 18. The couple had a daughter before divorcing in 1970. Two of husbands had criminal pasts - Danny Zugelder, whom she married in 1975 while he was serving time for rape and burglary, and William Toth, who was in and out of jail for burglary and drug possession. She married Toth in 1978, one day after her divorce from Zugelder was finalized and while she was already pregnant with Toth's son. She claimed that none of her books were inspired by real-life events, but those familiar with her work said her personal affairs undoubtedly gave her plenty of source material. Cited as evidence, the best-selling Passion's Promise was about a socialite who fell for an ex-convict and Now and Forever (1978) featured a wife who stood by her husband, who is accused of rape. Steele kept her second and third marriages secret for years, and instead, built up her image in the media as an ultra-glamorous writer who wore full-length fox coats during photo shoots.
But the tabloids blew wide open the scandalous details of her relationships in 1991. The unauthorized biography The Lives of Danielle Steel in 1994 also shed unfavorable light on some of her alleged sexual encounters with both men. In an interview for Entertainment Weekly, Steel confessed that the unauthorized book had destroyed her life and ruined her marriage - her fourth with shipping executive John Traina - which had lasted 15 years and produced five children. On the heels of their divorce, Steel wrote Malice (1996), about a woman whose successful marriage is destroyed by tabloid gossip. A year later, Steel's family was rocked by the sudden death of her oldest son with Traina, Nick, who took his own life by a drug overdose. She kept the incident private for a time before writing His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina (1998), which discussed his struggles with mental illness and how Steel had tried to help her son. In 1998, Steel wed a venture capitalist named Thomas Perkins; that marriage lasted less than two years.
Regardless of the drama in her personal life throughout the years, Steele never slowed down and kept writing furiously over the next two decades. In 1989, she was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having at least one novel on the Times bestseller list for 381 consecutive weeks. But shortly after the list was published, she broke her own record and had one or more of her novels on the list for over 390 consecutive weeks. She wrote countless bestsellers in the 1990s and into the 2000s, including contributing the source material for the miniseries "Jewels" and the made-for-TV film "Safe Harbour" (2007) starring Melissa Gilbert. Her 77th novel Southern Lights was released in October 2009. Big Girl, which dealt with women's issues with weight and body image, was published in 2010.
By Candy Cuenco