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||Harold Robbins (1916-1997) - originally Harold Rubin, also: Frank Kane|
American novelist, who published over 20 books, which were translated into 32 languages and sold over 750 million copies. Among Robbins's bestsellers is The Carpetbaggers. It was loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes, taking the reader from New York to California, from the prosperity of the aeronautical industry to the glamour of Hollywood. It's prequel, The Raiders, came out in 1995. As a storyteller, Robbins once compared himself with writers such as Alexandre Dumas Sr. and Charles Dickens.
'The truth,' I said. 'Can't any of you tell the truth? Do you always have to manipulate others doing your dirty work for you when the truth is so much simpler?'
Harold Robbins was born Harold Rubin in New York City, the son
of Russian immigrants. His biological mother, Fannie Smith, died in
childbirth. She was buried in a plot paid for by the Progressive
Brethren of Neshwies, in Mount Zion Cemetery, Queens, which the author
later described in the novel A Stone
for Danny Fisher (1952). Robbins was raised by his father,
Charles Rubin, a
successful Manhattan pharmacist, and stepmother Blanche Zinnerman, born
in Lodz (now in Poland, then part of Russia). The family lived in
Brooklyn, at 1184 Schenectaby Avenue. "When I was a kid in New York,"
Robbins once recalled, "I used to stand under the stairs and look up
girls's dresses . . . So it started early with me, you see. In fact,
one of my problems in school was that I talked about sex so much." (Harold Robbins: The Man
Who Invented Sex by Andrew Wilson, 2008, p. 25)
At the age of 18, Robbins graduated from the George Washington High School. After leaving the school, he worked at several jobs. According to widely spread, but mostly fabricated biographical anecdotes, he spent his childhood in an orphanage. Robbins claimed, that he had made his first million by selling sugar for the wholesale trade, but at the beginning of World War II, all the fortune was gone. There is also a funny tale, that he was widowed when his supposed Asian wife was killed by a diseased parrot.
married Lillian Machnivitz in 1937, his high-school
sweetheart; the marriage was
childless, but he had two illegitimate daughters. In the early 1940s,
Robbins moved to Hollywood, where with the help of his father-in-law,
he was hired by Universal Pictures,
first as a shipping clerk. Due to his mathematical skills Robbins was
eventually promoted to budget analyst. In addition, he was a very good
chess player. His first novel, Never Love a Stranger
(1948), followed the rise of an orphan from the streets of New York.
Robbins typed it on a Smith-Corona portable. To have it published by
Knopf, he had to change his pen name to Harold Robbins.
Never Love a Stranger created controversy with its graphic sexuality. In Philadelphia, the book was banned. The Dream Merchants (1949) was about Hollywood's film industry, from the first stages to the sound era. Again Robbins blended his own experiences, historical facts, melodrama, sex, and action into a fast-moving story. "He leaned across the table. "Look, Warren, first of all, this picture will be the real thing. It won't run just twenty minutes, it will run more than an hour. Then there is something new that's just been developed. It's called the close-up." Robbins' fourth book, Never Leave Me (1953), is set in New York. In the story Brad Rowan, an owner of a small advertising firm, struggles against the temptations of money, sex, and power. Brad has been married twenty years, he loves his wife and children, but everything changes when he meets Hortense E. Schuyler: "Her face was not quite round, her cheekbones high, her mouth soft and generous, her chin not quite square, her nose not quite tilted, her teeth white and even, not dentist's even but human even."
When the ban on Lady Chatterley's Lover
was lifted in 1960, the court decision gave writers a lot more freedom
in dealing with sexual matters. Robbins utilized the opportunity with
his sexually graphic novel The Carpetbaggers
(1961). Critics dismissed the book as trash. This
bestseller of aviation, Hollywood, high finance, and Jonas
Cord Jr., perhaps amused Howard Hughes, if he ever read the book, for
at least the business tycoon did not sue the author – Cord was loosely
based on Hughes.
Born Max Sand, the son of a white man and a Kiowa woman, Nevada Smith
is Cord's childhood friend. Several other characters were
also easily identifiable. Later Jackie Collins made successful use of
this old narrative trick.
The title of the novel was taken from the pejorative name
given to those Northerns opportunists who overran the South after the
end of the Civil War – they tended to carry all of their wordly
possessions in bags made of remnants of carpet. In similar way the
characters exploit each other and the Hollywood cult of stardom.
Motivated by complaints filed by members of the National Organization
for Decent Literature, police in Waterbury and Bridgeport, Connecticut,
asked local wholesalers and retailers withdraw the book from sale
because it was "obscene." The novel was banned in South Africa. Two
other novels by Robbins was later added to the banned list: The Betsy and Dreams Die First. John Michael
Hayes wrote the screenplay for Edward Dmytryk's film version of the
book, starring George Peppard, Carrol Baker, and Alan Ladd in his last
Where Love Has Gone (1962) again used Hollywood gossips and personalities. The "sculptress" of the story was a thinly veiled Lana Turner. This book did not go unnoticed by the actress, who answered Robbins and all scandal papers with her candid autobiography. "It's said in Hollywood that you should always forgive your enemies, because you never know when you'll have to work with them," Turned wrote prophetically and with very good reason. (The Lady, the Legend, the Truth by Lana Turner, 1982, p. 284) She agreed to star with George Hamilton in a weekly one-hour soap, entitled Harold Robbins's The Survivors. From the beginning, the show had problems. Lana Turner drank a lot of vodka, the scripts were constantly rewritten, and the production went over budget. The series lasted only 15 episodes and never competed with Peyton Place, as Robbins hoped it would.
From 1957, Robbins worked as a full-time writer, producing
usually 5000 words a day – he had 16 hour days. Although Robbins did not have success with
literary critics, he believed that one day he would be recognized as
the world's best author. "You got something going inside you," one of
his characters said in Dreams Die First (1977). "Maybe it's the
way you look at yourself. Or society. You're skeptical about
everything. And still you believe in people. It doesn't make sense. Not
to me anyhow." Of his many works perhaps the most acclaimed was A
Stone for Danny Fisher (1951), a coming-of-age story set in New
York in the Depression. The tale was turned into a musical under the
title King Creole (1958), starring Elvis Presley. "Elvis Presley can act," wrote Howard Thompson in The New York Times.
"In Paramount's surprisingly colorful and lively "King Creole," most of
it outright drama, he does a good, convincing walk-through as a
downtrodden New Orleans youth who tangles with some gangsters (along
with that blasted guitar). It's a sturdy, picturesque job, and so is
this Hal Wallis production at Loew's State until it finally lapses into
standard gangster shenanigans." ('Actor With Guitar' by Howard Thompson, The New York Times, July 4, 1958)
run-of-the-mill bestsellers include The Betsy (1971), which
centered on a shrewd business-minded racing car driver; the story
continued in The Stallion (1996). Memories of Another Day
(1979) was the story of a union leader with connections to the real
life character of Jimmy Hoffa. The Storyteller (1985) took the
reader into the life of a trash writer in 1940s Hollywood. "To give the
devil his due, Mr. Robbins may have wanted to write a bristling expose
of America's moneymaking televised ministries. But it is a certainty
that this glitzy commercial novel will do nothing to stop the flow of
millions of dollars into those churches' coffers. And other coffers as
well." (Evan Hunter in The New
York Times, September 5, 1982) Descent
from Xanadu (1984) was the story of a rich industrialist who
find a remedy against ageing. Peter Andrews called Robbins's
novel Goodbye, Janette a "dirty book written in accordance with
the demands of the form." ('Bad Smut' by Peter Andrews, The New York
Times, June 7, 1981) This time Robbins set the story in Paris.
Andrews noted that the books had many sex scenes, in which the
characters "actually do things I wouldn't even talk about when I was in
the Army." (Ibid., page 15)
Robbins was married three times, not five, or six, as he
occasionally claimed. At one point of his life he owned 14 cars, a 85ft
yacht, and had houses in Beverly Hills, Acapulco, and the South of
France. And he had no fear of being photographed wearing multicoloured
striped trousers, a lilac hat, and giant sunglasses.
From 1982, Robbins
was obliged to use a wheelchair due to emphysema and a cocaine-induced
stroke, but he continued writing, although it was very difficult and
messy. In 1986, he slipped in the shower of his Beverly Hills home, and
broke both his hips. Robbins couldn't sit at his typewriter for four
According to Lee Server, the last period of Robbins's life followed
the devices of his own plots. He went broke, lost his wife, and
published his books in the hope that they "would keep him in lobster
and cocaine money." ('Robbins, Harold,' in Encyclopedia
of Pulp Fiction,
by Lee Server, 2002, p. 223) Stories tell how the author was locked in hotel
suites without room service, to make him produce a sufficient number of
typed pages. "Do I think of myself as a literary man?" he once said.
"Hell, no. I'm a story-teller. Literature follows the story-tellers.
Just look how Dumas and Dickens are still being read today ..." (Harold Robbins: The Man Who Invented Sex by Andrew Wilson, 2007, p. 2)
Several of Robbins's books have been made into films, among
them Never Love A Stranger (1958), directed by Robert Stevens, The
Carpetbaggers (1964) by Edward Dmytryk, The Betsy (1977) by
Daniel Petrie, and Harold Robbins' Body Parts (1999), produced
by Roger Corman. Harold Robbins died on October 14, 1997, in Palm
Springs, California. His posthumously published novel, The Predators
(1998), is a combination of A Stone for Danny Fisher and The
Carpetbaggers. It depicts the life of Jerome Cooper, a scrappy
Jewish kid who fights his way up and out of New York's infamous Hell's
Kitchen and into the world of international business. The Secret continued
the story of Jerome, and his son, Len. Jerome tries to keep his
affiliations with organized crime a secret. His son becomes a lawyer
and is gradually drawn into the world of his father. Never Enough
(2001), about four friends and a crime, is based on Robbins's story
ideas and was finished by a ghostwriter. Heat of Passion
also gave work for an anonymous ghostwriter. Robbins's ex-wife Grace
Palermo, a former casting director at Grey Advertising, published in
1999 a book of memoir about her life with the
best-selling author. Grace designed the master bedroom of their Beverly
Hills home, which had a custom-made, emperor-sized bed.
"It is far too simplistic to argue that each time a woman reads a magazine advocating heterosexual marriage, or a Barbara Cartland novel, a rubber fetishist goes and buys a favorite magazine or a teenager buys a Batman comic that they are equally vulnerable, equally exploited, equally duped. To patronize every reader of Harold Robbins and Jackie Collins is to grossly misjudge and diminish the subject." (Cult Fiction by Clive Bloom, 1996, p. 151)