Let me state right up front that I understand it is almost an oxymoron to equate Harold Robbins‘ writing to both art and influence. A few weeks ago when I wrote about Herman Wouk, someone commented about one of his books as a “potboiler.” Well, Robbins’ entire career is seemingly potboilers. Yet that does not preclude him from being influential. This review of a bio of Robbins from the New York Times covers part of the reason:
He’d found his gimmick: exploitation, with garish facsimiles of Lana Turner (“Where Love Has Gone”), the South American playboy Porfirio Rubirosa (“The Adventurers”) and the Ford automobile dynasty (“The Betsy”), among others, paraded en déshabillé for our enjoyment.
Robbins’ wiki intro is sparse:
Harold Robbins (May 21, 1916 – October 14, 1997) was an American author of popular novels. One of the best-selling writers of all time, he penned over 25 best-sellers, selling over 750 million copies in 32 languages.
Robbins apparently created a bit of a myth of Harold Robbins, claiming to be:
a Jewish orphan who had been raised in a Catholic boys home. In reality he was the son of well-educated Russian- and Polish-Jewish immigrants. He was raised by his father, who was a pharmacist, and his stepmother in Brooklyn.
Robbins did not invent sex for his books but it looks like he was the first to exploit fairly explicit sex scenes for the best seller lists. The review of his bio from The NY Times linked above is fairly adamant about Robbins being without talent and only in it for the money yet it is hard to sell that many books with no talent at all.
The film became the one movie no one wanted to see. It opened to a storm of resentment from critics and audiences who felt the film did not present anything new in the jet set genre. Today it is mentioned in the The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the Top Ten Best Bad films of all time. The director Lewis Gilbert said candidly on June 25, 2010 on the BBC radio programme “Desert Island Discs” that The Adventurers was a “terrible film.”. He said “I had a terrible film called The Adventurers which was a big, sprawling, very expensive film which was a disaster. I should never have made it. It’s one I’m not proud of.”
Yes, I saw the movie as well as read the book. Candice Bergen was one of the stars. To release some vestigial sexism, do I need to explain further?
The Carpetbaggers is probably Robbins best known work. Wiki says it is “…loosely based on a composite of Howard Hughes, Bill Lear, Harry Cohn, and Louis B. Mayer” but Hughes is rather obvious as the primary model for Jonas Cord. The movie starred George Peppard, Alan Ladd, and Carroll Baker. Steve McQueen starred in a prequel movie, Nevada Smith as the young man of the character Alan Ladd played.
I drifted away from Robbins writing in the early ’70s but had read most of his books up to then. A Stone For Danny Fisher became an Elvis movie, King Creole. His first book, Never Love a Stranger was also the first movie of a Robbins book with the film starring John Drew Barrymore (yes, that is Drew Barrymore‘s father.) Where Love Has Gone had Bette Davis and Susan Hayward among the cast of the movie.
Robbins did not invent the roman å clef but he surely did not shy from stealing topics from real life. He made a living writing trash but a lot of us read that trash.
Picture from Zorindart licensed under Creative Commons