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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?'
'That's show business,' Guy said glibly.
'I don't like it,' I said.
'You better get used to it if you're going to stay in it.'

(from The Lonely Lady, 1976)

Harold Robbins was born Harold Rubin in New York City, the son of well-educated Russian and Polish immigrants. His father was a successful Manhattan pharmacist. Robbins was educated at 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.

Robbins married Lillian Machnivitz in 1937; the marriage was childless, but he had two illegitimate daughters. In the early 1940s, Robbins moved to Hollywood, where he worked for Universal Pictures, first as a shipping clerk. His first book, Never Love a Stranger (1948), followed the rise of an orphan from the streets of New York, creating 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."

The Carpetbaggers (1961) was an international bestseller, a story of aviation, Hollywood, high finance, and Jonas Cord Jr., whose adventures must have amused Howard Hughes, if he or his lawyers ever read the book, for at least he did not sue the author. 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. "It was not quite proper to have printed "The Carpetbaggers" between covers of a book," said one reviewer, "It should have been inscribed on the walls of a public toilet."

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 film role.

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 memoir The Lady, the Legend, the Truth (1982). "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. She agreed to starwith George Hamilton in a weekly one-hour soap, entitled Harold Robbins's The Survivors. It lasted only 15 episodes and never competed with Peyton Place, as Robbins hoped it would. "My first impression of him was that he was a strange man," recalled Hamilton. "If you didn't know he was a writer, you would think you'd better hold on to your watch."

From 1957, Robbins worked as a full-time writer, producing usually 5000 words a day. 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 sain 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.

Other 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 tries to find a remedy against ageing. Peter Andrews called in The New York Times (June 7, 1981) Robbins's novel Goodbye, Janette a "dirty book written in accordance with the demands of the form." 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."

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. According to Lee Server (Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction, 2002), 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." 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 ..."

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 (2003) also gave work for an anonymous ghostwriter. Robbins's ex-wife Grace Palermo published in 1999 a book of memoir about her life with the best-selling author.

"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." (Clive Bloom in Cult Fiction, 1996)

For further reading: Popular Culture by David Manning White (1975); Stranger Than Fiction: My Wild Life With Harold Robbins by Grace Robbins and Frank Sanello (1999); Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds by Dawn B. Sova (2006); Harold and Me: My Life, Love, and Hard Times with Harold Robbins by Jann Robbins (2008); Harold Robbins: The Man Who Invented Sex by Andrew Wilson (2008) 

Selected works:

  • Never Love A Stranger, 1948
    - film (1958), dir. by Robert Stevens, screenplay by Richard Day, starring John Drew Barrymore (as Francis 'Frankie' Kane), Lita Milan, Robert Bray, Steve McQueen.
  • The Dream Merchants, 1949
    - TV film (1981), prod. Columbia Pictures Television, Operation Prime Time (OPT), dir. Vincent Sherman, with Mark Harmon, Vincent Gardenia, Morgan Fairchild, Brianne Leary.
    - Suuri unelma (suom. Anja Haglund, 1976)
  • A Stone for Danny Fisher, 1952
    - film King Creole (1958), prod. Hal Wallis Productions, Paramount Pictures, dir. by Michael Curtiz, starring Elvis Presley (as Danny Fisher) , Carolyn Jones, Dean Jagger, Walter Mathau.
  • Never Leave Me, 1953
    - Älä jätä minua koskaan (suom. Juhani Pietiläinen, 1968) / Kun totuus paljastuu (suom. Juhani Pietiläinen, 1979)
  • 79 Park Avenue, 1955
    - TV mini series (1977), prod. Harold Robbins International Company, Universal TV, dir. Paul Wendkos, with Lesley Ann Warren, Marc Singer, David Dukes, Polly Bergen, Raymond Burr, Michael Constantine.
    - Park Avenue 79 (suom. Kyllikki Holmquist, 1956)
  • Stiletto, 1960
    - film (1969), dir. by Bernard Kowalski, starring Alex Cord, Britt Ekland, Patrick O'Neal. A mafia melodrama about a killer who decides to quit his job.
    - Stiletti (suom. Helge Heino, 1979)
  • The Pusher, 1960 (screenplay, based on a novel by Evan Hunter)
    - film (1960), prod. Milford/Carlyle Productions, dir. Gene Milford, starring Kathy Carlyle, Robert Lansing and Felice Orlandi
  • The Carpetbaggers, 1961
    - film (1964), prod. Embassy Pictures Corporation, Paramount Pictures, dir. by Edward Dmytryk, starring George Peppard, Carrol Baker, Alan Ladd, Bob Cummings, Martin Balsam. An old-fashioned melodrama, where a young playboy inherits an aircraft business, becomes a megalomanic tycoon and moves to Hollywood in his search for power. Set in the 1920s-30s. Alan Ladd's last film. Followed by prequel Nevada Smith (1966), prod. Solar Productions, dir. by Henry Hathaway, starring Steve McQueen, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Arhur Kennedy. A revenge story where Smith goes after the senseless killers of his parents. Remade as a TVM in 1975, dir. by Gordon Douglas, starring Cliff Potts, Lorne Greene.
    - Rahantekijät (suom. Jaakko Lavanne, 1973)
  • Where Love Has Gone, 1962
    - film (1964), prod. Joseph E. Levine Productions, Embassy Pictures Corporation, dir. Edward Dmytryk, starring Bette Davis, Susan Hayward, Mike Connors, Jane Greer.
    - Mihin rakkaus johtaa (suom. Rolf Ekman, 1964)
  • The Adventurers, 1966
    - film (1970), prod. AVCO Embassy Pictures, Paramount Pictures, dir. by Lewis Gilbert, starring Bekim Fehmiu, Alan Badel, Charles Aznavour, Candice Bergen, Ernest Borgine, Olivia de Haviland. Bloody adaptation of Robbins' novel, a revenge story set in a fictional Central American republic. Sex, drugs, and sadism.
    - Seikkailijat (suom. Anja Haglund, 1974)
  • The Inheritors, 1969
    - Vallanperijät (suom. Sakari Ahlbäck, 1972)
  • The Betsy, 1971
    - film (1977), prod. Harold Robbins International Company, dir. by Daniel Petrie, starring Laurence Olivier, Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Katharine Ross. A melodrama of an aged car manufacturer.
    - Autokuningas (suom. Esko Halme, 1979)
  • The Pirate, 1974
    - TV drama (1978), prod. Howard W. Koch Productions, Warner Bros. Television, dir. Ken Annakin, with Franco Nero, Anne Archer, Olivia Hussey, Ian McShane.
    - Sheikki (suom. Anja Haglund, 1975)
  • The Lonely Lady, 1976
    - film (1983), prod. Harold Robbins International Company, KGA, Universal Pictures, dir. Peter Sasdy, starring Pia Zadora, Lloyd Bochner, Bibi Besch, Joseph Cali.
    - Kultanainen (suom. Esko Halme, 1977)
  • Dreams Die First, 1977
    - Lehtikuningas (suom. E.A. Mesi, 1978)
  • Memories of Another Day, 1979
    - Pomo (suom. T. Peltonen, 1980)
  • Goodbye, Janette, 1981
    - Näkemiin, Janette (suom. Antti Virtanen, 1986)
  • Spellbinder, 1982
  • Descent from Xanadu, 1984
    - Haaste kuolemalle (suom. Renne Nikupaavola, 1985)
  • The Storyteller, 1985
    - Tarinaniskijä (suom. Renne Nikupaavola, 1986)
  • Piranha, 1986
    - Piraijat (suom. Antero ja Tuomas Tiusanen, 1992)
  • The Raiders, 1995
    - Valtaajat (suom. Anna-Laura Talvio 'Elone, 1995)
  • The Stallion, 1996
    - Stallion: hevosvoimien kuningas (suom. Anja Meripirtti, 1996)
  • Tycoon: A Novel, 1997
    - Tycoon: mediaruhtinas (suom. Heikki Karjalainen, 1998)
  • The Predators, 1998
    - Saalistajat (suom. Ilkka Terho, 1999)
  • The Secret, 2000
    - Salaisuus (suom. Heikki Kaskimies, 2001)
  • Never Enough, 2001
  • Heat of Passion, 2003
  • The Betrayers, 2004 (with Junius Podrug)
  • Blood Royal, 2005 (with Junius Podrug)
  • The Devil to Pay, 2006 (with Junius Podrug)


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