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. Never Leave Me
(1953), Robbins' fourth book, 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.
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. 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." 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
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).
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.
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.
Harold Robbins later claimed 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 immigrants. He was reared by his pharmacist father and stepmother in Brooklyn.
Harold Robbins’s books were translated into 32 different languages and with an estimated 750 million copies sold he easily makes it into the top 10 best-selling fiction authors of all time.