<b>Robbins' fiction was as large as his life</b> Harold Robbins lived life so large he might have stepped out of one of his own racy paperbacks. He loved gambling, gorgeous women and cocaine; had homes in Beverly Hills, Acapulco and the south of France, plus a legendary yacht and a fleet of Rolls-Royces, Jensens and Maseratis. And then there were his lavish parties some of them X-rated. But Robbins' wasn't born to wealth. His background was working class, which meant he knew how to please the public. Instead of putting on literary airs he delivered page-turning storylines and sex, sex, sex. Andrew Wilson, who previously chronicled the life of Patricia Highsmith, has interviewed family, friends and acquaintances, and explored archives and court documents for <b>Harold Robbins: The Man Who Invented Sex</b>, a frank look at the not-always-likable man behind the blockbusters. As Wilson details, elements from Robbins' own life permeated his works, including a search for the mother he never knew. His sexual proclivities likewise drove his fiction to the delight of mass market readers. In 1968, when the <i>New York Times</i> examined the 10 all-time bestsellers, Robbins had penned seven of them. His most famous opus, <i>The Carpetbaggers</i> loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes is the fourth most-read book in history. A former shipping clerk (real name: Harold Rubin), Robbins was a budget analyst for Universal when he got a hankering to become a producer. But producers needed properties, so Robbins set out to write his own. It didn't hurt that his first book, 1948's <i>Never Love a Stranger</i>, was deemed obscene and immoral following a Philadelphia vice squad raid. (Robbins and his publisher fought the charges and won.) He went on to write 23 novels, including <i>The Adventurers</i> (1966), <i>Dreams Die First</i> (1977) and <i>Tycoon</i> (1997), as well as several screenplays. (Wilson's book would have benefited from a chronological listing of Robbins' works. And it would have been fun to see a compendium of the Robbins' novels adapted for film/TV. Anyone remember an early Tommy Lee Jones in <i>The Betsy</i>? Or that one of his best books, <i>A Stone for Danny Fisher</i> (1952), improbably became the Elvis Presley vehicle, <i>King Creole</i>?) In the end, Robbins fell victim to his excesses as well as health woes; he died a decade ago at the age of 81.

Robbins' later works were all but unreadable. But by becoming a brand name, he forever altered the book business. He also paved the way for sex-drenched bestsellers by the likes of Jacqueline Susann and Jackie Collins. Often asked about the appeal of his books, Robbins once said, They're American stories about the power game. Asked how he succeeded, he had this advice: If you want to be a writer, put your butt in a chair and write! <i>Howard Hughes biographer Pat H. Broeske got to swap Hughes stories with the crusty Robbins during a memorable book signing event.</i>

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