The superficial life of the superficial author of all those superficial, lubricious and extraordinarily popular sleaze-fests of the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, when ghost writers replaced the dying doyen of the “dirty novel.”
Wilson (Beautiful Shadow: The Life of Patricia Highsmith, 2003, etc.), hasn’t come up with much here. From an early age, Harold Robbins (born Rubin) gleefully lied about his life, inventing episodes and characters as facilely as he did later at his typewriter. So his biographer was forced to look at public records like census data and high-school attendance sheets, to conduct interviews with survivors (neither of Robbins’ two daughters offers much here) and to wax creative. For example, Wilson begins each chapter with a Robbinsian passage along the lines of “next to having sex, driving a cool car was one of the greatest pleasures of his life” and generally ends with a brisk, “keep-on-reading” sentence such as “but even fiercer sex and censorship battles lay ahead.” This ludic silliness aside, Wilson settles for skating along the admittedly high-gloss surface of Robbins’ life. Yes, his was a Horatio Alger–style tale; Robbins actually rose from stock boy to pen The Carpetbaggers and other lucrative titles. And, yes, the text makes it patent—and ultimately rather dull—that Robbins liked sex. Lots of it. Wilson tries hard to establish that it was women the author liked, not the services they provided, but after witnessing some of Robbins’ escapades and “preferences” (prostate massages are among the milder ones), readers may well want to head for the shower. The man could sell books, though: 750 million or so, which for a while provided him with villas, yachts, fast cars and fast lanes and accommodating (young) women. Massive debts and a wheelchair, however, were his ultimate fate.
Drivel about a driveler.