Magazine article The Spectator

A Master of Self-Invention

Magazine article The Spectator

A Master of Self-Invention

Article excerpt

HAROLD ROBBINS : THE MAN WHO INVENTED SEX by Andrew Wilson Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp. 312, ISBN 9780747592655 £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

When I announced, in London in 1962, that I was going to publish The Carpetbaggers, Harold Robbins replied, 'Everyone here has already read it.' 'Here' was the Carlton Hotel, Cannes, and The Carpetbaggers had hit the international jet set before the book arrived in England. But of course there were hundreds of thousands who hadn't read it, with 35 shillings to spend on guaranteed sexy entertainment. (When we opened an envelope containing seven five-shilling postal orders from a factory in the Midlands, we knew we were on to something big. ) Andrew Wilson says, 'Anthony Blond had snapped up the UK & Commonwealth rights to the novel', but he is crediting me with too much initiative: all I did was recognise that the hardback edition was but the 'stalkinghorse' (Simon & Schuster liked that expression) for the paperback and agreed to a mere two guineas per thousand share in the rights thereof, instead of the traditional 50 per cent.

When next in New York I gave a party at the Drake Hotel to celebrate our acquisition. The bill I was presented with was so large that I must have gone completely white.

Robbins, who was surprisingly aware of other people's distress, took it from me and put it in his pocket.

Harold came to London in early 1964 for the launch of The Carpetbaggers' paperback, by which time our hardback had sold and sold. A genuine bestseller comes out of the earth like a geyser and doesn't need promotion. I had edited out the obscenities and had rendered the sex scenes less explicit. W. H. Smith, without whose backing there were no bestsellers in those days, had on priniciple (we should understand) decided only to supply customers' orders; then they tried 500 copies, and eventually sold almost 100,000. All this was without reviews of the book, or indeed without Robbins himself promoting it, so that literary agents began to think of Anthony Blond Ltd as a skilled operator in the market. We were sent many wannabe Carpetbaggers, all of which we rejected, including one I particularly disliked called Valley of the Dolls.

Harold's assault on London had been arranged by Gareth Powell of Four Square Books, who merits more than his halfline mention in this biography, but Wilson can't have met this loud-mouthed ex-truckdriver of tigerish charm who later emigrated to Australia and vanished. …

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