Los Angeles novelist and screenwriter Clancy Sigal turned up in today's letters section in the New York Times Book Review, offering a counter view to the description of mass-market writer Harold Robbins as "always in it for the money" and a peddler of "moronic prurience in insultingly bad prose." Well, Clancy sort-of speaks up for Robbins:
I rise in qualified defense. In the 1967 “summer of love,” a magazine sent me to hang with Robbins at his splendid suite at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. We lolled about the plage while Robbins spinned laughably absurd lies about his personal history — easily checked — and boasted that he was a more popular (and better) writer than Shakespeare. He was always “on” and didn’t really care if you believed him. It was sad, and charming, to see this balding, affable, rather old-fashioned, self-described “Jewish father” parade up and down the beach in then-hip bell-bottom jeans and Nehru shirt with his arms entwined around two lovely beach beauties hired for the occasion.
Robbins was indeed a hustler whose chosen weapon was a kind of automatic writing that poured from the darkest part of his Depression-scarred soul. However, he was but one cog in a formidable, industrial-size sales team that included his lawyer, from an eminent New York firm; Simon & Schuster’s Trident Press, which may have been set up specifically to retail Robbins’s sex and sadism; and a movie producer who probably saw the manuscripts before anyone else. Robbins’s onetime editor at Simon & Schuster, who labored hard to clean up (rewrite) his copy, was Bucklin Moon, a distinguished author himself.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Robbins wrote two halfway decent books, “The Dream Merchants,” about Hollywood’s early days, and “A Stone for Danny Fisher,” which got pretty good reviews. The critical praise and financial failure of “Danny Fisher” scared the life out of Robbins, who, as a movie studio accountant and statistician, was really a numbers guy at heart. In a way, he was a pioneer — of putting the deal first and treating the writing as an afterthought. His commercial children may be found on any best-seller list.
Gore Vidal presented Sigal with the lifetime achievement award at this month's PEN USA Literary Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel.