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Monday, October 29, 2007

The man who invented the blockbuster - Andrew Wilson

With reported worldwide sales of 750m, Harold Robbins sold more books than JK Rowling, earned and spent $50m during his lifetime, and was as much a part of the sexual and social revolution as the pill, Playboy and pot. His 1961 novel The Carpetbaggers – loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes – was estimated to be the fourth most read book in history, and his legion of fans included Pablo Picasso, James Baldwin, Mario Puzo and Camille Paglia. He has been immortalised in an episode of Fawlty Towers and namechecked in the 1988 film DOA, starring Dennis Quaid, and more recently in a song by Sleeper.

Famous for his ability to exploit the racy, headline-grabbing lives of well-known personalities, Robbins was dubbed the “godfather of the airport novel”. His style was basic – infantile, even – yet he knew how to tell a good yarn. “Do I think of myself as a literary man?” he once said. “Hell, no. I’m a storyteller. Literature follows the storytellers. Just look at how Dumas and Dickens are still being read today. What I write about sex and violence reflects contemporary America. You know, if there was no such thing as the written word, I would be telling stories at street corners.”

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