The Carpetbaggers was originally published in 1961, which means that the paperback came out in 1962. So in the summer of 1962 I read the book for the first time. A week or so ago I visited my local personal bookseller (Wal-Mart) and saw a brand-new paperback edition from Tor. I went into a veritable frenzy of nostalgia (shocking, I'm sure, many Wal-Mart shoppers). This happened on the same day that I'd just read somewhere that it was Harold Robbins' birthday. The coincidence and the nostalgia, along with the fact that it had been just about exactly 45 years since I read the book, were too much for me, and I bought it.
When I read it in 1962, the book was considered very hot stuff. I believe one reviewer said that it should have been written on a restroom wall rather than published between covers. And it is indeed full of sex: straight sex, gay sex, rough sex, near-incestuous sex, solitary sex, group sex, kinky sex, and probably other kinds of sex that I'm forgetting at the moment. None of it, however, is graphically described. I'm sure that Nightstand Books and others of the time were going farther in that regard than Robbins did.
The book is divided into sections named for the characters. Jonas Cord is the major figure, and he narrates his sections in the first person. Cord was based on Howard Hughes, a fact that was obvious to me even 45 years ago. I'd see The Outlaw and knew the story about Jane Russell and the bra, which is fictionalized in the book.
The section I remembered best was devoted to Nevada Smith. I guess others liked it best, too, because it was made into a movie with Steve McQueen, and even into a TV movie with Cliff Potts. The section is under 100 pages long, but there's enough violence in it to fill a much longer book. No wonder I remembered it. It's the most vivid in the novel. Smith seems to be about 90% fictional, but there are traces of Tom Mix and William Boyd in the character, for sure.
I enjoyed reading the book again. Since it was a historical novel, it's not nearly as dated as you might think. It's still pretty darned good popular entertainment if you like trashy books, which I do. Check it out.
Aside: The first book I read by Robbins was A Stone for Danny Fisher, which I checked out of the library after seeing King Creole and noticing that it was based on Robbins' novel, which it hardly resembles. After The Carpetbaggers, I never read another book by Robbins, and I didn't realize that he kept on cranking them out for so many years. In fact, the books have continued to appear right up to the present, even though Robbins died in 1997. Someone called Junius Podrugg is now sharing credit with Robbins on the covers. The same roman a clef formula seems to be working all these years later.