Friday, May 27, 2016

FFB: The Carpetbaggers -- Harold Robbins


This is a slightly revised reprint from 2007.  Max Allan Collins mentioned this novel in a mailing comment a couple of months ago, and I was reminded of how much I'd enjoyed rereading it.  

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, so I bought the book.

When I read it in 1962, The Carpetbaggers 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 seen 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 section 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.

14 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Your APA past is showing..."mailing comment"...

Todd Mason said...

As I probably mentioned in 2007, THE BETSY was goofy enough for me to stop with that one, even with the sexy parts that were fascinating as well as goofy to the very young adolescent me.

Dan said...

What's next here: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS?

Michael Korda tells some very entertaining stories about Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann.

Jerry House said...

Beside THE CARPETBAGGERS and A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER, I'd recommend STILETTO. His others, not so much.

Deb said...

I remember this one clearly because when I was about five (1962/63), my mom was reading it. I remember flipping through it and realizing for the first time that adults read books without pictures in them. When I was in my teens, I read quite a few of Robbins' books. They weren't great literature, but they were trashy fun (ditto Jacqueline Susann).

Anonymous said...

Well, we know Robbins is highly regarded in the future:

(from Star Trek IV: The Voyage home)

Kirk: You mean the profanity? That's simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays attention to you unless you swear every other word. You'll find it in all the literature of the period.

Spock: For example?

Kirk: Oh, the collected works of Jacqueline Susann. The novels of Harold Robbins...

Spock: Ah, the "Giants".

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

THE BETSY did make a great movie, especially a certain notorious pool scene. And it had three (count 'em!) Oscar winners in it - Lord Olivier, Robert Duvall, and Tommy Lee Jones.

My favorite CARPETBAGGERS story remains this: in high school, Jackie was the only one in her class who knew what a "proxy" was. Why? As she told the teacher, she had learned about them from THE CARPETBAGGERS.

Besides this one, I also read his THE ADVENTURERS, but remember nothing about it.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

OK, I have a correction here.

Jackie says it was not high school. It was seventh grade when she read THE CARPETBAGGERS and discussed the proxy fight.

She also reminded me that it was on a book hunting trip in Edinburgh where she spent a rainy afternoon with our friend Sue at the movies seeing THE BETSY, which Bob & I searched for books.

Kent Morgan said...

Yesterday I put a copy of A Stone For Danny Fisher in a box full of older paperbacks going to our Childeren's Hospital Book Market. The Carpetbaggers must be in a box in my garage with my first copy of Danny Fisher.

Ed Gorman said...

I liked earlier Robbins very much.For me Carpetbaggers and Danny Fisher were his masterpieces.

Michele Drier said...

Wow, this took me back! I haven't read any Harold Robbins in some 50 years! Maybe I'll go reread, I remember thinking he was a good storyteller, even though I never discussed it with my friends in my college literature classes, LOL. They were probably reading it as well!

Cap'n Bob said...

I read a brace of them in high school and always found them exciting. I read somewhere that he alternated fight scenes and sex scenes in every other chapter.

Ed Marcotte said...

I have read all Harold Robbins books. Used to own them all, hardback and all of the paperbacks. I didn't think I'd ever read them again so I recently donated them all to a big book sale in Waco.
I enjoyed so many it is hard to say which was my favourite. I loved them all. Stone for Danny Fisher, and Good bye Jannette sure come to my mind.
Mary Marcotte

James Reasoner said...

A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER was the first Robbins novel I read, and after that I went through them like popcorn, with THE DREAM MERCHANTS probably being my favorite. I read them all up through THE PIRATE, although for a few books before that I'd started liking them less. I read now and then after that, but they never recaptured the old magic for me. I'd like to reread some of the early ones and see how they hold up.