ROBBINS, HAROLD (1916–1997), U.S. author. Born in New York City and listed as Francis Kane on his birth certificate but abandoned on the steps of a Roman Catholic orphanage, he was raised in a foster home by a Jewish family named Rubins. He dropped out of high school and worked in a succession of jobs, including inventory clerk in a grocery store. When he was 19, he borrowed $800 and started speculating on crop futures. He later said he was a millionaire by the time he turned 20 but lost it all gambling on the future price of sugar. In 1940, he got a job as a clerk in the New York warehouse of Universal Pictures and rose quickly. By 1942, he became executive director of budget and planning. He remained with Universal as an executive until 1957. He began writing at the age of 30. His first book, Never Love a Stranger (1948), drew on his own life as an orphan on the streets of New York and created controversy with its graphic sexuality. The book, later made into a film, was his first bestseller, and by his death he had sold more than 750 million books with more than 25 titles in 32 languages. The Dream Merchants (1949) was about Hollywood's film industry, from the first steps to the sound era. In it Robbins blended his own experiences, historical facts, melodrama, sex, and action into a fast-moving story. His 1952 novel, A Stone for Danny Fisher, about a sensitive boy growing to manhood while being victimized by circumstances, drew respect from some critics, unlike most of his other writings. The film version (1958) had the setting moved from Chicago to New Orleans; it was renamed King Creole and starred Elvis Presley. Among his best-known books was The Carpetbaggers, loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes. It took the reader from New York to California, from the aeronautical industry to the glamor of Hollywood. Robbins also wrote Never Leave Me (1953), 79 Park Avenue (1955), The Betsy (1971) and Dreams Die First (1977). As his bankroll swelled, Robbins began living the sybaritic lifestyle of his characters, luxuriating on his yacht, maintaining villas on the French Riviera, Acapulco, and Beverly Hills, gambling at the world's casinos and marrying at least five times. Robbins said he had experienced all the vices he chronicled in his novels, many of which revolved around disguised versions of the rich and famous, including Aristotle Onassis, Porfirio Rubirosa and Lana Turner.
[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]
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