Saturday, December 29, 2012

Retro Soap

The Inheritors by Harold Robbins, Pocket Books, February 1971

As a kid growing up in Florida I’d spend almost every day of my summers at the neighborhood swimming club. There were two swimming pools; one for families and one for adults. The family swimming pool was almost always crowded with teenagers and tots and, for all the kids under the age of twelve, mothers stuck with the duty of accompanying them while their husbands ogled firm, nubile, brightly bikinied over-21-year-old bodies over in the adults-only pool. Ever the observant little shit that I was, I noticed that plenty of these mothers carried in their beach bags thick paperback books along with their suntan oil, beach towels, cigarettes and sunglasses. And almost every day I’d notice the same name on these paperbacks: Harold Robbins.

I’d guess that the last time I’ve seen anyone reading a Harold Robbins novel was somewhere around the time one could still smoke cigarettes inside a shopping mall, or wear a mood ring. For all his immense popularity then, Harold Robbins’s books seem forgotten today. Something to consider when wading through the glut of novels by the Janet Evanovitch, Nicholas Sparks, and “50-Shades-plus” gang over-stocking the bookstore shelves now.

Over the past couple decades I’ve sampled a few Robbins novels and have found them to be, for the most part, horribly written, frequently boring and surprisingly light on the kinky sex stuff that he’s famous for. Perhaps I’ve not read the “right” novels by him. There had to be something that the public got from his novels.

The other day I found three of his titles; 79 Park Avenue, Never Leave Me, and The Inheritors, on sale at the library book shop. Liking the vintage covers, I picked them up for the price of a buck and a half.

The Inheritors is the story of two mavericks in the entertainment biz back in the mid-1950s and follows them through to the 1960s. Steve, an upstart go-getter, lands a job as president of Sinclair Television by insulting the company’s founder and owner in a ridiculous job interview, where he goes on to admit he’s also screwing the owner’s daughter. Sam is a publicity hound for a low-rung studio producing movies appealing to the grind house theaters along 42nd Street. Together, these two gentlemen take the burgeoning television industry and Hollywood movie studios into the 1960’s while consuming boatloads of scotch and Martinis. The women in their lives serve mainly as props to provide drinks, have sex with, dump, slap, throw tantrums and use only for the purposes of furthering careers. A typical compliment for a woman in the novel is “Good girl,” or “Nice ass,” or something like that. I can’t for the life of me see what would attract female readers to novels like this but the sales numbers don’t lie. As for the sex, something Robbins was notorious for, the scenes here are pretty tame. I understand they got crazier and more over-the-top as his career stretched into the 70s and 80s, but here they’re pretty short and almost quaint. There is a kinky orgy scene with acid heads, hippies and junkies later in the novel, but its shock value is diminished when one of the characters is shown offering a joint, saying, “Light up and turn on.”

For its faults, The Inheritors was much better than The Adventurers and Where Love has Gone, the only other Robbins novels I’ve read. It was entertaining the way a prime time soap opera like Revenge is. So, if you’re in the mood for some retro pot-boiler action, maybe Robbins will fit the bill. Just don’t expect your brain to go along for the ride.

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