Over lunch recently, Harold Robbins was discoursing on the ups and downs of being a novelist whose international sales were edging past the quarter of a billion mark. Speaking positively, the Pocket edition of "Descent From Xanadu," his latest novel, had just hit the top of the paperback charts; he had signed an agreement with 20th Century-Fox television, involving all of his unproduced works (including "Xanadu") and new concepts ('Empire"); and Simon & Schuster was readying for a May delivery his "AKA Joe Crown," a semi-biography involving a young guy from Brooklyn who, according to the publisher's summary, "fights his way out of the world of poverty, fueled by a burning ambition to strike it rich as a writer and sleep with every woman he can."
Still, Robbins wasn't exactly blissful. For one thing, he'd fallen and hurt his hip. The strength of the dollar had cut into his international sales profits. ("No matter what any writer will tell you, we write because of the money. If there was no money, we'd do something else.") His editor, Michael Korda, was critical of the new novel. ("Michael has hated every one of my last four books. He says: 'They're gonna be flops. They're not you. They're different.' Sure they are. Everything I write is different. He's nervous about the new one. He says it's the dirtiest book he's ever read. My feeling is that an editor's only role is to OK the check so that the financial department will send you the money.")
Robbins, who doesn't read many contemporary novels ("Too many of them I've already written"), is amused by a new billboard on Sunset Boulevard, next to Tower Records and Spago, that Pocket is using to promote "Xanadu." It reads: "The Harold Robbins Legend Continues." "Me and Julio Iglesias," he said. "We're all manufactured. Maybe I should cut a record with Diana Ross." He shook his head bemusedly. "What the hell is the Legend? I'm just trying to stay alive."
EVENTS-- Today: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., the 2nd Annual Jewish Poetry Conference takes place at Hebrew Union College (32nd and Hoover); 208-4427. . . . 2-4 p.m., Richard Webb and Teet Carle sign their collection of film-land anecdotes, "The Laughs On Hollywood," at Hollywood Book City (6631 Hollywood Blvd.). . . . 3 p.m., poets Michael Lally and David Trinidad read at the Permanent Contemporary Art Gallery in Silver Lake (2901 1/2 Rowena Ave.); $3; 661-7197. . . . 4:30 p.m., short-story writer W. P. Kinsella reads from his "The Thrill of the Grass" and film critic David Ehrenstein reads from "Film: The Front Line--1984" at George Sand (9011 Melrose Ave.). . . . 7:30 p.m., Gordon Gordon and Mary Dorr cover mystery co-plotting for California Writers Roundtable, at Mercury Savings (10435 Santa Monica Blvd.); 479-8719.
Monday: 7:30 p.m., career counselor Elaine Sorel guests at a meeting of the Independent Writers at La Cienega Park (8400 Gregory Way); 837-5817. . . . 8 p.m., poets Jack Grapes and Bob Brown are among those reading at Oggi Cafe in Santa Monica (1518 Montana Ave.). . . . 8 p.m., poet/journalist Joan Levine performs at Sushi in San Diego (852 8th Ave.).
Tuesday: noon, E. C. Krupp and Robin Rector Krupp ("The Comet and You") and Herman D. Hover ("Fourteen Presidents Before Washington") guest at the Edna Davidson Book Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton; 475-2948. . . . 1:30 p.m., Charles Solomon reviews Marguerite Yourcenar's "Memoirs of Hadrian" at Santa Monica Public Library (1343 6th St.). . . . 7:30 p.m., Jack Miles of The Times and Tish O'Connor of Perpetua Press survey art books for the Women's National Book Assn., at Mercury Savings (10435 Santa Monica Blvd.); (818) 789-9175.
Wednesday: 7:30 p.m., Harriet Doerr ("Stones for Ibarra") is guest speaker at the Friends of the San Marino Public Library Annual Dinner, at the Huntington-Sheraton in Pasadena; $20; (818) 282-8484.
Thursday: noon, Sheilah Graham ("Hollywood Revisited") is among the guests at the Round Table West luncheon at the Ambassador Hotel; 386-3276. . . . 8 p.m., poets Kathe Burkhart and Greg Burk read at Galeria Ocaso (3321 W. Sunset Blvd.). . . . 8 p.m., poet/actor Ivan E. Roth and composer Jill Fraser stage their "Life Is a Noun" at the Newport Harbor Art Museum (850 San Clemente Drive); (714) 759-1122. . . . 8 p.m., EZTV Video begins a weekend showing of street poets on video at three locations (8543 Santa Monica Blvd., 417 Colorado Ave. in Santa Monica, 1503 Cahuenga Blvd.); $4; 657-1532.
Friday: 8 p.m., Norman Mailer lectures at UCLA's Ackerman Grand Ballroom; 825-9261. . . . 8 p.m., poets Kate Braverman and Shaun O'Roarke read at the Works Gallery in Long Beach (2740 E. Broadway); 426-8254.
Saturday: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., the Friends of the Lakewood Library host a book sale at the Iacoboni Library in Lakewood (5020 Clark Ave.).
NOTICES--The Watts Writers Workshop is planning a 20th Anniversary reunion on Aug. 19, 1985. Interested members should correspond with Budd Schulberg at Brookside, P.O. Box 707, Westhampton Beach, N.Y. 11978. . . . Dan E. Lee is writing a book on Evelyn Nesbit and would appreciate hearing from anyone who knew her or has information about her. Write: Dan E. Lee, P.O. Box 60283, San Diego, Calif. 92106. . . . Colleen M. Wint is seeking information, material on the poet Emma Lazarus for a film project. Write her care of J. P. Weiner Productions, 611 Broadway, Studio 826, New York 10012; (212) 505-5733. . . . Pettler & Lieberman, Booksellers has reopened, Wednesdays-Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m., at 2345 Westwood Blvd., 3, 474-2479.
FINALLY--Two new memory books convey different views of writers in movie-land. Sheilah Graham's "Hollywood Revisited" (St. Martin's) offers: "On my dates with John O'Hara . . . I ever knew whether he would be sober. Usually not. I don't remember Marc Connelly ever being drunk, which perhaps is why he lived to be 90 years old, while Scott was dead at 44, O'Hara at 65, Dashiell Hammett . . . at 66, Faulkner at 65 and Robert Benchley, who in later years had started drinking martinis well before lunch, at the age of 56." Richard Webb and Teet Carle's "The Laughs On Hollywood" (Roundtable) provides a slightly less somber look at Hammett who supposedly reacted to Ben Hecht's decision to try his hand as a detective with: "You couldn't survive. Suppose you were in your car and another car, full of hoods, suddenly came charging at your car at 70 miles an hour. What would you do?" To which Hecht replied: "Eighty!"
Send material for Book Notes, including poetry readings, to Dick Lochte, P.O. Box 5413, Santa Monica, Calif. 90405 no later than 10 days before issue date.