Novelist and speech writer for Harvey Milk

Novelist and speech writer for Harvey Milk

Born: August 9, 1926; Died: June 30, 2014

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Frank Robinson, who has died of heart disease aged 87, was a science-fiction writer whose novel The Glass Inferno formed the basis of the blockbuster disaster movie The Towering Inferno. He also wrote speeches for Harvey Milk, the first openly gay American to be elected to political office and who was assassinated in 1978.

Robinson was born in Chicago and served in the navy as a radar technician during the Second World War and in Korea.

After graduating with a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, he wrote fiction for magazines including Playboy.

In the early 1970s, he moved from Chicago to San Francisco and began working with a friend and fellow writer Thomas Scortia on a novel about a fire in a skyscraper. The resulting book, which was published in 1974, was partly the inspiration for Irwin Allen's follow-up to The Poseiden Adventure, although the film was also based on the 1973 novel The Tower by Richard Martin Stern. Robinson and Scortia wrote several other novels too, all with science-fiction themes: The Prometheus Circle, The Nightmare Factor and The Gold Crew.

Robinson first met Milk when he befriended him at his camera shop in San Francisco. Milk wanted to become the first openly gay elected official in the States and thought Robinson, as a writer, could help him.

"It came up that I was a writer," said Robinson, who was also gay. "He said, 'Hey, why don't you be my speechwriter? It'll be a hoot.' I figured it would be a lot of fun, and I might meet somebody."

One of the most famous of Milk's speeches which Robinson helped write was the one he which he recounted a telephone call from a young boy in Altoona, Pennsylvania, who was confused about his sexuality.

"Harvey polished the speech and used it often," said Robinson, "though the rest of us kidded him because some days the boy lived in Altoona, other times in San Antonio or Buffalo. The boy really got around, we thought."

Eventually, Robinson became one of Milk's most trusted advisors as well as a speech writer. Milk was aware of the danger that he might be assassinated and nominated Robinson as his desired successor.

Milk was killed along with Mayor George Moscone at San Francisco City Hall on November 27, 1978, by a disgruntled political rival Dan White.

Milk's story was turned into a film by Gus Van Sant in 2008 and Robinson had a cameo playing himself.

His first love was writing, though, and his 1991 novel The Dark Beyond the Stars, a science-fiction re-imagining of the journeys of Christopher Columbus, was selected as one of The New York Times's notable books of the year.