Recently two Hollywood figures have passed on, and both of them were Brooklynites at that. The average person probably has never heard of them, but both contributed to the motion picture industry in their own way.
Frank Rosenfelt, who served as chairman and CEO of MGM, died this past Thursday at the age of 85. Rosenfelt was born in Brooklyn on November 15, 1921. He served under General George S. Patton during World War II, earning a Purple Heart during the Battle of the Bulge. Following the war he studied law at Cornell University. In 1950 he was hired at RKO as part of their legal department.
It was in 1955 that Rosenfelt moved to MGM. By 1969 he became the studio's general counsel. When Kirk Kerkorian bought MGM in 1972, he appointed Rosenfelt its head. Even before he became MGM's chief, Rosenfelt was linked to some classic films. He acquired the rights for the novel Doctor Zhivago, a film adaptation of which the studio released in 1965. He also played a role in the making of 2001: a Space Odyssey. While Rosenfelt was MGM's CEO, the studio made such films as The Sunshine Boys, Network, New York, New York, and Escape from New York. Rosenfelt was so confident that Network would win the Oscar for Best Picture, that when it lost to Rocky he forbade anyone to mention Rocky in his home (I can't blame him one bit).
Rosenfelt also oversaw MGM's takeover of United Artists. After Frank Rothman took over his duties at MGM, Rosenfelt became CEO of UA.
Director and screenwriter Mel Shavelson died today at the age of 90. He was probably best known for such comedies as Houseboat and Yours, Mine, and Ours.
He was born Melville Shavelson on April 1, 1917 in Brooklyn. He began his career in show business by writing gags for Bob Hope's radio show. He accompanied the comedian when he made the move to Hollywood in 1938. By 1941 Shavelson received his first screen credit, for additional dialogue in the film Ice Capades. His first screenwriter credit (along with several other of Hope's writers) would be on the The Princess and the Pirate in 1941. From the Forties into the Fifties, Shavelson would write on several comedies, including Danny Kaye's Kid From Brooklyn, Milton Berle's Always Leave Them Laughing, and Doris Day's April in Paris.
In 1955 Shavelson directed his first movie, The Seven Little Foys starring Bob Hope as as legendary comic Eddie Foy. He would go on to direct such films as Houseboat, It Started in Naples, and the original Yours, Mine, and Ours. Shavelson was twice nominated for Academy Awards, Best Original Screenplay for Houseboat and The Seven Little Foys.
Shavelson worked very little in television, although he made some important contributions to television history. Along with producer Lou Edleman and star Danny Thomas, Shavelson created the classic sitcom Make Room For Daddy (AKA The Danny Thomas Show). Many years later Shavelson let a friend to use his own personal recording studio in his home to record the theme song for a new TV show, which his friend needed right away. That friend was Sherwood Schwartz and it was the theme song for Gilligan's Island he needed to record. According to Schwartz, Gilligan's Island would not have been possible without him.
Shavelson also wrote two novels and four non-fiction books. He also served as president of the Writers Guild of America, West.
There can be little doubt that Mel Shavelson was a talented comedy writer. He was responsible for many of the gags on Bob Hope's radio show. And while not every one of the movies he wrote were classics, all of them were funny. In co-creating Make Room for Daddy he was responsible for one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Working in the entertainment industry for sixty years, Shavelson definitely left his mark on the industry.