Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sidney Sheldon R.I.P.

Television producer, screenwriter, playwright, and novelist Sidney Sheldon died yesterday of complications from pneumonia. He was 89 years old.

Sheldon was born Sidney Schetel on February 11, 1917 in Chicago, Illinois. He started writing while very young, making his first sale at age 10 (he received $10 for a poem). He attended Northwestern University and wrote short plays for theatre troupes. During World War II he served in the Army Air Corps as a pilot in the War Training Service.

It was during the war that Sheldon broke into the movies as a screenwriter. His first screenplay was for the movie South of Panama in 1941. For the next several years he wrote stories and screenplays for various films. It was in 1943 that he made it to Broadway. In 1943 an update of The Merry Widow, for which Sheldon wrote the book, made its debut on the Broadway stage. The next several years Broadway would see several plays by Sheldon, among them Jackpot and Alice in Arms. After an absence of some years, Sheldon returned to the Broadway stage with Redhead in 1959 and Roman Candle in 1960.

In 1947 Sheldon wrote the screenplay for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, for which he won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. Sheldon then entered his most prolific period as a screenwriter. Among other things, he wrote the screenplays for Easter Parade, Annie Get Your Gun, Anything Goes, and Billy Rose's Jumbo.

It was in the Sixties that Sheldon entered a new career as television writer and producer. He created and produced The Patty Duke Show, which ran from 1963 to 1966. What may well be his best known creation debuted in 1965, the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. Centred on astronaut Tony Nelson who winds up the master of the mischievous genie Jeannie, the show was a tribute not only to his creativity, but to his prolific writing as well. Sheldon wrote so many scripts for the sitcom that he used a pseudonym on many of them so that people would not think the show was written entirely by one man!

It was during the last season of I Dream of Jeannie that Sheldon entered yet another career. At the age of 50 he wrote his first novel, The Naked Face. This novel would be followed up by over 15 others, many of which would be adapted into mini-series. He would return to television in 1979 as the creator of the series Hart to Hart, for which he also wrote several of the scripts. It ran from 1979 to 1984. Of the TV series Sheldon created, only Nancy (1970) failed to run more than one season.

Sidney Sheldon was undoubtedly a talented man. Not only did he write the screenplays for several classic films, but he also wrote for the Broadway stage and created three classic TV series (The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and Hart to Hart. This is not even counting the several novels he wrote. I rather suspect that ultimately Sheldon will be best remembered as the creator of I Dream of Jeannie, one of the best and most popular sitcoms of the Sixties. The show lasted five seasons and has seen success in syndication. It also saw two reunion movies and will see a feature film based on the series to be released next year. Of course, he will also be remembered as a screenwriter of such classic films as The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and Easter Parade.

As to myself, I will remember Sidney Sheldon in another way. Many years ago I was working on a book (sadly, unpublished as of yet) on the science fiction and fantasy series of the Sixties. I wrote Sheldon with a few questions about I Dream of Jeannie. Not only did he answer my letter promptly and answered my questions, but he treated me with respect as a fellow writer, even though I had not yet been published. For me, then, I will always remember Sheldon not only as a talented playwright, screenwriter, and novelist, but as a true gentleman who would take the time out of his busy day to answer the questions of a beginning writer and to encourage that writer as well. I must say that I am then truly saddened by his death.

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