Jewish writer, director Melville Shavelson, dies at 90

A self-proclaimed writer by choice, producer by necessity and director in self-defense, Shavelson was a triple-threat, writing more than 35 feature films, directing 12 and creating two Emmy Award-winning television series.

mel shavelson 88 (photo credit: )
mel shavelson 88
(photo credit: )
Melville Shavelson, a comedy writer, producer and director who worked with stars such as Cary Grant, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball and garnered two Academy Award nominations for his original screenplays, died Wednesday. He was 90. Shavelson died of natural causes at his home in Studio City. A self-proclaimed writer by choice, producer by necessity and director in self-defense, Shavelson was a triple-threat, writing more than 35 feature motion pictures either alone or in collaboration, directing 12 and creating two Emmy Award-winning television series, Make Room for Daddy and My World and Welcome to It. Kirk Douglas, who acted alongside John Wayne, Yul Brynner and Frank Sinatra in the 1966 film Cast a Giant Shadow, which Shavelson wrote, produced and directed, remembered him as "a great guy" and "an excellent juggler." "He never dropped an actor. I loved working with him," Douglas said in a statement released Wednesday. Shavelson told Times columnist Patrick Goldstein this year that he and Douglas bickered so much on the Israeli set of that film that the director walked off for a day, prompting Douglas to send him a letter after the movie wrapped that Shavelson still had hanging on his office wall. "Mel, I think it was a good picture," the letter read. "It could have been better if I had paid more attention to you." Shavelson famously loved recounting the antics of Hollywood stars - claiming, for example, that Grant's pursuit of Sophia Loren on the set of their 1957 comedy, Houseboat, caused the director to develop an ulcer. "Very often the people who have the most talent are the most troublesome to deal with," he told the Times in 1978. "Maybe trouble and talent are interconnected. Maybe it takes a strong, demanding personality to stand in front of a camera and recite lines.'' Shavelson began his career in Hollywood as a gag writer for Hope's 1938 Pepsodent Show on the radio. In 1947, he would write for Hope's first foray into television. The relationship between the two was long-standing, with the friendship earning Shavelson the opportunity to make his directing debut on The Seven Little Foys, a 1954 film. Shavelson's screenplay for that film earned him his first Academy Award nomination; he got another for Houseboat. Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch, began a lengthy friendship with Shavelson while the two were working for Hope in 1938 and he credits Shavelson with playing a key role in the success of Gilligan's Island: He allowed Schwartz to record the show's iconic television theme song at his home studio on a Sunday when other recording studios were closed and it clinched the deal with CBS, Schwartz said. Shavelson, born April 1, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y., began crafting jokes while working at his father's general store. In 1937, he graduated from Cornell University, where he was a humor columnist at the campus paper and produced a radio program for the school station. Shortly after leaving college, he was hired by a Broadway agent to write jokes for syndicated humor columnists. He moved to Hollywood in 1938, and that year he married his first wife, Lucille T. Myers. She died in 2000, and in 2001 he married Ruth Florea. Shavelson wrote several books, including How to Make a Jewish Movie, Don't Shoot, It's Only Me: Bob Hope's Comedy History of the US (co-authored with Hope) and an autobiography released on his 90th birthday this year,How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Trying: P.S. - You Can't! (AP)