SIDNEY SHELDON

Born: 11 February 1917, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Died: 30 January 2007, Rancho Mirage, California, USA 

Birth Name: Sidney Schechtel

Early life

Sheldon was born Sidney Schechtel in Chicago, Illinois. His parents, of Russian Jewish ancestry, were Ascher “Otto” Schechtel (1894–1967), manager of a jewelry store, and Natalie Marcus. At 10, Sidney made his first sale, US$5 for a poem.

During the Depression, he worked at a variety of jobs, and after graduating from East High School (Denver), he attended Northwestern University on a scholarship and contributed short plays to drama groups. He had to drop out after six months during the Depression era to help support his family.

Career

In 1937, Sheldon moved to Hollywood, California, where he reviewed scripts and collaborated on a number of B movies. Sheldon enlisted in the military during World War II as a pilot in the War Training Service, a branch of the Army Air Corps, His unit was disbanded before he saw any action.

Returning to civilian life, he moved to New York City where he began writing musicals for the Broadway stage while continuing to write screenplays for both MGM Studios and Paramount Pictures. He earned a reputation as a prolific writer; for example, at one time he had three musicals on Broadway: a rewritten The Merry Widow, Jackpot, and Dream with Music.

His success on Broadway brought him back to Hollywood where his first assignment was The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, which earned him the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay of 1947. He was one of the writers on the screenplay for the 1948 musical film Easter Parade and sole writer for the 1950 musical film Annie Get Your Gun, both of which featured the songs of Irving Berlin.

When television became the new popular medium, he decided to try his hand in it. “I suppose I needed money,” he remembered. “I met Patty Duke one day at lunch. So I produced The Patty Duke Show, and I did something nobody else in TV ever did. For seven years, I wrote almost every single episode of the series.

Sheldon created, produced and wrote I Dream of Jeannie in his co-production capacity with Screen Gems. He wrote all but two dozen scripts in five years, sometimes using three pseudonyms (Mark Rowane, Allan Devon, Christopher Golato) while simultaneously writing scripts for The Patty Duke Show. He also used the same pseudonyms in writing all seventeen episodes of Nancy. He later admitted that he did this because he felt his name was appearing too often in the credits as creator, producer, copyright owner and writer of these series. He also created and wrote for the series Hart to Hart.

Production for I Dream of Jeannie ended in 1970 after five seasons. It was “During the last year of I Dream of Jeannie, I decided to try a novel,” he said in 1982. “Each morning from 9 until noon, I had a secretary at the studio take all calls. I mean every single call. I wrote each morning — or rather, dictated — and then I faced the TV business.

In 1969, Sheldon wrote his first novel, The Naked Face, which earned him a nomination for the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America in the category of Best First Novel. His next novel, The Other Side of Midnight, climbed to #1 on The New York Times Best Seller list as did several ensuing novels, a number of which were also made into motion pictures or TV miniseries.

His novels often featured determined women who persevere in a tough world run by hostile men. The novels contained a lot of suspense and devices to keep the reader turning the page: “I try to write my books so the reader can’t put them down,” he explained in a 1982 interview. “I try to construct them so when the reader gets to the end of it, he or she has to read just one more chapter. It’s the technique of the old Saturday afternoon serial: leave the guy hanging on the edge of the cliff at the end of the chapter.”

Most of his readers were women. Asked why this was the case he said: “I like to write about women who are talented and capable, but most important, retain their femininity. Women have tremendous power — their femininity, because men can’t do without it.” Books were Sheldon’s favorite medium. “I love writing books,” he commented. “Movies are a collaborative medium, and everyone is second-guessing you. When you do a novel you’re on your own. It’s a freedom that doesn’t exist in any other medium.” He was the author of 18 novels which have sold over 300 million copies.

Three years before his death, The Los Angeles Times called Sheldon “Mr. Blockbuster” and “prince of potboilers.

Personal life

Sheldon was first married to Jane Kaufman Harding (1945–1948). Later he wrote “Regretfully, in less than a month, Jane and I realized we had made a mistake. … We spent the next nine months trying in vain to make the marriage work.

He was married for 30 years to Jorja Curtright, a stage and film actress who later became an interior designer. She appeared in a Season One episode of I Dream of Jeannie. She died of a heart attack in 1985. Their daughter, Mary Sheldon, became a novelist as well.

He married Alexandra Joyce Kostoff, a former child actress and an advertising executive of Macedonian origin, Ohrid, in Las Vegas in 1989.

He struggled with bipolar disorder for years; he contemplated suicide at 17 (talked out of it by his father, who found him with a bottle of whiskey and several bottles of sleeping pills), as detailed in his autobiography published in 2005, The Other Side of Me.

Death

A resident of Palm Springs, California, Sheldon died on January 30, 2007, of pneumonia at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California 12 days before his 90th birthday. His remains were cremated, the ashes interred in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

Books by Sidney Sheldon

Title Publication year
The Naked Face 1970
The Other Side of Midnight 1973
A Stranger in the Mirror 1976
Bloodline 1977
Rage of Angels 1980
Master of the Game 1982
If Tomorrow Comes 1985
Windmills of the Gods 1987
The Sands of Time 1988
Memories of Midnight 1990
The Doomsday Conspiracy 1991
The Stars Shine Down 1992
Nothing Lasts Forever 1994
Morning, Noon, and Night 1995
The Best Laid Plans 1997
Tell Me Your Dreams 1998
The Sky Is Falling 2001
Are You Afraid of the Dark? 2004
The Other Side of Me (An Autobiography) 2005

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