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IN MEMORIAM

Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind


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Mel Shavelson: Oscar Nominated Writer/Director

Tuesday, August 14------Writer/directors of the old school, who worked exclusively in the Hollywood studios of the 1950s and 1960s, are becoming a rare breed. One of the best of these directorial "team players" was the farceur Mel (aka Melville) Shavelson, a comedy writer, producer and director. In a career that garnered two Academy Award nominations for his original screenplays  and deft direction of such stars as Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, Shavelson left behind some minor classics. He passed away in his Hollywood home last week at the age of 90.

Shavelson was the somewhat lesser known cousin of other writer/director/producers of Hollywood's golden age, including Billy Wilder, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and William Wyler. He was the rare triple-threat (writer by choice, producer by necessity, director by inclination), who wrote more than 35 feature motion pictures either alone or in collaboration, directing 12 of them and creating two Emmy Award-winning television series, "Make Room for Daddy" and "My World and Welcome to It."

Melville Shavelson was born on April 1, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York. He was a born joker, who began crafting jokes as a child while working at his father's general store. He was the first in his immigrant Jewish family to go to university. In 1937, he graduated from Cornell University, where he was a humor columnist at the campus paper. After college, he was hired by a Broadway press agent in New York to write jokes for syndicated humor columnists. He moved to Hollywood in 1938, where he began his West Coast career as a gag writer for Bob Hope, for his radio show. In 1947, he would go on to write Hope's first appearances on live television. The two shared a long collaborative relationship, which included directing Hope in the musical drama THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS (1955).His original screenplay for the film, a glossy docudrama about the career of vaudevillian Eddie Foy, also won him his first Oscar nomination.

Two years later, he wrote and directed the romantic farce, HOUSEBOAT (1957), which starred a still-sexy Cary Grant and a young Italian newcomer, Sophia Loren. The tale of an older ambassador who hires a young Italian governess for his troupe of children, the film was a big hit in its time, winning Shavelson his second Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The film was notorious in its day, because of the tabloid headlines generated by Grant and Loren's on-screen/off-screen romance, which only ended a year later when the Italian beauty married her longtime producer Carlo Ponti. The writer/director famously told a journalist that Cary Grant's pursuit of Sophia Loren on the set of this film, caused the director to develop an ulcer. But in a interview in the 1970s, he did philosophically observed that "very often, people who are trouble to deal with are the most worthwhile to work with.....maybe trouble and talent are interconnected."

Other noteworthy films of the 1950s and 1960s, that he both wrote and directed included such box office hits as IT STARTED IN NAPLES (again with Sophia Loren), ON THE DOUBLE, YOURS, MINE AND OURS (a G-rated family farce with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball), and THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN (with Jack Lemmon, Barbara Harris and Jason Robards). An important personal project for him (and a rare drama) was the film CAST A GIANT SHADOW (1963), which starred Kirk Douglas as an American Jew whose heroism helped established the State of Israel. In 1969, Shavelson was elected president of the Writers Guild of America, West, where he served three terms and was the recipient of the organization's highest honor, the Laurel Award for Screen Writing. In the last number of years, he was a visiting professor and lecturer at the University of Southern California. He just finished last year (to coincide with his 90th birthday celebration) a highly regarded memoir entitled "How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Trying: P.S. -- You Can't!", which sums up as good as anything else his quick, acerbic and comedic mind.

Sandy Mandelberger, In Memorian Director

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About In Memoriam

Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

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IN MEMORIAM

Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind


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